Floating across the surface of Lake Conroe, the Southern Empress might as well be drifting back in time. The ship perfectly resembles a nineteenth-century sternwheeler riverboat, with two 18-foot paddles churning the water behind it. Inside the three sprawling decks, chandeliers gleam against embossed tin ceilings, and accents of brass and velour flaunt the same Victorian style as the floral carpets.
The boat does boast some modern amenities, however?two of its decks are climate-controlled, which means that its signature cruises can run year-round instead of stopping during iceberg-mating season. They can also head outside to the split-level third deck, which affords the best view of the lake and surrounding forest. Hosts for special engagements, such as weddings or corporate parties, can even reserve this scenery for themselves during private charters.
Winner of 13th place for the 50 Best Burgers in Texas by Texas Monthly, the team of chefs at Burger Fresh crafts classic diner fare from poboy sandwiches and thick malts to burgers made from wild game or certified Angus beef. Its wide range of wild-game choices includes buffalo and elk, and Burger Fresh further sets itself apart from typical counter fare by serving bottomless fries, tater tots, or homemade onion rings with each burger-basket order. Southern-inspired appetizers include sweet-corn nuggets and crispy fried-pickle chips sprinkled with parmesan cheese, adding appeal to veggies more efficiently than gold-plating a head of lettuce. Burger Fresh also features Blue Bell ice cream in a wide variety of flavors.
The Canada family has been serving Southern classics to local families since 1935. James Canada continues in his forefathers' tradition at Canada's Hole in the Wall Grill, where he whips up juicy steaks, crispy fried catfish, and handmade Angus beef burgers. The skilled chef bustles about behind the counter of his open kitchen, folding beef, chicken, and pork into tacos and showering hefty beef hot dogs with chili and cheddar. For dessert, he doles out thick slices of apple cobbler, key-lime pie, and chocolate cake.
It's not uncommon to spot James and his family strolling around the tables of the dining room, greeting newcomers, refilling coffee cups, and considerately spoon-feeding customers while making rocket-ship sounds upon request. When discussing the warm and friendly atmosphere at the restaurant with the Conroe Courier, James said, "It's nice to be able to have a place where regulars can come and enjoy a meal and see their friends."
Seven years ago, Rico's Mexican Grill brought its brand of Tex-Mex to The Woodlands. Today it boasts five locations throughout the region as well as a family of 400 employees. Together, the staff members adhere to the original restaurant's high standards for fine Mexican cuisine with a local twist. In their family-oriented eateries adorned in classic Texas decor, such as Matthew McConaughey's searing gaze, they serve a menu of enchiladas, tacos, and sizzling fajitas. The fajitas are especially a source of pride. They marinate the meat in a secret sauce for 24 hours and serve the grilled morsels with housemade tortillas. Aside from traditional Tex-Mex entrees, they grill enticing fare such as quail and red snapper. To compliment their dishes, they mix mean margaritas and cocktails and fill glasses with imported and domestic beers and wines amid frequent live entertainment.
Chef Andrew Carlisle is living the dream at Cafe N'Dulge. Hailing from California, he spent time as a restaurateur and executive chef in New Orleans, then moved to Houston to head up kitchens in several hotels. He always envisioned running a restaurant and catering company, though, and that's exactly what he's doing at Cafe N'Dulge. It's one part catering business, one part café—and both are boons to the hungry. On the café side, you get shrimp po' boys with fries or fruit, and Santa Fe burgers topped with roasted green chili, pepper jack cheese, and baja sauce. Andrew's creativity flavors his catering menu, too, which includes breakfast buffets, pasta bars, and build-your-own meals that erase all memories of sad bag lunches past.