If I’ve learned anything from my time at Caller-Times, it’s that Corpus Christi loves nostalgia and restaurants. So I combine them in this column for some nostalgia about Corpus Christi restaurants. Enjoy the picks below, chosen only because they were mentioned to me by random people when they found out I wrote a column on Corpus Christi nostalgia.
3741 S. Alameda Street (currently: Pho Saigon)
Old advertisements for Chung Mei invited guests to step through the moon gate and experience the delight of Cantonese cuisine. Brownsville-born owner Dulit Lee opened the first location at 1115 Water Street in the early 1950s. However, the construction of the Harbor Bridge forced the move to Alameda Street in November 1957. The new location had a large round door, hence “Moon Gate”. Lee even had a second restaurant, Chung Lai, at the Holiday Inn on 6033 Leopard Street.
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The ads for the restaurant almost all mention “American and Cantonese cuisine,” which sounds odd to the modern ear and palate. In a 1977 Corpus Christi Caller interview, Lee responded to the reporter’s question if they sold a lot of American food. The answer was surprising (at least to me): “Yeah … it’s kind of a combination. Six people will come in and maybe two will have American food. “Obviously, gourmet culture wasn’t a thing.
Lee died in July 1980 at the age of 57 after a sudden illness. The restaurant was in operation until the late 1980s. And a fun fact: Lee’s grandson, who wasn’t even born when Lee died, is the owner / chef of the Rock and Rolls Sushi Lounge on Padre Island.
Old Mexico restaurant
3329 Leopard Street (currently: empty lot)
Restaurant owner Joe Lopez opened the Old Mexico Restaurant at 3329 Leopard Street on the corner of Nueces Bay Boulevard and Leopard in the mid-1950s. The restaurant was known for its delicious and inexpensive combination platters (how about a de luxe dinner for you or maybe the Ladies Delight?) And was a popular stop before high school soccer games at Buc Stadium.
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There was even a second location at 1618 S. Staples St. The location on Leopard Street was the original location of the Riviera Dinner Club in the 1940s old dance looks like floor.
Joe Lopez died in 1994 at the age of 71, but the Lopez family continued the business until around 2004. Lopez’s widow Josephine, who ran the restaurant with him, died in March 2011 at the age of 89.
The Lighthouse Bar & Grill
444 N. Shoreline Blvd., Lawrence Street T-Head (currently: Joe’s Crab Shack)
When the Lighthouse Bar & Grill opened in 1984, it was the first private-public joint venture of its kind. Hurricane Allen destroyed the city’s port offices in 1980, but the city could not afford to replace them. At that point, a group of investors joined forces and offered to build a three-story building on Lawrence Street T-Head and move the marina offices to the first floor while the land was leased from the city.
The restaurant opened on the second floor in the summer of 1984. But when the recession hit in the mid-1980s, the other investors withdrew, leaving Bill and Cathy Harrison as sole owners. The restaurant with almost panoramic views of the bay was a popular attraction.
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However, financial difficulties resulted in the restaurant closing on Halloween night in 2000. The Harrisons pointed to two years of financial troubles and a desire to spend more time with their children. Bill Harrison, a former state official and chairman of the RTA board of directors, died in December 2011 at the age of 66. Cathy now owns and operates Harrison’s Landing on Peoples Street T-Head, which also includes a restaurant, with Hank and Hannah Harrison. Gift shop, yacht center and cruises.
And something else that Corpus Christi likes to do? Debate! Now let’s discuss restaurants: tell me which restaurants you miss that didn’t make this list. Maybe I have enough suggestions for a second course.
Allison Ehrlich is the Caller-Times Archives Coordinator. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @CallerArchives.