Some local diners are irrationally excited about new chain restaurants in town, but long-term visitors know they’re sticking with these Corpus Christi originals.
These four South Texas restaurants have been operating since the 1940s and show no signs of stopping. After all, nearly eight decades of good quality food and service must mean you’re doing something right.
Price’s Chef (1940)
In 1940, a small restaurant called The Chef opened on 1800 South Alameda Street in Six Points. Homemade hash and other diner favorites have been hurled since then.
Dan Price already owned two coffee shops in Houston when he heard the chef’s owner, Red Branden, also known as the Chef Sandwich and Waffle Shop, was selling the spot in Corpus Christi in 1941. Price drove down, liked the look of the place, and paid $ 15,000 for the restaurant.
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The most popular menu items at the time were waffles, scrambled eggs, and a small bacon-wrapped fillet steak, but you could get anything from a sirloin steak platter for $ 1.45, a bowl of veal brain and scrambled eggs for $ 1, or huevos rancheros for $ 1.75 cents.
In 1988, after 47 years of everyday life, Price decided to retire and sell it to Jim Dolson, owner of Andy’s Kitchen on Everhart Road (also a Corpus Christi institution). No major changes have been made other than a few color and trim improvements.
Luis and Zora Guerrero bought the company in 2006 and continue to run it like Price all those years ago with the aim of making the customer feel at home.
Frank’s Spaghetti House (1948)
Hard to imagine, but Italian food was considered exotic and unusual when Frank and Nellie Toeross opened Frank’s Spaghetti House in a small two-story house at 2724 Leopard Street in February 1948.
Customers would ask why there was so much ketchup on their plate – that’s spaghetti sauce, they were informed. Frank considered adding pizza cake to the menu. “Peach pie?” Customers would ask. But the guests started quickly.
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Frank Toeross was a native Sicilian – the name was originally Torregrossa – but grew up in Chicago and learned all of his recipes from his mother. When he was discharged from the Navy in 1948, he did not want to return to the harsh Chicago winters.
The couple moved here with Nellie’s mother and decided to open a restaurant to address the military base staff. The restaurant was even open for a while during lunchtime when Miller High School students stopped by for spaghetti and meatballs.
In 1973 the Toerosses withdrew and handed over the property to Randall Scott. Sue Finley Moody took over the helm in 1981 and continues to be run by the Moody family, using all of Frank’s original recipes.
Snapkas Drive Inn (1948)
The brothers Method and Rudy Snapka had no real plans to make Coastal Bend the home of their drive-in hamburger.
The Oldsmobile rattle trap, which they wanted to drive to the Rio Grande Valley in July 1948, made the decision for them. It collapsed in Kingsville, and when they turned to go to Corpus Christi, it only got as far as Robstown.
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“This looks like a nice place. Why don’t we start here?” Method said Rudy.
They started selling hamburgers for 20 cents, hot dogs for 10 cents, and root beer for 5 cents. The business at 110 Ninth Street in Robstown eventually did so well that it was expanded to a second location on Leopard Street near Cantwell Lane in 1953. When the drive-through business was booming in the 1960s, Snapka’s had five locations in the Corpus Christi area.
Snapka’s is now limited to two locations, with spots on 4760 Leopard Street and 4434 Weber Road. And although Rudy died in 1995 and Method died in 2002, the Snapka family still run the business. The 96-year-old matriarch Maxine Snapka still watches over the lunch break at the Leopard site, and daughter Kathy mixes the spices for her typical spices despite an active career as a lawyer.
What hasn’t changed is the old fashioned attention to quality food. Snapka still promises that “from the fried chicken and onion rings, to the handmade milkshakes, to the dixie burgers and tacos, nothing starts until the order is placed”.
Howard’s Barbecue (1949)
Jim Mathews credits Norman Howard and Howard’s Barbecue for bringing him to the grill shop.
“Norman is my grill dad,” says Mathews. “He taught me the business. I think the world from him.”
In 1949, Norman Howard’s parents opened the original Howard’s Barbecue on the corner of Port and Leopards Streets, specializing in mesquite-smoked barbecues. Brisket and sausage only. A couple of pages. And no beer; The grill would stand on its own. It did.
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Two years later they moved to Staples and Blucher streets, roughly where Taqueria Garibaldi now occupies. Howard took a brief hiatus from the grill business when he sold his two locations in 1986. But he didn’t stay away long; He bought the business back in 1992 and opened at 120 North Water Street.
The current location at 1002 Antelope opened in the late 1990s. The building was a body shop and garage and was just days away from demolition. Mathews recalls asking Howard why he chose this particular location. Howard told Mathews he was standing on the corner and looking around: he saw Corpus Christi City Hall, Nueces County Courthouse, and all of the downtown office buildings but actually no restaurants.
In 2008, Howard reached out to Mathews to sell the business. Mathews ran Farmhouse Barbecue in Calallen, but Howard wanted to retire. So Mathews took over, but mostly kept everything the same. Between retired life and fishing trips, Howard still comes in most Thursdays for entertainment. Mathews plans to retire soon and hand the business over to his son-in-law Tom Messner who runs the catering side of the business.
“Norman did it differently than anyone,” said Mathews. “Treat everyone like your best friend, your family and make good food.”
Sounds like a solid recipe for success.
Allison Ehrlich writes about activities in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. Support local journalism with a subscription to the Caller Times.