This summer, Houston Market went through serious renovations and opened several new vendors, in addition to updating fan-favorites. We tried every station in Houston during the lunch rush. Here’s what we thought of each place based on the quality and healthiness of their food, and whether or not it's a bang for your buck (or dwindling Dining Dollars balance):
A Mongolian grill stand that lets you customize vegetables, base, and protein options, along with sauce and garnishes. Think Honeygrow that you can bursar. While it was a nice addition to be able to watch them build and cook your meal in front of you, it had some drawbacks; it took a long time to get our food, and it wasn’t during a particularly busy time. Definitely should not be your first choice if you are stopping in between classes, but by far the best value meal we tried.
What we ordered: BYO bowl with rice noodles, seitan (vegan protein), an assortment of veggies, and teriyaki sauce, topped with green onion and sesame seeds.
Quality: It’s a build your own stir–fry bar, with several unique protein options and a range of fresh vegetables, which in theory gives you a lot of freedom to customize your meal.
Value: Our order came to just over $10, which is less than Honeygrow, and included six vegetable options, compared to Honeygrow’s three. Incredibly filling, I only finished half of the serving, so definitely worth the pricing.
Healthiness: Though it sounds like it would be healthy in theory, what with the half dozen vegetables and lean protein options, the dish we were handed had been cooked in a substantial amount of oil. Very greasy and heavy, it gave us reheated, day–old takeout from a Chinese place, vibes.
This salad bar specializes in made–to–order salads and grain bowls, all with a Mediterranean twist. Customers can top their salads with falafel, hummus, or chicken, and there are also rotating soup options. The stand–out items on the menu, however, are the made-to-order smoothies from from your traditional fruit and veggie combos to dessert drinks like raw chocolate strawberry. We asked, and the most popular option is the green apple.
What we ordered: Green Apple Smoothie, made with spinach and almond milk.
Quality: The salads looked a little sad and sparse, but those in line with us were raving about the hummus grain bowl. The smoothie was incredible—it wasn’t too sweet but also didn’t taste aggressively of vegetables. We may have finished it in under three minutes.
Value: The smoothie was $7, which could have bought us a full meal at a cheaper stand, but you’ll be pressed to find smoothies for cheaper elsewhere.
Healthiness: By far the healthiest option in the place. The smoothie was made with fresh fruits and veggies, not a mix or a concentrate.
Surrounded by artisan flatbreads, gourmet gelato, and colorful salads, Houston Grill serves food that's more reminiscent of a trip to Commons. But if what you’re craving is a burger and fries, look no further. It specializes in fast food, though from looks alone, the options leave a bit to be desired. While it will by no means transport you back to your Fourth of July barbecue, it’ll fill your junk food cravings.
What we ordered: Sweet Potato Fries.
Quality: Far from the best fries I’ve ever had. They were limp and a little soggy, likely because they’d been sitting under heat lamps for the better part of the lunch rush. That being said, fries are fries, and we definitely polished off this side order.
Value: For only $2, the fries are cheaper than the bottle water served at the same station.
Healthiness: They’re fries. But sometimes you’ve got to treat yourself!
This stand specializes in all things Italian. They have tons of options: various types of pizza, rotating styles of flatbreads that change once a week, and a pasta bar where you can customize your order. Their generous portions will easily power you through your day's five-hours worth of classes.
What we ordered: Pulled Pork Flatbread
Quality: This week's rotating flatbread was a pulled pork, cilantro flatbread. The meat was extremely juicy, the barbecue sauce was sweet but not over-powering, and the onions were well-cooked. The flatbread was a little crunchy and hard towards the outer sides but had perfect consistency otherwise. Overall, this was a really yummy and filling choice!
Value: At only $4.99 (the same price as the ice cream), this flatbread was extremely large and filling.
Health: Obviously if you’re looking for a healthy option, pulled pork flatbread isn’t the way to go, but sometimes you just need carbs and meat in your life.
34th Street Carvery
Hosting all types of sandwiches, made with fresh breads, different meats, and cheeses, these are a great choice for taking to eat outside and picnic on the stairs of Penn Commons. Unfortunately, we were not blown away by the sandwich and the sides that this vendor offers. Lacking flavor and creativity, this definitely would not be our go-to in Houston.
What we ordered: Caprese Sandwich
Quality: The sandwich, despite looking appetizing at first glance, had disappointing flavor. To put it simply, it was bland. The sandwich was also pretty oily, causing the bread to be soggy. We got coleslaw on the side and it also was lacking flavor. All around, not a great choice.
Value: This sandwich was $10.99 and not that big, so it is pretty expensive for what it was.
Health: Definitely not the greatest choice among the bread, the pesto, the oil, and the cheese. The side of fruit that you get won't save you here.
The Market Cafe
This small cafe definitely looks and feels a little out of place amongst the bustling lunch-and-dinner vendors, especially because it used to be physically located above the rest of the market. However, they have plenty of yummy dessert and coffee options. Just be prepared to pay a large price for something pretty small.
What we ordered: Gelato and rugelach (a small chocolate, doughy pastry that is originally a Jewish dessert)
Quality: I was pretty disappointed by the gelato — we went with the simple stracciatella (a fancy way to say vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips), which wasn't as creamy as I had hoped and also not a generous enough portion for the price. But the pastry, outsourced from Balthazar, was amazing — perfectly sweet, crispy on top with a dusting of sugar, and full of gooey Nutella.
Value: I’m still not over how this ice cream was 5.5 dollars! Definitely not worth it. The pastry was really small but so delicious that for me, it was worth the price.
Health: It's ice cream and pastries — what do you expect?
Houston Market is open Monday–Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. All stalls in the Market’s atrium accept Dining Dollars, Penn Cash, and bursar.