Food for Thought in Port Arthur Texas (70’s- 80’s)


Growing up in Port Arthur in the 1970s did have its finer points to some degree. As a kid I had no idea what Bernis Sadler (then the mayor) was up to nor did I care. My main concern was whether or not Monceaux Drive In had those delectable and greasy onion rings with my cheeseburger deluxe served in a cardboard pie box. Truth be told, there is nothing that comes close to those onion rings! (Baby Boomers will remember Monceaux’s for the root-beer among other things.)

Over the course of two decades, I have discovered many eateries in my hometown, and there were many. One that comes to mind is a little takeout place called Hartman’s, which was located on Bluebonnet Avenue. If you loved home-style cooking, then this was a gem. I can remember walking in and feeling as if I was in someone’s house, except for the screen door attached to the kitchen from which an elderly man emerged with your plate lunch after you had ordered it from a very nice elderly lady.

These two people were delightful. As far as I could tell, these were the Hartman’s, and one could believe this except for their heavy Cajun accents. One thing that sticks out in my mind is that, when I would call ahead, the lady would ask what I wanted. My answer, of course, was the Étouffée, but there were many things besides the main course. “So what are the sides?”

“Well, we got lima beans, string beans, pinto beans, red beans, white beans, and (it always ended with) black-eyed peas.”

Whatever the sides, this was something to treasure. Speaking of treasure, I also remember a place next to Roy’s Food Center on Lewis Drive called the Brisket Room. The chip beef sandwiches were the best barbeque—or at least they were until I found Billy Joe’s in Port Neches.

Port Arthur seemed to always promote itself as the friendliest city by the sea. Well, Port Arthur is not by the sea, it’s by a lake, but I will give credit to the seafood. There were three restaurants that I enjoyed. The first and foremost was Leo and Willie’s. There was no place better in the 80s—except on Thursdays. On Thursdays I would order a seafood platter from the Texas Fish Net Restaurant. There was no one who had better catfish than the Fish Net!

And let us not forget about the Farm Royale on Memorial. Back in the day, most knew this place to be an upper-class eatery, and they weren’t mistaken. Other eateries offering decent seafood (technically I do not know if they are in Port Arthur, but they are worth mentioning) are Domingue’s on the Neches (under the Rainbow Bridge) and of course, Esther’s. Yes, I do know the latter is in Groves, Texas, but it was just a great place to eat back when.

Finally, sometimes we craved Mexican food, and there was no better place at the time to treat ourselves than under the train bridge at Taco Rey, or my favorite, Guadalajara on 9th Avenue. Both had pretty good Tex-Mex food. Nowadays Taco Rey can be found on Nederland (where it’s safe), and Guadalajara still has a restaurant in Orange Texas.

Please forgive this minor indulgence because this blog really has no historic value other than me remembering those greasy onion rings, chip beef sandwiches, plate lunches, catfish, and tacos from places and times long since passed.