Food for Thought

Tony Mandola's Miracle & Bernie's Burger Bus could both be fleeting foodie wonders

Tony Mandola's Miracle & Bernie's Burger Bus could both be fleeting foodie wonders

Bernie's Burger Bus is one of the great foodie finds, but the chef is looking for his own permanent spot that isn't on wheels.
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Tony Mandola, here with wife Phyllis, has made his "Miracle" location on Westheimer an instant hit. But the double-parked excitement is only temporary before a new move.
News_University of St. Thomas_Mardi Gras_Tony Mandola_Phyllis Mandola

I love it when I can just walk across the street and get something great to eat. And I now have two new walk-to places to eat.

Tony Mandola’s “Miracle” Gulf Coast Kitchen is now within spitting distance of where I live, which is really great because, based on its first week, you’re not going to find a parking place there.

Mandola’s has temporarily relocated to 2810 Westheimer Road, in a strip center restaurant that used to house Rickshaw and more recently Fins Sushi and Seafood, while its future home on Waugh is being finished. I popped in for lunch last week and the place was packed. I had to wait for a table. The valets were double-parking cars in the lot. But it’s worth the wait: The food is just as good as always and the décor is even better.

It’s amazing how quickly the interior was revamped from Japanese to a sleek, wood and white tablecloth venue. It’s a fair-sized space with a horseshoe bar in the center, which is where we waited, sipping a Chardonnay, until a table opened up.

The service was sharp and the food delivered quickly, despite the crowd. We started with the crab cakes, which were good. Not stellar, but good. But the beer-battered Gulf Coast shrimp were excellent. Big, plump shrimp with a light and flavorful batter, crunchy on the outside and perfected cooked inside. They come on a plate with a mountain of French fries and a large portion of cole slaw liberally mixed with more shrimp pieces.

The staff was confident that the new restaurant would be ready in April, which is a shame because I really like having a good seafood place within walking distance. It will also be a shame if this place sits idle again because the makeover has created a warm and relaxing locale. Hopefully another good restaurant will move in here. Any chefs out there looking for a spot should definitely check this site out.

Now for the other spot. It’s also temporary, but in more of a mobile kinda way.

It’s a food truck. Or, more specifically, a food bus.

Justin Turner went old school, literally. He had an old yellow school bus fitted out as a food truck. It’s awfully cute and it’s parked outside Lizzard’s Pub at 2718 Sackett Street on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Called Bernie’s Burger Bus, in honor of Turner’s grandfather and because, duh, he serves burgers, it draws quite a crowd. I love the stickers that read I Bleed Burgers and Fries and Tacos Suck. Heh, heh. Turner’s got quite a sense of humor.

He’s also got a killer burger recipe.

He grinds three cuts of all natural, grass fed Black Angus, grilled to perfect and served on a toast Slow Dough Bread Co. bun. He also makes his own mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and pickles.

“I’d rather not sell food if I’m not doing it right,” he says.

Trust me, he’s doing it right.

I had The Substitute (yes, all the offerings have cutesy school names) that is a huge patty topped with bleu cheese, crispy bacon and Turner’s tipsy onions, caramelized to a golden hue.

It’s more burger than I could eat in one sitting, that’s for sure. His steak fries are also awesome and served piping hot in a giant paper cone. Your order is handed out the serving window in a brown paper bag, yup, just like the one you used to take your lunch to school in.

Bernie’s is officially my new favorite food truck, er, food bus. Whatever.

The only problem is that I’m not sure how long it will be around. As Turner (and many other truckee chefs) say, running a mobile restaurant isn’t easy in the City of Houston.

“Too many hoops to jump through,” he says of all the inspections, fees and regulations the city fosters onto food truckers. And he’d love to have a real brick and mortar restaurant one day.

Hey, wait a minute. I know a great location.