Quick & Cheap Eats around Rice—My Favorite Spots in my First Year

By Viraj Ghosh: Grad school is hard work, and fueling up is important. If you’re looking for quick and delicious meals close to Rice, here are some of my favorite spots!

Rice University

I’m Viraj, and in my first year at Rice, I made it a point to find my favorite places to grab an easy meal. I especially wanted ones within a walking distance or a short drive from the Rice Village Apartments (RVA), where I stayed. Here are some casual food places with food or deals that I’d like to highlight that are perfect for any incoming Rice graduate student!

  1. Badolina

Food: Baked goods, sweets, coffee

Hours: 7 AM - 5 PM every day except Monday

Location: Rice Village

Highlight: From 4-5 PM, all pastries are half off!

Badolina is an Israeli/Middle Eastern bakery in Rice Village very close to Rice and the Rice Village Apartments and Townhomes. They have standard pastries and additionally a number of modern takes on Israeli/Middle Eastern baked goods.

While some of their pastries can feel a little pricey as a graduate student, that changes the moment the clock strikes 4 PM. From 4 PM till closing (5 PM), all pastries are half-off. This is an excellent deal for some high quality pastries.. In my first semester, I had 4-5 PM meetings with my PI, and when they ended early, I would skate or walk on over and grab enough for a snack and dinner. On days when I wasn’t at work or working from home, I would often bop on over, too. Doing so both felt like a treat, but was also very economical to my graduate student budget.

Some of my favorite items include the open focaccias, of which they have many varieties, the sambusak sabich, containing eggplant, eggs and tahini, and burekitas, small puff pastries. They also have some items rotate in and out, and I appreciated being able to try new things. Lastly, they also have cakes and desserts, but those weren’t at half price so I never got them 🙂.

  1. Bo-bobs

Food: Gumbo, kebobs, soul food

Hours: 12 PM - 8 or 9 PM every day except Sunday

Location: Museum District

Highlight: Small business, hidden gem, homemade soul food

Entirely run by a single couple inside a Valero, Bo-bobs is an independent, black-owned, small business that serves up some homemade soul food cooking. It certainly doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once you go inside, you’ll see the duo that makes it happen cooking in the back. I love to sit and chat with them about this-and-that as they whip up some home-cooked Southern food.

My two favorite items are the Hot Topic, a blackened fish and shrimp plate, and the overload plate, a sausage, shrimp, chicken, and spinach plate. Both are doused in their signature sauce, which has me salivating just thinking about it. Note that their food can take a while, so calling ahead to place an order may be best to avoid waiting. The food also isn’t super cheap, though it’s not prohibitively expensive. Overall, I’m very glad I found an authentic small business with amazing food, and I’ll always enjoy catching up with them over some home cooking!

  1. Velvet Taco

Food: Fusion tacos

Hours: 11 AM - 11 PM Sun-Thurs; 11 AM - 12 AM Fri,Sat

Location: Rice Village

Highlight: Interesting and delicious fusion tacos

Velvet Taco is a Texas based chain with interesting, and delicious, fusion tacos. Running the gamut from spicy tikka chicken, to nashville hot tofu, to falafel, to korean fried rice, Velvet Taco does fusion in their own unique way, and I bet they’ll have something you’ll like. I would caution from thinking that these are ‘authentic’ tacos–rather, they’ve taken the taco beyond Tex-Mex roots to serve as a platform for unique compositions and flavors that are hard to find anywhere else. 

Their slogan is “open late”, but that feels like false advertising for their location in Rice Village, which closes at 11 PM most days and 12 AM on Friday and Saturday. Lastly, I haven’t gotten their margaritas, but I hear they're excellent!

  1. Pokeworks

Food: Poke

Hours: 11 AM - 9 PM every day

Location: Rice Village

Highlight: Decent Poke 

I love a bowl of poke, but I especially don’t like bad poke. I knew I needed to find somewhere in Houston with Poke that was at least decent. I didn’t really enjoy Poke in the Bowl, a place located in the Texas Medical Center adjacent to the southeast corner of Rice, but I was much happier with Pokeworks. They’re a very large chain, and they’re the best I could find close to Rice.

I know decent poke isn’t exactly a star studded review, but I find that everytime I go to pokeworks, I’m quite pleased with the quality of the food and portion size. I grew up eating a lot of seafood, and it’s nice to have somewhere to go.

  1. Abu Omar Halal

Food: Halal

Hours: 11 AM - 3 AM every day

Location: Just south of the med center

Highlight: Good meals that are actually open late!

I’m a night owl—midnight is sometimes hardly late at all! Finding a place that serves good food and is open past midnight is often very challenging. Abu Omar Halal is actually open till 3 AM, so in the times when I need a whole meal while I burn the midnight oil, I can quickly drive over there to pick-up something (that isn’t super processed fast food).

Abu Omar Halal was founded in Houston and has since expanded in Houston and to other states. They serve halal street-food and sandwiches, but they’re best known for their chicken shawarma. My go-to order is chicken shawarma over rice.

Honorable Mention:

  1. Yoyo’s Hotdogs

Food: Hotdogs 

Hours: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 8 PM - 3AM

Location: 8th Wonder Brewery in East Downtown (very recently was in Rice Village)

Highlight: The best hotdog & the best late night food in Houston!

Yoyo’s hotdogs, is a food cart that without a doubt, is my favorite place to eat in Houston. I don’t even normally like hotdogs, but there’s something about these that are otherworldly. But you don’t have to take my word for it—the line at Yoyo’s cart normally stretches around the corner, and hundreds of people wait as long as an hour and a half for these amazing hotdogs. At a really busy time, I once waited 2 hours, but most of the time the wait is only 30-45 minutes.

This truck is only open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and is open really late. I would often go once or even twice a weekend and wait in the long line with a friend–it was worth it every time.

Yoyo’s is only an honorable mention in this list because of their new and slightly farther location in the East Downtown (EaDo) neighborhood. They used to be a fixture of Rice Village, however in January of 2023,  their lease was not renewed by the Rice Management Company (booo!). I  found Rice’s decision disappointing and a disservice to their students, as they evicted one of the only walkable late night food options. I highly recommend you check out Yoyo’s Hot Dogs.