On the Border Cafe

On the Border South Texas Cafe, as it was known then opened in 1982 in the Knox Park area of Dallas. To give some context, this was an area that was at the time, not exactly the trendiest part of town, but was beginning to turn. This “yuppie” appeal helped to bolster the chain into quite a bit of popularity. By 1987 On the Border had grown to three locations in the Dallas area, and one outside.

This marked the first entrance of On the Border South-Texas Cafe, as it was known back to the Houston area. They opened their first Houston Restaurant in Mid-1987. One of the first references I can find to this location is a review from the June 1987 Edition of Texas Monthly.

On the Border Cafe, 4608 Westheimer (961-4494). With brick walls, pressed tin ceilings, and bare floors, this cafe borders on the deafening – all the more reason to give up on conversation and concentrate on the food. A combo for two of beef fajitas and shrimp (five, though six would have been easier to divide) comes on a sizzling platter with grilled onions, tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, refrieds, and rice – not bad for about $18. Chicken parrilla, nicely moist and offered with the same extras, also provides a good value at $7.50. Not exactly Juárez – but what do you expect of this Dallas import? Bar (til 1, til 2 Weekends). Open Sun thru Thur 11-midnight, Fri & Sat til 1.

-Texas Monthly June 1987

This first location was received relatively well by Houstonians. Although, they were far from having Ninfa’s shaking in their boots. This decent reception, along with decent income from Dallas locations helped to quickly support the idea for a second Houston location. Their first location had been, in what was at the time Houston’s own burgeoning part of town. The corner of Westcreek Lane, and Westheimer. The area had been known throughout the 70s as “Acid Lane” and featured a variety of smoke shops, among other less savory things, but had recently been re-imagined as trendy shops and restaurants, like Le Peep.

An advertisement for On the Border South Texas Cafe

The area was on an upswing with the gentrification and continued development of the Galleria.The low quality, and small buildings in the area, helped necessitate the building out their first location. The second location was in an already trendy part of town. At the corner of Gessner and Westheimer, the new location took over an another Tex-Mex restaurant named, Caliente which had operated there since at least 1988. A third location was mentioned in the Houston Chronicle, however I cannot find an address, or any other information to support this. Chances are this was quickly abandoned before any development, or just a typo.

1988 Locations

Address Current Tenant
4608 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77027 Demolished
9705 Westheimer Rd Houston, TX 77042 Churrascos

In 1996 Brinker International, the company which is most famous for owning Chili’s among many other brands, purchased the On the Border chain. At the time of the acquisition On the Border had 23 locations.

Both Houston locations were closed the same year. They were either closed prior to the Brinker sale, or immediately after. To either make the chain more attractive for sale, or immediately reduce spending. The original location would be converted a year later into Sullivan’s Steakhouse. A very upmarket chain who completely remodeled the building. This lasted until 2017 when the building was abandoned and later demolished pending future development.

The second location, already reborn by On The Border, fared a brighter fate. It was almost immediately converted into Churrascos, who specialize in South American cuisine. It is still open to this day, and was recently renovated.

As Brinker closed the Houston locations, this were able to focus on successfully building the concept out not unlike the way they had built out Chili’s. The food would be mass made off of a relatively simple menu. They would also focus on towns in which they were the “only game” in terms of Tex-Mex selection. This mass market appeal worked quite well, in areas with little competition.

This idea eventually brought On the Border back into the Houston area. About 10 years later, with most locations opening in 2006.

2006 Locations

Address Current Tenants
25686 Northwest Fwy, Cypress, TX 77429 Demolished for PDQ
7215 FM 1960 Humble, TX 77346 Lupe Tortilla
2728 Smith Ranch Rd Pearland, TX 77584 Lupe Tortilla
9313-A Katy Fwy, Houston, TX 77024 Lupe Tortilla
24108 Southwest Fwy, Rosenberg, TX 77471 Gringo’s Mexican Kitchen
8765 Spring Cypress Rd Ste I Spring, TX 77379 Rico’s Mexican Grill

Upon their return, On the Border was accused of having generic, and bland Mexican food. When comparing our local options this is undeniably true. These locations would last until about 2011, after which Brinker sold On the Border to a Capital Firm. Again likely a victim of under performance the restaurants were shuttered and sold off to competitors.

While not a culinary treasure by any stretch of the imagination, it creates a curious comparison to the old adage. If a first you fail, try again.

Reader Comments

  1. Might have mentioned this before, but the College Station On the Border, opened in 1997 or 1998, was one of the “new” stores. It still had the original logo at the time though. This restaurant, located at 709 Texas Avenue South, probably survives as a “drunk food” location like the Taco Cabana almost immediately next door. A Lupe Tortilla, opened 2014, sits on the other side of the parking lot in an old Red Lobster.

  2. There was also a Greenspoint location in Houston. There used to. Be an hour wait at the Westheimer location, so would hardly call it bland. I was told they shut down the Westheimer location because they were serving items not on the “corporate menu”.

    1. I’ll see what I can find on the Greenspoint location. As for the bland comment, that applies to their late 2000s return, and was mentioned in multiple reviews.

      The original run was rather highly regarded.

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