Fred's Italian Corner
Certainly, it's nice to have chef Marco Wiles and others working busily to maintain a presence on the Houston dining scene for serious, authentic Italian cooking. But foodies' entirely-understandable love for guanciale and pizza con tonno shouldn't mean that there's not a place for good, old-fashioned Italian-American fare. As Allison Cook notes in her blog, Craiganale's -- a longtime standby for courthouse lawyers downtown -- has recently expanded to a more full-size location in Midtown, demonstrating that Houstonians, as much as anyone, recognize the need for a good meatball sandwich.
In the same vein, Fred's Italian Corner has been flying the red-sauce flag for nearly a quarter-century now, serving the Rice University area from their humble abode in a strip mall at Holcombe and Greenbriar. Fred's is as genuine a neighborhood joint as you'll find anywhere, locals walking in with their families on a Friday night for chicken cacciatore and spaghetti with meatballs in marinara sauce. There are always a couple of tables taken by Rice students on dates, and the friendly bustle on a weekend evening lends a communal feel which can often be hard to come by in Houston restaurants.
Obviously, to be worth a damn in the red-sauce business, your marinara had better be good. And Fred's is good, rich and satisfying without being too sweet (the usual failing of Italian-American sauces). The spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, basil and anchovies is very good (though the pasta tends to be a bit overdone, which, sadly, is an almost universal problem in restaurants like Fred's), as are the meatballs and Italian sausage. Wines are unimpressive but inexpensive, which all you could reasonably ask for. Lasagna is rich and well-cooked, served in its own little chafing dish.