The Eldorado Ballroom, once the center of Black entertainment in Houston’s Third Ward, welcomed music greats like Etta James, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and B.B. King until its closing in the 1970s. For years, residents have questioned its fate, but as of July 15, Lucille’s co-owner and chef Chris Williams and his team have revived the space — shaping it into a cafe, market, art gallery, and multi-purpose center that celebrates the historic Black neighborhood, its culture, and residents past and present.
Located on the corner of Elgin Street and Emancipation Avenue — just across from the iconic Emancipation Park, the Rado Market is an all-day cafe and neighborhood market, a representation of Third Ward’s flavors, culture, and successes, Williams says. “We’re hoping to activate flavors that we like, with recipes we want to make,” Williams says.
With a bistro-style menu, the cafe serves up salads, sides, and sandwiches made with ingredients sourced from the Kendleton farm owned by Williams’ nonprofit Lucille’s 1913. Here, soulful dishes riff on Houston and Southern standbys, like a grilled cheese made with poblano pimento, cheddar, and provolone, served with green gumbo for the dunking, plus a juicy oxtail smash burger dolloped with tomato jam on a brioche bun. Its collard greens appear in fresh salads instead of the traditional stewed and seasoning-steeped side dish. Breakfast, served until 11 a.m. daily, also takes notes from the community and Houston’s history, with breakfast tacos, quiches, and an appearance from Williams’ great-grandmother Lucille B. Smith’s iconic hot rolls, which are paired with proteins like fried chicken and sausage.
Williams began working with the building owner and community nonprofit Project Row Houses, increasing the investment for the rebuild from $2 million to $10 million, with Lucille’s 1913 nonprofit taking on the major responsibility of operating the 1939 building and creating concepts for its different spaces. The buildout, which includes the cafe, market, the next-door art gallery, and the renovation of the original Eldorado Ballroom upstairs, took around a year and a half.
To Williams, the newest rendition of Eldorado is a way to reactivate the neighborhood with community participation. The grab-and-go market, for example, offers locally sourced foods, fresh produce, and shelving space for the products of local Black food entrepreneurs, including condiments from Houston Sauce Co., cold-pressed juice from Thrive Juices Co., seasonings from Michelle Wallace’s B’Tween Sandwich Co., plus baked goods from The Peach Cobbler Lady that sell out weekly. Products from Lucille’s 1913, like pickles, cantaloupe kimchi, and hot sauces — many of which are made from leftover ingredients from the farm — are also sold, which helps reduce waste and benefit the nonprofit’s farming initiative via proceeds.
“It’s truly a cultural celebration center that celebrates all things that come from us,” Williams says.
In an effort to become Third Ward’s go-to for wine, the market features a wide selection of bottled wines with picks from Lucille’s Hospitality Group’s chefs and team. A rotating display of local notables or “tastemakers” from the neighborhood help curate the offerings, allowing those who browse a chance to choose wines according to specific tastes. The lineup already includes a unique selection of Croatian, Slavic, and Old World French varieties, with Williams marking his picks with a sticker of the Prince symbol — a nod to his love of the late pop icon, he says. The in-house wine shop is a part of larger efforts to bring more traction to nearby Emancipation Park, a place that Williams says often goes underutilized. To encourage more traffic, the market also sells wine glasses, insulated picnic bags, and blankets, making it easy for shoppers to take their meals and wine outside.
The cafe is also home to a book nook for curious cooks. Curated by Third Ward bookstore Kindred Stories, the colorful display of cookbooks offers a look into Williams’ home collection while also celebrating Black chefs and diverse cuisines around the world. Williams sees it as a jumping-off point for educational discussions and food demonstrations — and a chance to periodically highlight a featured cookbook’s recipes for which the market will carry the necessary produce and ingredients for community members to explore and use in dishes at home.
But Rado is much more than a cafe and a market. It’s a space for community activation, Williams says. The Garden Room, a quaint side room, is now used for meetings, gatherings, and class reunions, while the outdoor patio, with its picnic tables and chairs, is scheduled to host a farmers market every first and third Saturday of the month. The Hogan Brown Art Gallery next door, a nonprofit art showcase named for both of Williams’ grandmothers who were also best friends, is another display of Third Ward’s creativity, spotlighting artists from the neighborhood like Marc Newsome, Lovie Olivia, David “Odiwams” Wright, and Jerin “Jerk” Beasley.
Upstairs is where the original essence of El Dorado Ballroom comes alive. The renovated dance and entertainment hall — which features original flooring, walls, and paneling — aims to modern sound “with a 1939 style.” Plans include entertainment at least six days out of the month, including a salsa night, a monthly comedy show, and live music, plus the option for residents to rent the space out for their personal events, with sliding scale pricing to make it more accessible.
Williams’ participation in the anticipated revival of Eldorado has been in the works for nearly three years, he says, with the original idea being to build a food hall, but the chef had a different vision. “I thought it needs to be a place where all these Grammy [winners] come home,” Williams says. “Everything comes out of Third Ward, but so little comes back to it.”
“This place, the history that’s happening here, it was the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club of Houston. The masters [of music] played here,” Williams says. “And we’re in Houston, soon the third largest city in the country. It was an important relic just sitting here, but now to have it reactivated…it’s an amazing, amazing opportunity.”
The Rado Market is open Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Breakfast is served daily until 11 a.m. 2310 Elgin Street, 77004.