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Oh my OHMS!

Amarillo with a European Accent
Written by Beth Duke. Photographs by J. Griffis Smith.

Rare Ideas: You might not be surprised to find prime rib, but shepherd's pie reigns at Amarillo's OHMS. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

In the heart of Amarillo’s downtown, you might expect to find Tex-Mex and barbecue—but not Continental fare like English trifle, shepherd’s pie, and standing rib roast. But this Texas café has a decidedly European twist. The original owner, Jonathan Early, named the café On Her Majesty’s Service to honor his English roots. Three years later in 1992, restaurateur Mary Fuller bought the eatery, and now folks just call it OHMS Café.

More Amarillo dining optionsOne thing has never changed: You can still find shepherd’s pie on the lunch menu every day.

“Shepherd’s pie is really comfort food. In England, it’s usually made with lamb and potatoes. But this is beef country, so we make ours with beef,” Mary says. 

“Jonathan used to say that England ruled the world for years, so he wanted to introduce food from all over,” she continues.

At OHMS, the chefs make their shepherd’s pie by slow-roasting cabbage and other vegetables to bring out their natural sugars, then topping the mixture with savory beef and an inch of creamy mashed potatoes. Then the dish is browned to create crisp potato peaks on top.

Mary goes international with her take on Mexican enchiladas—hot-from-the-griddle  flour tortillas filled with house-made chili spiced with smoky cumin and a touch of garlic. Some diners opt for the popular dish called ropa vieja (which translates from Spanish into “old clothes”)—a savory mix of cubed beef and pork flavored with briny Spanish olives, tomatoes, and hot and sweet peppers served with black beans and garnished with cilantro. 

Other dishes hail from France and Asia, with an occasional detour to the American South for fare like Cajun meatloaf. “We also do some Indian food,” says Mary. “One of our most popular lunch items is our mango curry roasted chicken. And we even make something called keshi yena, which is traditional to Curacąo. It’s sort of a deconstructed cheeseburger, with green olives and raisins.”

Some lunch customers save room for house-made desserts like lemon-blueberry cake, strawberry cake, or chocolate-cinnamon cake—in portions large enough to share. Mary bakes her cakes in sheet pans, then ices them while they’re still warm. The result? 
A moist concoction that’s part cake, part pudding.

Lunch at OHMS is served cafeteria-style, and the menu is posted daily on a chalkboard. “With a chalkboard menu, we can be creative,” says Mary. “We can always change the menu and do something else depending on what’s fresh.”

“We” means Mary’s family and extended family.  Her son Josh is the executive chef. Her daughter Leslie runs the front of the house.  They all grew up at the restaurant.

Josh has brought his own touches to OHMS, based on his culinary-school training in Phoenix. He added a full-service bar, table service for dinner, and exotic items like elk and bison to the dinner menu.

“We bring in our elk from New Zealand. And it’s popular in beef country, too,” Mary says.

At dinner, the mood changes at OHMS. Curtains screen out the cafeteria line, the lights dim, and black tablecloths with candles and fresh flowers create a sophisticated ambiance. Reservations are definitely recommended.

Start with a fried egg salad, try the organic elk tenderloin, and—if you still have room-—ask your server to recommend the day’s best house-made dessert.  Or order the rib eye—a favorite of both Josh and Mary. The hearty cut of beef is served on the bone for the best flavor.

Mary and her family were among the first to stake their claim in the developing downtown dining district in 1992. Originally, she had wanted to rent kitchen space from OHMS’ original owner, but he offered to sell her the restaurant instead.

“It is such a great space,” says Mary. “Celebrating our 20th anniversary last year was the best year yet.  We have a very supportive customer base.”

Mary returns the favor by exhibiting the work of local artists on the café walls and featuring local musicians during occasional lunch and dinner services.

Now others outside of Amarillo are discovering OHMS.  

“We are getting more and more travelers, too. People find us on Yelp, Urban Spoon, Trip Advisor, and Facebook. You see people who are definitely not from around here,” Mary says. “A few blocks away is our new Courtyard Marriott hotel, which is in the restored 1927 Fisk Building. We’re getting a lot of foot traffic from the hotel,” she continues. “Recently, four businessmen from Chicago came in after a day on the golf course. They took a look at the menu and asked incredulously, ‘Is this really your menu?’ When I assured them it was, one of them said, ‘We thought we’d just find steak and Mexican food in Amarillo—not dishes with French sauces. Are you for real?’”

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