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Eating cheap for Houston Restaurant Weeks: These lunch options are the best bargains of all

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Caracol Mexican street food classic, a Cemita. Mexican sandwich- choice of fish or chicken milanese - on housemade beer-fermented sesame seed bun and housemade cheese
At Caracol, try a cemita. This riff on the street food classic comes with a choice of fish or chicken milanese. Caracol/Facebook
Mocking Bird Bistro petite cab strip steak with wild mushrooms, pommes frites and madeira sauce
Mockingbird Bistro's petite cab strip steak with wild mushrooms, pommes frites and madeira sauce. Photo by John Sheely
Quattro dining room
The stylish dining room at Quattro provides a great place for a three-course lunch.  Courtesy photo
Artisans Houston restaurant crowd venue
Artisans two-course menu delivers big French flavors.  Photo by Debora Smail/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
L'Olivier Restaurant & Bar Asian crispy sticky bun with spicy oven-roasted chicken and cabbage and carrots
Head to L'Olivier for this crispy sticky bun with spicy oven-roasted chicken. L'Olivier Restaurant & Bar/Twitter
Sage 400 Japanese Cuisine lobster salad! Generous chunks of lobster tail tossed with mixed greens, water crest, grape tomatoes, watermelon daikon, peeled sumo oranges, and thin sliced granny smith apples in our homemade nuoc mum vinaigrette topped with bla
Sage 400 features this lobster salad as an entree choice. Sage 400 Japanese Cuisine/Facebook
The RDG Burger, at RDG + Bar Annie
Don't even try to resist the burger at RDG + Bar Annie. Photo by © Debora Smail
Pico's Amaretto and Vanilla Flan
Finish off a meal at Pico's with flan.  Pico's Mex Mex/Facebook
Mr. Peeples grilled pork chop with chipotle mac and cheese I THINK
Order the grilled pork chop at Mr. Peeples just to get the chipotle mac & cheese.  Mr. Peeples/Facebook
Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse pan-seared Atlantic salmon
Not in the mood for steak? Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse offers pan-seared Atlantic salmon. Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse/Facebook
60 Degrees Mastercrafted salad July 2014
The chopped salad is one of the starters at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted.  Photo by Joel Luks
Caracol Mexican street food classic, a Cemita. Mexican sandwich- choice of fish or chicken milanese - on housemade beer-fermented sesame seed bun and housemade cheese
Mocking Bird Bistro petite cab strip steak with wild mushrooms, pommes frites and madeira sauce
Quattro dining room
Artisans Houston restaurant crowd venue
L'Olivier Restaurant & Bar Asian crispy sticky bun with spicy oven-roasted chicken and cabbage and carrots
Sage 400 Japanese Cuisine lobster salad! Generous chunks of lobster tail tossed with mixed greens, water crest, grape tomatoes, watermelon daikon, peeled sumo oranges, and thin sliced granny smith apples in our homemade nuoc mum vinaigrette topped with bla
The RDG Burger, at RDG + Bar Annie
Pico's Amaretto and Vanilla Flan
Mr. Peeples grilled pork chop with chipotle mac and cheese I THINK
Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse pan-seared Atlantic salmon
60 Degrees Mastercrafted salad July 2014
Eric Sandler head shot column mug March 2014

Since Texans value straight talk, allow me to indulge in a bit of honesty about Houston Restaurant Weeks. While it's wonderful that the event raises a lot of money for the Houston Food Bank (more than $1.2 million last year alone), the primary appeal for most people is the idea that they're getting a good deal on the meal. After all, it would be far better for the Food Bank if everyone who eats a HRW meal simply donated the $35 (or whatever they would spend on the menu) directly and stayed home for dinner one night. 

Of course, that isn't happening.

To appeal to value-conscious diners doing good though, here's a list of restaurants that are offering both $45 dinner menus and $20 lunch menus. Figuring in a drink or glass of wine plus tax and tip, the $45 dinner can become $70 pretty easily, which is a definite birthday/anniversary-type splurge for most people. 

Considering most people probably won't drink at lunch, the total fee for those $20 lunches is closer to $30 for three courses. Now that feels pretty reasonable, and, in several instances, the dishes at both lunch and dinner overlap at least a little. 

Getting the same food for less than half the price? Now that's why HRW is so popular.

Artisans

The menu at this Midtown temple of French gastronomy is only two courses, but they're good ones. Entree choices consist of sauteed trout, braised chicken or a roasted pork filet. Since no French meal would be complete without pastries, the second course offers a choice of chocolate mousse, profiteroles or blueberry clafoutis.

Regardless of the choice, you still get to enjoy Artisans' smooth service and luxuriously appointed dining room. 

Caracol

Dinner at Hugo Ortega's white hot seafood restaurant near the Galleria involves multiple menus and optional wine pairings. Lunch is simpler, with only two choices and an a la carte approach of six entrees and three desserts. My top two picks are the octopus salad in pumpkin-seed dressing and the wood-roasted ribs served with rice and beans.

Both are can't miss items on the regular menu, but vegetarians will appreciate the queso de vegetales that comes with fresh tortillas. For dessert, find out why Ruben Ortega's churros are the best in Houston.   

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse

The lunch menu at this Galleria steakhouse helps explain why it has been the top Houston Restaurant Weeks donor for the past few years. The two-course menu manages to include steak, in the form of sliced filet or filet medallions, for only $20.

 The lunch menu at this Galleria steakhouse helps explain why it has been the top Houston Restaurant Weeks donor for the past few years. 

Is it as satisfying as a perfectly medium-rare, 16-ounce New York Strip?

Maybe not, but that steak is $46 by itself on the regular menu, and who can get any work done after a meal like that anyway? Start with a salad to keep things light and enjoy the value of a solid experience at a bargain price.   

L'Olivier

Sadly, L'Olivier's recently celebrated fried chicken isn't on the Restaurant Weeks menu (still only available Wednesdays during happy hour), but the three-course menu still includes plenty of tempting choices. Start with the restaurant's signature homemade pate or enjoying refreshing watermelon gazpacho. The quiche of the day will satisfy Francophiles, while those looking for a more American option can go with the burger.

Chocolate mousse, profiteroles or strawberry soup round out the meal.   

Mr. Peeples

The Midtown steakhouse with the love it or hate it Vegas by way of Miami Vice decor recently started serving lunch, and the three-course Houston Restaurant Weeks menu features some of the best items. Of the three starters, the crab cake is a good version of the classic, with just enough breading to hold together lots of fresh crab meat.

Go with the grilled pork chop for an entree, mostly just to get the chipotle mac and cheese. All of pastry chef Johnny Wesley's desserts are solid, but the black magic cake is one of his finest creations.

Mockingbird Bistro

This neighborhood restaurant that sits between River Oaks and Montrose has a strong, three-course menu that includes both vegetarian and gluten free choices. Appetizer choices include Mockingbird's award-winning Caesar salad, as well as salmon tartare and gazpacho. The five entree choices include a petite strip steak, salmon and rigatoni bolognese.

 This neighborhood restaurant that sits between River Oaks and Montrose has a strong, three-course menu that includes both vegetarian and gluten free choices. 

Those with a sweet tooth should focus on the flourless chocolate cake for dessert, but apple bread pudding and ricotta cheesecake make tempting alternatives. 

Pico's

The 30-year old Mex-Mex favorite may have recently relocated to a more upscale space on Upper Kirby, but diners will find that chef/owner Arnaldo Richards has maintained his high standards for Pico's food. All of the choices on the three-course menu are gluten free. Of course, one can always order a side or tortillas to make them gluten full.

Three three appetizer choices include calamari sauteed in olive oil and chicken soup. Of the four entrees, it would be hard to pass on Pico's signature roasted poblano pepper stuffed with chicken or pulled pork. Keep it simple for dessert with classic rice pudding. 

Quattro

Hobnob with the high powered attorneys and other various titans who populate the dining room of this restaurant within the Four Seasons hotel downtown. The three-course menu starts with a choice of soup or one of two salads. For an entree, choose from a flatbread pizza, risotto or chicken milanese.

Finish the meal off an affogato (espresso poured over gelato) or selection of sorbets.  

RDG + Bar Annie

The Houston classic delivers a tidy three-course menu that showcases its Southwestern heritage as well as several gluten free items. Of the starters, white gazpacho and cipollini onion and blackberry salad sound the most appealing.

Hard to resist the burger as an entree, but vegetarians will enjoy the seared avocado salad. For dessert, choose from chocolate, pineapple or vanilla ice cream. 

Sage 400

Most of the sushi restaurants that are participating in HRW don't offer lunch, but longtime Galleria restaurant Sage 400 is one of the rare exceptions. Both the first and second courses include sushi options in the form of soft shell shrimp maki to start and a chef's choice of sushi and sashimi for an entree.

Other options include miso-cured pork belly and salmon poke. As for whether to get mochi or green tea ice cream for dessert, well, that's a choice with no losers. 

Honorable Mention: 60 Degrees Mastercrafted

The Upper Kirby ranch to table restaurant features a three-course menu. Click through to see CultureMap's video with chef Fritz Gitschner and sommelier Vanessa Trevino Boyd that takes an in-depth look at several of the choices. 

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