The best lunch deals in Houston: Eat gourmet meals for $10 or less
Think spending $10 on lunch means sitting on a stool and eating a foil-wrapped burrito? There's nothing wrong with chowing down on Chipotle, but these days dropping a Hamilton at many great local restaurants can get you a full meal complete with table service, a chair that has a back and even a beverage. (Yes, you still have to tip.)
Here's are some wallet-friendly options without a counter or a drive-thru in sight.
Take advantage of the complimentary valet parking at the Westin Memorial City and check out the $10 bento box lunch at the new 024 Grille, available daily until 2 p.m.
Pick an entree from choices like a cuban panini, mini cheddar burgers and a crunchy, juicy fried chicken and waffle combo, add two sides ranging from red curry coconut soup to mascarpone potato puree, and 024 will add in a soft drink and a "sweet bite" — mine was a doughy, tennis-ball-sized fritter.
On weekday lunches, virtually the entire menu at El Real is offered for lunch special prices, from "tin can" tacos for $6.95 to a slew of enchilada plates for $8.95 and the famous Freddy Fender puffy tacos for $9.95. The bad news: Queso is still going to run you a little extra.
Most people think of Rice Village's Café Rabelais as a moderately fancy destination for French food, much like its larger sibling Brasserie Max & Julie. However I think of it as the purveyor of the best sandwiches in town.
On the lunch menu, choose from sandwich options like braised pork shoulder with honey thyme sauce ($9.95), sauteed chicken and onions ($7.95) and my favorite, the Merguez with lamb sausage, mustard and tomato ($9.50). Each comes with frites and the option to linger for an extra half an hour and blame it on the French joie de vivre.
It's not everyday you find a James Beard award-winner offering lunch for $10, and yet RDG has a neighborhood menu during lunch that includes the RDG burger, pappardelle pasta with beef rib Bolognese sauce, Cobb salad and more for a 10-spot. The socialites won't know what hit them.
What a difference a dollar or two can make. With a slight tweak downward in its prices, Down House now has a handful of sandwich and burger options at lunch that won't break a Hamilton, like their delish gouda sandwich and a kim chi burger. The impossible-to-resist fresh baked cookies, however, will still add $3 to your tab.
Chef/owner Randy Evans might have been the first chef to put casual favorites on the menu for $10 every weekday and call them Blue Plate Specials. There's nothing like his andouille sausage on Mondays, served with red beans, rice and jalapeño cornbread, but my guilty pleasure is the fried shrimp with onion rings on Fridays.
This bastion of the River Oaks crowd isn't the first place you think of for a cheap lunch, but every Tuesday and Thursday the restaurant offers its signature TNT special — a full serving of Mama's Pasta (also known as shrimp and crab meat spaghetti) for a paltry $7.
Why doesn't anyone talk about Oishii? Because no one wants to ruin this Greenway Plaza secret. At Oishii, the bento box ($8.50) with shrimp tempura, salmon teriyaki or chicken teriyaki plus miso soup, green salad, an egg roll, white rice and a California roll is actually the most expensive thing on the lunch specials menu. There's also options for nine pieces of sushi or sashimi, sushi and maki combos, rice and udon plates and more.
With its icehouse atmosphere, Beaver's isn't exactly a bastion of high-end eats. But for casual service and great barbecue for less than $10 straight off the smoker — including pork sausage, beef shoulder and smoked pork ribs — it's a great option.
Branch Water Tavern might have been dubbed Houston's preeminent power lunch spot, but that doesn't mean only oil millionaires can afford it. From Tuesday to Friday, daily lunch specials including their famous Kobe-style burger, fried chicken and chicken pot pie are all $10 with an iced tea included.
The best thing about La Fisheria is the tacos on the lunch menu. As long as you avoid the pricey lobster taco, you can order both the fried shrimp taco and the grilled octopus taco and even snag a second round of your favorite, for under $10. I recommend enjoying them on the adorable, pocket-sized patio.