HTX Good Eats 2012
Food for Thought

A cheap lunch: Five great deals that will change the way you look at eating out in Houston

A cheap lunch: Five great deals that will change the way you look at eating out in Houston

News-Kata Robata
The best lunch deal in Houston? It'd be hard to beat Kata Robata's.
Whataburger burger french fries
Whataburger: Yes, it’s fast food, no I don’t think anyone should eat it everyday but once in a blue moon (OK, maybe more) it’s not so bad. Courtesy photo
News_Marene Gustin_Giacomo's Cibo e Vino_cichette
Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino: The real value comes from the small plates or cichetti, as shown here. Courtesy of Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
Kata Robata, scallops, mushrooms, pickeled onion
It's Kata Robata for my newest cheap lunch, sushi. Kata Robata Sushi + Grill/Facebook
News-Kata Robata
Whataburger burger french fries
News_Marene Gustin_Giacomo's Cibo e Vino_cichette
Kata Robata, scallops, mushrooms, pickeled onion

It’s almost scary to eat these days. There’s arsenic in my rice, the Ham-ageddon is upon us, bacon will be at a premium next year and now the feds have declared a fishing disaster in New England.

And then I heard from a restaurateur that business is down, as per usual before a presidential election, because people are worried about the economy and don’t want to spend a lot.

 But how can I save when I eat out almost every day? Because there are some lunch spots where you can get a decent meal for less than 10 bucks.  

As my pal recently reminded me, not everyone can eat at Tony’s for lunch everyday.

Not even me. Not on a writer’s salary. Although I do love Tony’s and plan on saving up to go back real soon.

But how can I save when I eat out almost every day?

Because there are some lunch spots where you can get a decent meal for less than 10 bucks. Seriously.

Of course that doesn’t include alcohol. You’ll have to go with tap water or ice tea and hit the booze at home later. Not that I do that.

So here are my top five cheap lunch spots in Houston:

#5: Whataburger

Yes, it’s fast food, no I don’t think anyone should eat it everyday, but once in a blue moon (OK, maybe more) it’s not so bad. And it’s filling and cheap.

Just $4.37 nets you a Whataburger Jr. meal that comes with a burger that’s plenty big enough for most folks, a small fry and small drink. Which, of course will be a Dr Pepper since you’re a Texan.

I find this to be a quick and filling meal on days when I don’t want to spend a lot and I plan to double my miles on the elliptical machine. And do a juice fast the next day.

#4: Blanco’s Bar & Grill

That Jr. burger not enough for you? Than cruise on down to the River Oaks’ honky tonk known as Blanco’s Bar & Grill. I am always amazed at the longtime Houstonians who pass by this dilapidated looking spot almost daily and don’t know that they serve food here.

I love to go to lunch here, it’s all about Texas country kitsch, boot beaten wood floors and stuffed coyotes and buffaloes.

 The lunch specials at Kata Robata may just be the best deal in town. 

Oh, and the daily specials here are huge! For $6.95 you can score a chicken fired chicken with cream gravy, green beans, white rice and a slice of Texas toast on Wednesdays. Other days serve specials of big ol’ plates of meatloaf or fried fish, all for under eight bucks.

Add a $2 longneck beer and you’re still saving a lot at lunch.

#3 Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino

OK, you’re thinking you can’t eat at a really good, healthy restaurant for under $10, right?

Wrong. You can. But you won’t get the portion sizes that you will at Blanco’s. Which is OK because we all need to eat less anyway. Yes, you.

So here’s another of my fave lunch spots: Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino. I love, love, love this casual Italian eatery run by chef Lynette Hawkins. She makes some of the best Italian dishes in the city and you can get half portions of many of the dishes.

But the real value comes from the cicchetti or small plates. If you just need a little something you can choose from spicy harissa shrimp, a braised chicken thigh on Swiss chard polenta or an egg poached in ratatouille. All for about $6 to $8.

Usually this is enough for me, although I admit I always order wine, very reasonably priced, but it will up the bill over $10.

#2 Ouisie’s Table

Didn’t see this one coming, did you? This Houston gem of Southern comfort food with its gorgeous dining room and patio can be a pricey but elegant meal. But it can also be a great value for lunch.

Last time I was there, I ordered the Ouisie’s Splendid Spud. It’s listed as an appetizer but I couldn’t eat anything more after I finished the plate of small baked potato slices topped with garlic, e.v.o.o., sour cream, caviar (hell yes!) plated with smoked salmon, dill and fried capers.

Forgo the wine and this lunch can be had for just $8. Divine. There’s also a grapefruit, avocado and red onion salad on the lunch menu for the same price.

#1 Kata Robata

And now my newest cheap lunch: sushi. And I don’t mean the packaged stuff you buy at Randalls or Whole Foods Markets. I mean the real deal from one of the best Japanese restaurants in the city, Kata Robata, helmed by the incredible chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi.

I hadn’t been here in a long time but a friend of mine and I decided we needed a sushi fix and wound up here. And I must say I was shocked, shocked I say, at the lunch specials.

And, once again we had wine, but if you forgo the booze you can eat pretty much all the sushi and sashimi you want for under ten bucks. Check out this platter of four pieces of sashimi and four pieces each of two rolls (Californian and spicy tuna) all for $9.

The lunch specials at Kata Robata may just be the best deal in town.