Like That Chain Restaurant?

Try this local one instead.

If you like: TGI Friday's

Try: Shepherd Park Draught House

Like TGI Friday's, Shepherd Park Draught House has a bunch of stuff scattered all over its walls. Unlike TGI Friday's, that stuff is actually cool, such as copies of the owner's personal handbill collection from the 1970s and 1980s. The menu at Shepherd Park Draught House is similar to TGI Friday's in the sense that there's a smattering of everything for picky people to choose from, whether it's Jamaican jerk chicken or Korean short rib tacos, roasted turkey melts or big, beefy burgers. The atmosphere is like a grown-up version of TGI Friday's, too, although you won't find any cocktails here, just good wine and beer. Alternative choice: Gordon Street Tavern

Fresh pasta awaits you at Paulie’s.
Katharine Shilcutt
Fresh pasta awaits you at Paulie’s.

If you like: Maggie Rita's

Try: El Tiempo

It's true: Several Ninfa's locations across the city are about to be transformed into Maggie Rita's. But we all know that Ninfa's went downhill after the Laurenzo family sold it years ago. So don't mourn Maggie Rita's taking over an already dying empire; go visit the original Laurenzo family at El Tiempo, where the Tex-Mex food (and margaritas) are as good as ever. Alternative choices: Spanish Village, La Mexicana, Lopez Mexican Restaurant, Molina's Cantina

If you like: Bennigan's

Try: McGonigel's Mucky Duck

With news that Bennigan's is opening back up in Houston, an alternative to the dire food there is needed once again. So head to McGonigel's Mucky Duck, which is right down the street from one of the now-closed Bennigan's locations. The Irish pub features Bennigan's-style food — a combination of Irish and American pub grub — such as beef Guinness pie and quesadilla rolls. It also features some of the best live music in town at night. Hell, McGonigel's is even more fun to say than Bennigan's. There's no real comparison. Alternative choices: Red Lion, The Bull & Bear Tavern

On the Menu

Rainy Day Comfort Food

Tomato basil soup and grilled cheese.

On rainy days, I always crave something warm and comforting, even in summertime. As the temperature falls to a bearable heat, my mind plays tricks on me and makes me think it's cold and muggy outside, which cues the craving for something that warms my belly and my heart.

Hearty casseroles or potpies usually hit the spot, but because it is summer and most of those meals are wintertime dishes, I crave the best soup-and-sandwich combination known to man, in my humble opinion: tomato basil soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Creamy tomato basil soup that has a strong tomato flavor, along with a crispy, golden and buttery grilled cheese sandwich brightens any rainy day.

As a kid I hated tomato soup; in fact, I hated tomatoes. I was probably one of the pickiest eaters growing up, but I have overcome those childish aversions to what I called "yucky foods" and have learned to appreciate this childhood classic combination. I guess you could say I am reliving a part of my childhood I deprived myself of.

My mom always makes the best tomato basil soup. I've tried to re-create it, but it never comes out like hers — it's close, but missing that magic touch. She always watches Food Network, just like me — like mother, like daughter — and she discovered the Neely's tomato soup recipe where you roast the tomatoes before pureeing them.

When my mom makes this recipe, she always seasons the roma tomatoes with extra sugar to reduce the acidity and bring out a sweeter tomato flavor. Once the tomatoes are toasted and charred, she sets them aside to cool while she melts butter to sauté shallots. She then adds chicken stock, cayenne pepper, heavy cream and, finally, the roasted tomatoes.

The sweet shallots enhance the sweetness of the tomatoes, while the cayenne pepper heats things up. Reduce the amount of cayenne pepper if you're sensitive to heat or you like a sweeter tomato basil soup.

All you have to do now is puree everything with an immersion blender, season with salt and pepper, chiffonade fresh basil leaves and serve.

Now it's time for the grilled cheese — a childhood classic. It's such a simple sandwich, yet so incredibly delicious. Each ingredient plays a crucial role in creating a scrumptious grilled cheese. The bread has to be crispy and buttery and shouldn't overpower the cheese.

I like to use a combo of cheeses for this sandwich. I grew up on American cheese, and I love cheddar cheese, so for a contrast in color I use white American cheese and mild cheddar cheese. Cheddar is my favorite, so after buttering the outsides of the crusty white bread, I add two slices, one on each piece of bread, then place one slice of white American in the middle. The golden cheddar cheese melted with the creamy white American looks beautiful between two slices of toasted, buttery bread.

If the cheddar cheese doesn't melt, split it open after toasting the bread in a skillet, and broil for a couple of minutes; that will do the trick.

A bowl of creamy tomato basil soup and an ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich warm me up on a rainy summer day. By Molly Dunn

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