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Cheap and Good Eats

The top five budget lunch spots in Montrose.

Top Five

Montrose has its fair share of fantastic dining, from upscale classicsMark'sandHugo'sto trendy new kids on the blockUchiandUnderbelly. But don't be fooled; there are also plenty of amazing hole-in-the-wall eateries in this hood.

Today we're focusing on the small joints that offer the best bang for your buck. Here's our list of the best cheap (under $10) lunch spots in Montrose.

Po-boys from BB's taste like they're straight out of New Orleans.
Katharine Shilcutt
Po-boys from BB's taste like they're straight out of New Orleans.
These pecan alfajores are Belen Bailey's most popular item.
Molly Dunn
These pecan alfajores are Belen Bailey's most popular item.
The state fair is proof that you can fry anything. This is proof that it works.
Kaitlin Steinberg
The state fair is proof that you can fry anything. This is proof that it works.

5. Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine

If you want to feast like a king on the cheap, Aladdin's cafeteria-style lunch is the way to go. All items are available à la carte, but we can't skip the $9.99 (or $8.99 for all vegetables) lunch special, where you can choose one entrée and three sides from the vast array of dips, salads, roasted vegetables and succulent meats set before you. We love the hot fresh pita, tabbouleh salad, Lebanese mashed potatoes and shish kebab. Oh, and the roasted cauliflower, baked chicken, fried falafel and lamb shank. No matter what you choose, the guys behind the counter will load up your plate, so you're sure to walk away happy.

4. Eatsie Boys Cafe

With all-day breakfast and monster sandwiches, soups and salads under $10, you can't go wrong with this food-truck-turned-Montrose cafe. We like the Tough Guy ($10), a cold fried chicken sandwich with slaw, sriracha ranch dressing and bread & butter pickles; the shaved Brussels sprouts salad ($9), with roasted beets, bacon and Meyer-lemon vinaigrette; or the aptly named "Trust Us" soup ($6), a never-before-seen matzoh ball pho that is out of this world. Tacking on the boys' housemade ice cream may put you over the $10 limit, but it's oh so worth it.

3. BB's Café

If you're ever in need of an afternoon pick-me-up, you can always transport yourself straight to Nola at this Creole-style eatery. And in true Southern fashion, the prices are right. Feast on $8 bowls of Maw Maw's hearty gumbo and jambalaya or $7-$9.50 giant po-boys filled with Southern favorites like fried catfish, dressed roast beef and oysters. Those are sure to fill you up, but if you're willing to spend a little extra, we suggest sharing a plate of the queso-, roast beef- and gravy-topped fries ($9). You'll never want to leave Nola again.

2. Lankford Grocery & Market

This friendly, down-home restaurant has been serving up comfort food since it opened as a grocery in 1939. The cash-only spot serves lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., so stop by for your fix of classic sandwiches ($3.75 to $6.95; think BLTs and tuna melts) and old-fashioned, messy-as-all-hell burgers ($5.75 to $9.75 for a triple) smothered in toppings like mac and cheese, habanero sauce and wasabi pineapple. Don't miss their famous daily lunch specials ($8.95) for cheesy beef enchiladas, chicken-fried steak and Texas hash that will ­rival even your mama's.

1. La Guadalupana Bakery and Café

Tucked away in a mini strip mall, this bakery and café is a true Montrose gem, offering hearty Mexican classics at unbeatable prices. Fill up on authentic barbacoa gordi tas and sopes ($3.99,$2.50); rich, flavorful pozole ($8.50); green chicken enchiladas ($9.99); or Veracruz-style steamed bass ($9.99). And we haven't even gotten to the good news: The cafe serves breakfast throughout the day, has fantastic baked goods (try the tres leches and croissants) and is BYOB. Montrose, we think we have ourselves a winner.
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Chef Chat

Baker Spotlight
Belen Bailey, Sweets by Belen.

Molly Dunn

You don't have to graduate from a culinary institute to be a successful baker. Belen Bailey, owner and baker of Sweets by Belen, proves that a love for a mother's sweets and treats, combined with a passion for baking, is more than enough to make a name for yourself in the Houston culinary world.

As a child, Bailey lived in Peru and became accustomed to having sweets or desserts with just about every single meal.

"I started baking because back in Peru, my mom and my grandma always had some kind of treat — something sweet, at home," Bailey says. "In Peru, the people have the main dish and then soup, but in my house it was the main dish and dessert. So when I moved to Louisiana, I started looking for something sweet. After a while, I was missing my mom and my grandma's sweets."

Bailey didn't go to culinary school. Instead, she attended college in Peru, where she studied nutrition and biochemistry. When she moved to America in 1997, she enrolled in Louisiana College and soon became a Spanish teacher at a local school. As if that weren't enough on her plate, she added baking after school was over for the day.

Soon she realized that baking was her true passion, despite her mother's previous apprehension about her having a career in baking.

"I remember my mom and my grandma baking on the weekends, especially Sundays, when it was like a family reunion, and so when my mom came and she saw that I already have people...that were calling me to order cakes and treats, she would start crying and she said, 'Why are you doing this when I always wanted you to go to school?' And I said, 'Mom, I went to school; I finished school; I did all of this, but this is what I really, really like to do.'"

It's Bailey's way of paying homage to her mother's and grandmother's baking.

"When it was my birthday or my sister's birthday, my mom made at least three or five different cakes in different flavors," Bailey says. "So, for my birthday I was used to having not only one cake, it was like three or four cakes when I was little, and tons of homemade treats for everybody. All of my friends loved coming to my house because they knew that my mom was going to have tons of sweets for them."

Bailey remembers having cakes filled with fruits, homemade jellies and dulce de leche, which is used to make her most popular ­product, alfajores. Customers can purchase these ­little powdered-sugar butter cookies filled with dulce de leche either with or without ­pecans.

She sells her sweets and baked goods at several farmers' markets, restaurants and local grocery stores, and through her food truck, or, as she likes to call it, the sweetmobile.

"I go to different farmers' markets and I start with the alfajores. They're the one that I sell the most, but during the summer, the popsicles are the ones I sell the most," Bailey says. "Here in this market [Rice Village Farmers Market], people know the strawberry and the mango, [but] the passion fruit, I start explaining and they like it and they come back for more, and the other tropical fruits, I just explain."

Bailey uses a variety of tropical fruits, such as cherimoya (which some describe as a custard apple), chicha morada (purple corn) and lucuma (which tastes of maple and sweet potato), to make her fruit ice pops.

"In Peru we use the purple corn to make a drink, and that drink is what we freeze and we have as an ice pop," Bailey says. "But we also make a pudding; it's called mazamorra morada; it's like a pudding with fruit, apples and raisins and prunes, figs, you name it. It's really, really good, and I like it warm."

Knowing that the chicha morada popsicle was made from purple corn, I was a little hesitant to take a bite, but was pleasantly surprised by the overall taste. You're hit with a punch of sweetness, but a few seconds after you swallow the first bite, you'll taste a hint of corn. Plus, your lips and tongue will turn bright blue.

Bailey explains that all her popsicles are made with fruit and water, except the cherimoya; it's made with milk, giving it a creamy consistency, unlike the other icy flavors.

The seasons and the markets control what products Bailey sells, so puddings are usually sold in cooler months. Bailey also reserves a few exotic desserts, such as the puddings, and some tropical fruit products not so popular in America, for Hispanic and Peruvian festivals. However, many of her products cater to Amer­icans, and she adds a Peruvian touch to in­troduce her customers to her homeland's traditional sweets.

"Everyone knows banana bread, and since we do Latin American style, we infuse raisins with pisco, and pisco is a Peruvian drink like tequila," Bailey says. "I think our niche is to do sweets, the sweets that you know, but with a different twist...we don't use any artificial flavorings in anything that we do, just like my grandmother and my mom used to make. Everything is from scratch."

You can definitely taste the pisco in the sticky banana bread — but you don't see us complaining. Bailey also puts a spin on the classic tres leches cake by incorporating pisco and topping the entire cake with shaved chocolate.

Now that she has been in the baking business for eight years and has been coming to Houston farmers' markets for more than a year, Bailey is in the process of establishing her own brick-and-mortar.

"After I resigned as a teacher, I said, 'Well, I have a little bit of money saved; what can I do to start until I have my store?' which is what I really, really want, to have my store where people can go and I can have a variety of sweets the same way I used to," Bailey says. "Back in Peru, you would just go to small bakeries and just have tea or coffee, or alfajores, banana bread, marble cake — so this is what I really want. We are looking for a store, but we will see what happens."

While Bailey works on opening her own store, she will still be serving Peruvian sweets to the Houston community, whether it's at a food truck park, at a stand in one of the many farmers' markets or at a local festival. Even though she claims not to know what she is doing in the kitchen because she was never trained to be a baker, the authenticity and incredible flavor of all her products beg to differ.

Take Bailey's advice and just try her sweets; you won't be disappointed.
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On the Menu

Chicken-Fried...Lobster??
Max's Wine Dive serves up swagger.

Kaitlin Steinberg

It may seem antithetical to pair something generally expensive and highbrow like lobster with a Southern classic like chicken-fried steak or chicken.

But there it was, plate after plate of chicken-fried lobster with home fries and collard greens sailing past me on the upturned palms of servers to tables throughout Max's Wine Dive during brunch.

When my waiter arrived and asked what I'd be eating, I just pointed.

"That," I said, gesturing to the shiny red tail beneath a mound of fried pinkish meat on the table next to me. "I want that."

"Good choice," he replied. "That's what all the rappers are getting."

Come again now? I followed his eyes down the length of the restaurant, and sure enough, there were Slim Thug at a table and Bun B at the counter.

"Oh yeah," my waiter said when he saw the surprise on my face. "They brunch here all the time. And they got the lobster, too."

After I'd had a few bites of the surprisingly balanced chicken-fried lobster, I spotted the chef at Max's, Michael Pellegrino, strolling through the restaurant. I stopped him as he passed my table.

"Okay, I have to ask," I said. "Chicken-fried lobster? What gives?"

"I know, I know!" Pellegrino said, laughing. "I refused to eat it for at least three weeks after it was invented. It's kind of a funny story."

Evidently, Pellegrino had decided to take a rare break from the kitchen for a day and left his sous chef, Ana Amayo, in charge. He poked his head in at some point — just to make sure things were running smoothly in his absence — and there it was on the specials board: Chicken-Fried Lobster.

Pellegrino says he went back to the kitchen and asked Amayo what the hell she was thinking.

"I was like, people like lobster braised in butter or steamed!" Pellegrino says. "No one wants to eat chicken-fried lobster!"

Amayo told him to give it a try, and sure enough, diners loved it. It's been a regular special for some time now, because people keep coming in and requesting the $40 plate of chicken-fried lobster.

It's a full lobster tail scooped out of the shell, then breaded in a thick, slightly spicy batter and fried until the outside is bubbly and crispy and the lobster inside is cooked through. Actually, it might be fried just a tad longer than necessary for the lobster, since it was a little tough. It still had the sweet, delicate lobster flavor, though, and it held up surprisingly well against the flavorful batter.

The fried tail meat was served on a bed of stewed collard greens that were some of the best I've ever had the pleasure to brunch on. Home fries cooked so long they're almost caramelized are a nice addition to the plate as well, though unnecessary, unless you have the appetite of a rapper. I do not.

The dish contains one final component that might have been my favorite part, even more so than the lobster: a fluffy half slice of French toast with a generous side of real maple syrup. It was rich and custardy, and it would pair perfectly with a glass or three of dry rosé on a Sunday afternoon. Breakfast and wine together? Two of my favorite things.

If you're a tried-and-true Texan like I am, you believe that anything can be improved by a little chicken-frying, and lobster is no exception. So while the notion of the lobster dish was questionable, the execution made me proud to be from the great state that has invented the likes of deep-fried butter, chicken-fried bacon and, yes, fried beer.

That said, watching Slim Thug go to town on a chicken-fried crustacean was the definite highlight of my brunch.
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Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Japanese tapas trend, The Woodlands restaurant expansion & more.

Molly Dunn

It was an exciting week in terms of openings for Houston restaurants. We heard about two closings only, but a ton of restaurants announced plans concerning openings (many came forward with dates, too!).

Let's get the closings out of the way before we get to last week's openings and news about soon-to-open establishments.

El Corral Mexican Restaurant in Cypress shut its doors. No news on why the restaurant will no longer serve customers off Highway 249. The restaurant's Facebook page hasn't been updated since June 30, so maybe things have been going downhill for a while.

Swamplot reports that the Harrisburg Sonic Drive-In has quietly closed; the once bright and vibrantly colored Sonic is covered with gray-painted plywood. Swamplot's report explains that chains, franchises, bus terminals and a golf course surrounded the drive-in — possible reasons for its demise.

Thankfully, that's it for closings. On to the openings!

The strip center along Heights Boulevard off of I-10 welcomed Salata on October 16. Eater reports that the upscale salad bar — which also ­offers wraps and soups — is the 13th Salata franchise in the Houston area. Salata also announced that it is now a gluten-free-certified ­establishment.

Another Japanese and noodle restaurant is set to open in October as well. Tiger Den will be located on Bellaire Boulevard in Chinatown. Owner Mike Tran (from Aka Sushi House) tells CultureMap that the restaurant will have five types of ramen, Hong Kong-style "cart noodles," Japanese tapas (izakaya) and grilled items.

CultureMap Houston reports that Izakaya-Wa opened on October 16. Unlike many other Japanese and noodle-house restaurants, Izakaya-Wa features Japanese tapas, or small bites (as the name implies). Carl Rosa, president of the Sushi Club of Houston and founder of Ramen in Common, sampled the food before the opening and says the laid-back restaurant emphasizes "small portions with corresponding drinks."

Kona Grill is heading to The Woodlands to open its second Houston location. The Galleria restaurant is set to open along the Waterway Square in November and will occupy more than 8,500 square feet of space, according to a press release. Kona's opening contributes to the recent restaurant expansion in The Woodlands. With Fielding's Wood Grill, Morton's Grille and Atsumi opening recently, as well as Ragin Cajun arriving in January and Whiskey Cake in 2015, The Woodlands seems to be on a roll in the restaurant scene.

Sugar Land also seems to be attracting new culinary venues. Eater reports that Preview will open in Sugar Land in November. Chef Jason Liao, previously of Austin's Umi Sushi Bar and Nanami Sushi Bar, tells Eater that Preview won't be a one-cuisine restaurant. Liao says he will serve fresh seafood, including some exotic items. The menu will change weekly, depending on the availability of seafood and other produce. Preview will not open until the middle of November, but Liao hopes to have a few soft openings before to give people a taste, or "preview," of the restaurant.

Urban Deal's Adam Brackman is working on a new place for you to grab a beer and hang out with friends in Midtown. Swamplot reports Victory Beer Garden will be a 12,000-square-foot space serving 24 taps of craft beer (no Bud Light or Miller Lite). The garden will have an area for food trucks and will also neighbor Luigi's, which will stay open late to serve the venue's customers. The opening date hasn't been announced, but this promises to be a nice change of pace from the typical bar scene.

Thanks to commenter Cheap Eats in Houston, we now know that a new wine bar has opened in Cypress. The Hidden Cellar began serving on October 10 — it's a tasting room and gift boutique featuring products from D'vine Styles Decor.

Chic Chick Chic Eats posted on Twitter that Yashoda Chat Express, an Indian food truck, recently opened. The truck serves Indian street foods, or chat, such as dahi puri, kulfi and lassi. Grab a snack after work at 11248 Wilcrest; the truck is open from 5 p.m. until 12 a.m.

Brick House Tavern + Tap opened its third Houston location on October 13. The sports tavern is located on Tomball Parkway. Now folks in that area have a new spot to watch games and enjoy crispy, hot duck wings and drunken pork meatball heroes.

Eater mentioned last week that Vallone's should be open later this month. The highly anticipated steakhouse from Tony's chef Grant Gordon and general manager Scott Sulma will feature a "technique-driven approach to steak, fish, chops and house made pastas," as stated on the restaurant's Web site. Eater released a photo of the restaurant's awning, so we can only hope that it will open before the month is over.

Two weeks ago we reported that Menchie's Frozen Yogurt took over the Swirll Frozen Yogurt in River Oaks. The "friendliest place on earth" has also taken over the Swirll Frozen Yogurt in the Galleria area. Both Menchie's locations will go live on November 2 at 11 a.m. During the grand openings, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., ten customers at each location will win free frozen yogurt for the next year. Everyone has the chance to receive a dollar off of his or her yogurt that day if he brings a Halloween costume and/or leftover candy to either of the froyo locations. Menchie's will donate the items to DePelchin Children's Center in Houston.

MAM's House of Ice Snoballs will open its brick-and-mortar in November. While it is known for serving cold items, the food truck's permanent location will include a few warmer items, such as hot chocolate, coffee and an opening-day surprise, according to Eater.

Muscle Maker Grill opened its first Houston ­location on San Felipe last week, according to B4-U-Eat's weekly newsletter. The chain restaurant serves "fit salads" like the Muscle Maker Caesar Salad and Turkey Taco Salad, along with lighter entrées. The franchise has one other Texas location in Austin, but it's temporarily closed.

B4-U-Eat also reports that Big & Juicy Juice Bar opened inside Big Yoga on Allen Parkway. So if you'd rather drink your fruits and vegetables or have a smoothie after a yoga class, Big & Juicy Juice Bar is for you.

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