The Montrose area has always had great restaurants, but over the last three years it's been the epicenter of a cultural explosion. It’s the hub of a young and adventurous demographic willing to experience new cuisine. With that said, many of the restaurants considered to be the “best” in the area are also expensive. No matter. The Montrose area has plenty of good values to choose from as well.
Here are ten restaurants where a good meal can be had for $20 or less—lunch or dinner. (Pricing has been obtained from the restaurants menus and web sites and are subject to change.)
Honorable Mention: Lankford Grocery, 88 Dennis
Grim Burger $9.49
Chicken Sliders $6.99
Onion Rings $3
According to the map of Houston neighborhoods, Lankford Grocery is technically in the Montrose but it’s barely on the outskirts of downtown, so we’ll just leave this here. The big, over-the-top burgers will not let diners leave hungry. In fact, don’t bother showing up if you’re not hungry or you’re going to have difficulty doing justice to the Grim Burger, topped with macaroni and cheese, jalapeño, bacon and a sunny side up fried egg. That’s not to mention there simply has to be room left for crispy, golden onion rings. Lighter eaters can give the Tuna Melt or Grilled Chicken Sandwich a try.
10. Little Bigs, 4621 Montrose
Chili Cheese Fries (large) $5.32
Three Sliders (most types) $6.69
“No Minors” Milkshake $5.77
If you enjoy your burgers bite-size—and lots of them—Little Bigs is the place for you. They moved several months ago to its new, bigger location in Chelsea Market and chef Bryan Caswell says it’s the best decision they ever made. There are super-cute hot dog “sliders” as well and don’t forget to grab some sriracha mayo to put on, well, just about everything. If there are a few extra bucks to throw around, you could do far worse than indulge in the White Russian milkshake named after Club No Minors.
9. Niko Niko’s, 2520 Montrose
Gyro Sandwich $8.25
Christos' Vegetable Lasagna $13.95
Souvlaki Plate $17.50
The Fetokakis family’s original location still has hearty, no-nonsense Greek fare at reasonable prices. It’s not hard to fill up and keep the bill at or under $20. The souvlaki plate includes double the meat of a shish kabob and comes with pita, tomato, onion, bell pepper, tzatziki sauce and a yalandji dolma. The vegetable lasagna is Dimitrios Fetokakis’ father’s recipe and also comes with salad, pita and tzatziki. Add a side to the beef and lamb gyro for an additional $2.
8. Pizaro’s Pizza Napoletana, 1000 West Gray
Polpette Pizza $17
Salsiccia e Funghi Pizza $17
Corkage Fee $3
Pizaro’s is not cheap pizza, but for $20 plus tax diners can have a whole pizza each with wine to-boot. Owner Bill Hutchinson is so serious about the quality of Pizaro’s Napoletana pizzas that he actually got certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana as a pizzaiuolo. In other words, he’s an expert at making the blistered, thin-crusted discs of wonder. Budget-conscious wine and beer lovers appreciate that Pizaro’s (both the Montrose and Memorial locations) are BYOB with a very modest $3 corkage. That leaves more cash for indulging in a Polpette Pizza with tomato sauce, meatballs, ricotta and mozzarella or a Salsiccia e Funghi with tomato sauce, roasted crimini mushrooms, sausage, and mozzarella. If money is super-tight, the least expensive pizza is the $13 Margherita. People with a few more bucks might consider getting a pizza topped with fancy jamón Ibérico.
7. BB’s Café, 2710 Montrose
Tex-Cajun Poutine $9
Lloyd’s Crawfish Etouffee $12
Midnight Masterpiece Po’ Boy $9.50
This Cajun mainstay is now open 24 hours, seven days a week, which is a godsend for late night workers (including bar and restaurant personnel) or people who helped close down the Montrose bars. The Midnight Masterpiece is a big roast beef po’ boy, but people who aren’t starving or want to try other items can also get it as a half-order. Similarly, there are small, medium and large serving sizes of the crawfish etoufee and other dishes. It’s worth mentioning that BB’s Tex-Cajun Poutine has been on the Houston Press 100 Favorite Dishes list repeatedly, too, and this wonder of fries, queso, roast beef and gravy is as filling as it is economical.
6. Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine, 912 Westheimer
Chicken Shawarma $9.99
“A3” Platter (one meat, three sides) $12.99
Lamb Shank $17.99
Ask Montrose residents where they like to go for a casual lunch or dinner and they may very well say, “Aladdin.” It’s a lot of fun to go in, gaze at the steam tables and pick what you want off the line. The most expensive item on the menu is the braised lamb shank, but considering that it comes with two sides (three if you include the rice) means it’s still a great value. The hummus and falafel are both terrific, too. As if you needed another incentive, it's BYOB.
5. El Real Tex-Mex, 1201 Westheimer
Tamale Skillet (3 Tamales) $7.95
Chingo Bling Platter $14.95
Beef Fajitas (half pound) $18.45
When scouting for great fajitas for our 100 Favorite Dishes list, we were surprised by two things. One, El Real’s beef fajitas turned out to be far superior to a venerable old favorite and, two, they were also a few bucks cheaper per pound. The Chingo Bling platter is a fan favorite thanks to its great variety. It comes with smoked chicken relleno, chicken enchilada with salsa verde and a tender pork tamale.
4. Osaka Japanese Restaurant, 515 Westheimer
Osumashi soup $4.95
Spicy Salmon Skin Salad $8.95
Yaki Niku Don (beef over rice) $13.95
Osaka is one of Houston’s most underrated values on Japanese cuisine. Diners enjoy a free appetizer and dessert with every meal. On a recent visit, dinner started with a seafood shumai and a crispy tempura shrimp and ended with a choice of green tea, red bean, mango or ginger ice creams. It’s completely possible to dine here economically, but two people can feast like kings for about $80 including a large hot sake. The Spicy Salmon Skin Salad is a meal unto itself and the gorgeous chirashi (sashimi over rice) at $24.95 is well worth going a few bucks over budget.
3. Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca, 500 Westheimer
Wood-Roasted Fava Beans with Sea Salt $5
Maccheroni with prosciutto, peas and scallions $12
Tonno e Cipolla (preserved tuna and onion) Pizza $15
Yes, you can dine in a Marco Wiles restaurant for $20. The sibling restaurant to Wiles’ Vinoteca Poscol and fine dining establishment Da Masrco sells appetizers for $5, plates of pasta for $12 and a variety of pizzas with quality Italian ingredients range from $9 for a simple marinara to the $17 modo mio, which allows diners to select five toppings of their choice. There are several splurge items as well, like the charcuterie, cheese and fish sampler platters with five or six different selections. If you decide to indulge, we won’t judge.
2. Mala Sichuan, 1201 Westheimer
Red Oil Dumplings $7
Dry Pot Chicken $12
Tea Smoked Duck $16
One of the newest dining additions to the Montrose is also full of terrific values. The plates, when shared family-style, are the best bang for the buck. Fans of tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns will meet their match here, but there are dishes for every palate. The Red Oil Dumplings, which made our 100 Favorite Houston Dishes list, are a terrific starter and the Tea Smoked Duck is a perpetual favorite. The menu is so extensive that it will take repeated visits to feel like you've thoroughly explored all the delights this place has to offer.
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1. Paulie’s, 1834 Westheimer
Italian Family Salad (full size) $11
Bucatini Amatraciana (half size) $10
Chicken Piccata $15
It’s never too expensive to dine at this beloved Houston classic. Full-size salads are a meal, especially after adding shrimp, chicken, chicken salad or roasted salmon. Nearly all the dishes are available in both full and half sizes to fit any appetite. Thursdays is osso buco night (get there early as it often sells out) and lovers of spicy food find themselves addicted to the Bucatini Amatraciana pasta tossed with bacon, garlic, cherry tomatoes, Pecorino and a hefty dash of chili flakes. Finishing a meal with expertly-crafted espresso (the baristas train at Greenway Coffee) and a brightly iced sugar cookie is almost mandatory.