$13 at La Carreta Mexican Restaurant

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What kind of meal can $13 buy you in restaurant-crazy Houston? We're going to find out. Armed with just $13, Houston Press staffers and freelancers are hitting the streets and eating. The rules are simple: It's $13, flat. Not $13 and change, not just under $14. $13, that's it.

Olivia Flores Alvarez starts us off:

Olivia Flores Alvarez

: La Carreta Mexican Restaurant, 208 E. 20th Street in the Heights, 713-862-0685

What $13 gets you: Quite a bit, actually. You can either get a light lunch for two, or a whomp 'em big dinner. Today I opt for the whomp 'em big dinner and start off with a small order of guacamole ($1. 80 and creamy), chips and hot sauce (free), and a fresh lime-aid ($1.50, just the right balance of tart and sweet). Then comes Dinner #2, a crispy beef taco, a bean tostada, two chicken enchiladas, rice and beans ($6, just like momma used to make). My total is $9.30, plus tax and tip, it all comes to $12 even. I resist the urge to break my $13 limit and buy a Mexican candy for $1.50. (There are rules, after all.)

Most other plates are at the $6 and $7 mark, with several at $5. Lunch for two is not just possible, it's easy. Burritos are $2 each, and very filling. Even if you both order two, that's still just $8. Add a couple of sodas (La Carreta offers Mexican sodas in addition to American ones), and it's $11. There's a special every day, usually around $5 - chile relleno, tamale dinner, taco salad and dinner combos are all regularly featured.

Recommended? Yes. This isn't your fancy, nu-wave fusion cooking. It's a simple menu with Tex-Mex standards, all decidedly homemade. The staff is attentive but doesn't hover. This is mostly a family restaurant, with a sizable non-Hispanic crowd (mostly yuppies from the Heights and Montrose).

New management took over La Carreta a little over a year ago and the new crew started to make immediate changes, adding more items to the menu and more tables to the dining room. Prices went up a quarter here and there, but even now the most expensive items top out at $7. Thankfully, the food stayed the same. The changes have paid off, there are bigger and bigger crowds coming in on weekends. There aren't any lines - yet, but the restaurant is just about there.

Bonus point: La Carreta is in the dry part of the Heights, so there are no margaritas, no Dos Equis, no loud drunks at the next table. -- Olivia Flores Alvarez

With apologies to our pals at Seattle Weekly, from whom we totally stole this idea.

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