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$13 at Café Montrose on Westheimer

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Where

: Café Montrose, 1609 Westheimer, 713-523-1201

What $13 gets you: An array of fine-dining options in an upscale but unpretentious environment.

The Belgian restaurant Café Montrose is best known for its moules frites – mussels and hand-cut French fries accompanied by homemade mayo for dipping. It has twice won in the “Best Mussels” category of our annual “Best of Houston” issue, and deservedly so. Mussels at Café Montrose are prepared seven ways, including with escargot butter, curry sauce and parmesan. A large order, which comes with fries, breaks our bank at $18; a small order, which includes about two dozen bivalves but sadly no fries, is $8.

So, $13 at Café Montrose gets you a bucket of steaming-hot mussels and a free basket of bread and butter to sop up the sauces. It’s a light meal, but a tasty one. Or, there are many other routes you can take. Get a European-style soup and salad – creamy mussel soup ($5) and a German cucumber salad ($6). For lunch, order a steak sandwich ($8), which includes slices of filet mignon on a toasted baguette with onions, peppers, Swiss, homemade Dijon mayo and a side of fries, and you’ll still have money left over for a Coke ($1.50) and a tip.

Better still, go for a decadent dessert of caramelized apple crepe ($7) or the heavenly pistachio ice cream with hot Belgian chocolate ($6.50) and a cappuccino ($3.75). Or, belly up at the little bar and savor the best glass of beer you ever drank: a Chimay is $7, a Lambic is $9.

Recommended? Mais oui!

Café Montrose shares space in a dumpy strip mall with a washateria and dry cleaners; its French-speaking wait staff sometimes appears haughty and aloof; and its menu includes several items I would never order, such as rabbit with raisins and prunes ($18). And yet, to me, everything about the place is charming.

Unfortunately, during my most recent visit, I didn’t order well. It’s my own damn fault for not reading the menu closely. I arrived hungry but got only a small order of mussels steamed with butter, celery, onion and white wine. I was later disappointed to learn that fries did not come with it. I also made the mistake of downing all the bread before the steaming pot of mussels arrived, and never did manage to flag down my waitress for a second basket. With nothing to absorb the wine sauce, I lifted the pot to my lips and slurped. It was poor etiquette, I know, but what could I do?

Bonus point: Chimay on tap. - Todd Spivak

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