$13 at Fadi's Mediterranean Grill

Where: Fadi's Mediterranean Grill, 1236 Westheimer, 281-556-8390‎

What $13 gets you: A free-for-all romp through an impossibly enticing cafeteria line. Fadi's gives you a tray, then fills it with food. Meat dishes come with any number of sides. Given the decreasing price scale for upping the ante ($1.50, $1, $0.50), and the colorful assortment of food-art to choose from, plan on getting a few.

We went for a falafel plate and sides of couscous, eggplant and hummus. Then we were handed a small plate of "comes-with-it-anyway" vegetables and rice, which we never got to, and a loaf of fresh-baked bread.

Our description of the bright-yellow couscous will sound either gross or delicious (we found it the latter). It managed to taste both buttery and dessert-sweet, and was the first item on our plate to disappear. The eggplant, topped with cheese, tomatoes and other goodness, was gooey and satisfying.

We have always been leery of hummus. It's hard to be less exciting than mashed chick-peas, and the stuff looks like, and often tastes as bland as (we imagine) mixed cement. Not here. With a small pool of olive oil and dashes of spices, it soon had us scraping away the remains with bread.

Back in April, we lovingly ribbed the Franken-monster that is DNR European Café, a fast-food joint in Montrose that tries to pass itself off as Mediterranean healthy. Fadi's fits the bill. It left us upbeat and full, and ready, if the opportunity presented itself, to grab a Speedo and some tanning oil and splash around the Aegean Sea...

The falafel was crisped to perfection. It was soft and green within, and the accompanying sauce was just subdued enough not to mask the taste.

Fadi's feels like an open-air market (but inside, and air-conditioned), with cheerful music and an excited din rising up from the large lunch-time crowd.

Recommended? We're going back for the sampler (see below).

Bonus point: The Fadi's Ultimate Sampler ($13.99) lets you try every side, along a meat entrée.

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