Where: Kojak's Timberbrook Café, 1912 West 18th Street, 713-426-1800
What $13 gets you: At lunch, your money goes a little further at Kojak's (on average the lunch prices are about $1 less per entrée than the dinner prices). Lunch is from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the lineup features hot sandwiches, Po-boys, salads and entrées. Dinner, from 5 to 8 p.m., is heavier on the entrées, but some sandwiches are still available. Get there before 6 p.m., and you can ask about the lunch selections.
We got there at exactly 5 p.m. and so were able to order from both menus. We ordered the Romano pasta from the dinner menu (linguini with meatballs and marinara sauce, topped with shaved Parmesan cheese with a side salad for $9.59), and a Mediterranean plate from the lunch menu (falafel patty, Tabbouleh salad, olives and pita bread for $7.59).
The linguini was the definition of al dente. The meatballs were small and tasty, and the cook's hand had been generous with them. The Romano sauce was a little tangier than we were used to, but we quickly adapted. The linguini came with a respectable salad, tossed greens topped with more shaved Parmesan cheese. A tiny square of French bread finished the offering. Normally we would have wanted more bread and butter to smooth over it, but we were busy with our linguini and didn't notice.
Sadly, the Mediterranean plate was not as appetizing. Everything was more or less the right temperature and visually acceptable, but the falafel, the salad and even the pita bread were all rather flat tasting and unremarkable. (To its credit, Kojak's olives were fine, but it is kinda hard to mess up olives.)
Either selection would have kept you beneath the $13 mark, even with a $2 drink thrown in.
Recommended: Yes. The food is flavorful and well-made. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed. And the prices are wonderfully low for the quality (and quantity) of food offered.
Insider tip: Check out the daily specials. The day we visited, the lunch specials included chicken enchiladas with salsa verde and Greek orzo pasta with chicken, mushrooms and tomatoes. Dinner offerings included pumpkin ravioli, grilled pork chops, and meatloaf with brown gravy (it's served by the mound) We missed the meat lasagna, so we're planning on a return trip. Lunch tops out at $9.99, and dinner specials average $10.99.