$13 at Pappas Bar-B-Q

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: Pappas Bar-B-Q, 1100 Smith, 713-659-1245

What $13 gets you: Some not-too-bad barbecue from the city’s biggest corporate chain of barbecue restaurants

I never much cared for Pappas Bar-B-Q. The barbecue sauce is thin, the links and ribs are nothing special and I still don’t get the appeal of sliced beef served atop a giant baked potato. Plus, the food there isn’t expensive but it isn’t cheap either. Add fries and a drink to that sandwich and you’re up to about ten bucks.

But there are things to like – it just took me a few visits to find them.

Recommended? Somewhat.

I haven’t been to all the Pappas Bar-B-Q locations, but of the ones I have tried the one downtown near City Hall is my favorite. Pappas took it over from Luther’s Bar-B-Q a couple years back, and the place is huge. There are three seating areas that hold more than 300 diners. And the thing about it is, it’s usually empty.

When I’ve gone in the mid- to late-afternoon, I’m one of only a handful of people in the joint. Sometimes I get to wondering how they afford to pay bills. So I decided to stop by on a recent Monday at noon to see if the restaurant ever got filled. And it does. It was humming mostly with government and corporate types in dark suits. Nearly every table was taken.

I got the chopped beef sandwich ($5.55) on jalapeno toast (add $.75), which adds some needed bite to the sweet, tangy meat. I passed on the fries and instead ordered the crisp refreshing cucumber salad, which includes shredded carrots and red onions in a tart vinegar dressing ($1.50). Other sides include spicy rice, ranch beans, yams and potato salad. With money leftover, I tried the excellent cantaloupe agua fresca ($1.95) and nabbed a big bland chocolate chunk cookie ($1.35) for the road.

I took a stack of papers to read through while I ate. By the time I looked up from them, it was almost two o’clock. And, wouldn’t you know it, the place was mostly empty.

Bonus point: Free toppings bar. –Todd Spivak

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