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$13 at This Is It Soul Food

Where: This Is It Soul Food, 207 Gray, 713-659-1608

What $13 gets you: A plate of good, down-home Southern soul food, with three heaps of vegetables and your choice of meats

Thank goodness Frank Jones was poor as a kid. Jones, who along with his wife Mattie, founded This Is It Soul Food in 1943, grew up stretching meals to feed his brother, sister and himself after his mom died when he was 12. He dreamed, his PR info says, of owning a restaurant where "only hearty portions would be served." And once you see the overflowing plate lunch that's the This Is It standard, you'll be happy he did.

During our recent visit we had thin-crust fried chicken, green beans, corn, and mashed potatoes. Our dining partner had meatloaf topped with a red sauce, yams, green beans and mashed potatoes. Both plates were fully loaded and included cornbread for just $9.95.

We usually add a sweet tea and a piece of cake (the chocolate is the best!), but after taxes, that would have put us over our $13 limit, so we refrained.

Our chicken was crispy, but juicy and tender. The sides were done to Mr.-Jones-would-be proud-perfection. The meatloaf was thick cut, moist and flavorful, both with and without the red sauce. Everything was piping hot, fresh and yes, probably heart attack-inducing.

There are daily specials at This Is It, including chicken fried steak on Mondays, Chitterlings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, ham hocks on Thursdays, and fried catfish on Fridays. Check the Web site for a list of the day's offerings, or, since there are always at least ten meat choices on any given day, just take your chances. You're sure to like something.

Recommended? Absolutely! This is good, just-like-momma-used-to-make-for-Sunday-dinner comfort food. The crowd is friendly (and includes plenty of local power players), and the price is very reasonable.

Bonus point: There's not a salad in sight. (You don't have to pretend you're even trying to eat healthy when you're here.)

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Insider tips: Don't bother going to This Is It at noon or on Sunday; you'll never get in the door. The line trails out to the sidewalk. Try for 11:30 a.m. or after 1 p.m. on weekdays or a Saturday instead.

Try not to stare when local celebs are sitting at the table next to you. That city council member or big shot lawyer is just trying to get her grub on, same as you.

Also, and we really mean this: do not mess with the serving line staff. Not only because they will tell you to your face that you're stupid, but because they will take a long time while they do it and that holds up the line - which really pisses the rest of us off.

-- Olivia Flores Alvarez

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