$7 at Bodega's Taco Shop

Where: Bodega's Taco Shop, 1200 Binz St., 713-528-6102

What $7 gets you: A Bodega taco plate that includes three tacos built to order and a choice of two sides, and that pretty much means rice and beans.

The first step to get food at Bodega's Taco Shop is "pick the pallet," which might confuse you, and if you're standing at the counter with glassy eyes the waitress might recognize that and ask, "Are you confused?"

You'll say yes, and she'll explain, "It's like Subway. Except it's Mexican food. And there's a full bar."

She should say, "It's like Chipotle, except the food is better. And there's a full bar." Because Bodega's is basically a glorified Chipotle - just as much food for just as cheap - and if you like that place, you'll love this place.

On our three-taco plate ($6.45), we chose two crispy and one soft, loaded with spicy ground sirloin and pork carnitas. Bodega's uses double-layered corn tortillas for its soft tacos, which, in our opinion, works much better than flour.

The salsa selection is where Bodega's shines. The list is 11 deep with choices ranging from ancho honey to pineapple salsa to avocado ranch. If you can't decide, the staff will dip and load a tortilla chip for as many samples as you can handle.

We ate with a couple friends, and one chose the "mango blaze" salsa for his burrito; it was so spicy, he had to leave the table at least once to load up on more drink. He also lifted his burrito over his head at one point during the meal, complimenting its no-drip firmness. The other friend had chicken on his tacos that he called a little dry.

Bodega's is on the ground level of the Park Plaza Medical Center building, but it stays festive with bright green and yellow decor, set against 1970s-era wood paneling that might be in your grandmother's basement. More importantly, it stays away from the stainless-steel-chic designs that make Chipotle feel like a hospital compared to this place. There's also a nice little outdoor area where you can eat if the weather is right.

Then there's the bar, decked out with those wonderful multi-colored Christmas lights. There's a good selection of draft and bottled beer, and margaritas are marked down to $3.75 during Bodega's 4 to 8 p.m. happy hour.

Recommended: Yes. It still feels like fast food, but compared to the always-crowded Chipotle in the Medical Center, Bodega's is by far the best fast-food Mexican within walking distance of a hospital.

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