Where: Chin Tao Chinese Restaurant, 1122 Travis St., 713-652-2822
What $7 gets you: Just about anything on the menu.
I wasn't sure if I could afford this spot in the heart of downtown, until my doubts were put to rest by the handwritten signs in the window saying "Low Price" and "Can Afford." Chin Tao is an honest, no-frills eatery with good food. The proprietors don't waste money on petty things like soda fountains or menus that weren't printed on a laser jet, probably at home. They keep their ice in an ice chest, and there's a stack of cans of cokes. They pass the savings on to you.
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We showed up at about five, so we had the place entirely to ourselves. We didn't have a great feeling about the place. Holes in the wall are one thing, but this felt kind of like an abandoned restaurant that someone had just broken into and decided to run herself. As the waitress handed out menus, she said the General Tso's chicken ($5.95) was the "best food, most popular order." So I went with that, and my companion had the broccoli chicken ($4.95).
The waitress disappeared to the back. About ten minutes later, she re-emerged. If she didn't go back and cook it right then, she wanted us to think she did, and I was convinced she had once I tasted it. It was hot, sufficiently fresh and surprisingly good. She was right about the General Tso's -- it was much better than the broccoli chicken.
Recommended: Yes. There are lo meins, different kinds of fried rice and about 15 entrees, all below $7. It's not the place to take anyone you want to impress, but it is the place for good, cheap Chinese.
Don't miss: The Tuesday special, a small order of shrimp-fried rice for only $2.15. It must be popular because it was advertised with a big sign in the window even though we visited on a Thursday. There was no mention of a Thursday special.