Cheap and Good Eats: The Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in River Oaks

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Yesterday, we brought you the Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in Montrose. Today, we're moving right next-door to its upscale neighbor, River Oaks. But just because this area is a bit ritzy, don't think for a second there aren't plenty of great dining deals.

Here's our list of the best cheap (under $10) lunch spots that River Oaks has to offer:

Note: For the purposes of this post, River Oaks is defined as south of Buffalo Bayou, west of Dunlavy, east of Suffolk and north of Westheimer.

Honorable Mention: River Oaks Shopping Center's Cafe Ginger -- where you'll find a selection of sushi rolls for between $4.50 and $9 and combination platters with chicken, beef, rice, and soup for less than $10; and Relish Fine Foods -- where you'll find hot and cold sandwiches, seasonal soups, and gourmet salads, the majority of which are $10 and less.

5. Avalon Diner

Diners should be a few things: fast, cheap, and deliciously greasy. Luckily for us, River Oaks' mom-and-pop hot spot Avalon diner is all of those things. Want breakfast for lunch? No problem -- these guys serve it all day long (another diner must to check off the list). Try a fluffy, as-big-as-your-face Philly Steak & Cheese omelette ($8.95), complete with hash browns and a biscuit, or dig in to diner classics like the Patty Melt ($7.25), Grilled Cheese ($5.25), or Frito pie ($4.75 a bowl). Don't forget to save room for a thick Blue Bell milkshake.

4. Torchy's Tacos

Austin implant Torchy's Tacos had become a cult hit among the "gourmet" taco seekers. That is, if the aptly named "Trailer Park" Taco ($3.75) -- with fried chicken, green chilies, and queso -- is considered gourmet. We like the breakfast tacos ($2.25 to $3.50), served all day long; the slow-roasted Green Chile Pork ($3.75), drenched in tomatillo sauce; or the hand-battered Baja Shrimp ($4.25), loaded with cabbage, jalapenos, and chipotle crème. Be sure not to miss out on the sides; Torchy's makes a mean Mexican Street Corn ($3.95) -- a bowl of sweet, freshly roasted corn-off-the-cob that is drizzled with a spicy ancho aioli before being topped with queso fresco, fresh cilantro, and red chili powder.

3. The Hot Bagel Shop

Looking for a super quick, super delicious lunch that's easy on the wallet? Shepherd's hole-in-the-wall Hot Bagel Shop is the way to go. New Jersey natives opened the store more than 25 years ago, so you know it's the real deal. The sandwiches, available on bagels or whole wheat bread, range from $3.99 to $6.99 and include items like roast beef, housemade chicken salad, and a New York favorite, sliced lox. Choose one from the board or build your own. We like toasting a garlic bagel and topping it with a smear of scallion cream cheese, sliced smoked turkey, and thick tomatoes. But most of all, we like the shop's bagel dogs, all beef hot dogs ($.89 to $1.79) wrapped in bagel dough and served plain or filled with jalapeño and cheddar cheese.

2. Maine-ly Sandwiches

When Maine-ly Sandwiches opened up its Shepherd location earlier this year, they were met with tons of local support. That's because they are serving up one of the best lobster rolls in town. At $9.50 for a half sandwich (don't worry, it's big enough), you are sure to walk away pleased. If lobster's not your thing (you crazy, crazy person, you), you can find plenty of other sandwiches, most ranging between $5 to $6 for a foot-long, stuffed with sliced deli meats like turkey, roast beef, and salami. Make it a combo and add a cup of soup and a fountain drink for a few extra bucks. And don't leave without a New England favorite, the Whoopie pie, (less than $2) for dessert.

1. Paulie's

Just on the edge of River Oaks lies the mecca of Italian comfort food, Paulie's. The restaurant has been all over the news since owner Paul Petronella opened up Houston's newest wine bar, Camerata, next door. But that's not why we love the place. It's the awesomely priced, deliciously casual Italian food that steals our hearts. Stop by for lunch and get a variety of sandwiches and panini ($5.25 to $9.75), daily soups ($2.50/cup, $4.25/bowl), gourmet salads ($5.50 to $9.50) and smaller portions of housemade pastas ($7.25 to $9.00). We like the traditional Italian Hoagie, served with potato salad, or the hearty veal and ground beef Rigatoni Bolognese. It's just like Nonna used to make.

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