Cheap & Good Eats: Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in the Heights

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We've been rounding up our favorite budget lunch spots in different neighborhoods around town (See the complete list at the end of the post).

This time, we're moving to the antique shop, bungalow, and dining mecca that is the Houston Heights. There were certainly no shortage of great eateries before, but in the past year even more have been popping up -- like the much-anticipated fried chicken joint Funky Chicken, market-restaurant-hybrid Heights General Store, and soulful Cajun spot Mozelle's Cajun Seafood Market.

We're excited about the new guys, but we've narrowed down the list to a few tried-and-true favorites. Here's our list of the best cheap (less than $10) lunch spots that this area has to offer:

Note: For the purposes of this list, "the Heights" is defined as south of Loop 610 West, east of North Shepherd, north of the Katy Freeway and west of Airline Drive.

Honorable Mention: Hot dogs at Happy Fatz and the new storefront of Good Dog Houston, the Tex-Mex lunch specials at Teotihuacan Mexican Café, and gravy-dipped beef sandwiches at Chicago Italian Beef.

5. Jus' Mac

This mac-and-cheese haven's Frito-topped Chili Cheese Mac has made our critics' 100 Favorite Dishes for two years running. But it's not just the frito-pie hybrid that should have you headed there. There are plenty of other gut-busting-in-a-good-way macaroni and cheeses to be had -- like the Tikka, loaded with spicy chicken masala and pepperjack cheese; or the Homerun, stuffed with colby-jack and an all-beef hot dog. A personal skillet will run you between $4.75 and $9 (that's for the decadent Friday-only crab macaroni), and large salads and loaded paninis can be had for $5.95 and $7.95 to $8.95, respectively. But who are we kidding? You're gonna get the mac', right?

4. Chiloso's Taco House

Chiloso's house-made tortillas are things of legends -- fat, fluffy and warm, we love them stuffed with eggs, chorizo, potatoes, and salsa. Luckily for us, the taco spot serves up their infamous breakfast tacos 'til close (3:00 p.m Tuesday through Saturday, 2:30 p.m. on Sundays).

But really, we think their lunch tacos are just as good. Grab a spot on the patio (when it warms up) and dive into a couple of tacos ($2.69 to $3 each) loaded with piping-hot fillings like tender pollo verde, carne guisada, and beef fajita. Or try the daily lunch specials -- think chicken flautas or quesadillas served with rice, beans, and all the fixin's -- for just $6.55.

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3. El Gallo de Jalisco

You've likely driven by this unassuming Mexican joint on White Oak without giving it a second glance. Well, we suggest you do yourself a favor and pop in to the hidden gem next time your hungry. There, you'll find some of the simplest, most unpretentious comfort food in town.

Try the silky and rich pollo con mole ($7.50), served practically swimming on the plate with rice and refried beans; or go for the daily special ($6.50), which varies from dishes like bistec milanesa (breaded fried steak) and pork chops with green hot sauce. Each special comes with rice rice, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and tortillas. If you want something light(ish), tacos filled with lengua, barbacoa or chicharron are just $1.50 with $.25 toppings.

Just remember to bring cash, as the tiny shop does not accept credit or debit cards.

2. Esther's Cajun Cafe and Soul Food

We wholeheartedly believe that if there's not a steam table at your favorite soul food restaurant, you're doing it wrong. Come to this tiny joint for Southern favorites like oxtails, smothered pork chops, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens, mixed alongside New Orleans' classics like gumbo and crawfish etouffee. While the big-plate combos with three sides don't meet our budget, you can order individual entrees and sides or smaller special plates for under $10.

Tack on a piece of Esther's chocolate cake to-go and you're guaranteed a happy, happy day.

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1. Asia Market

Just on the fringe of the Heights, this mom-and-pop market and restaurant is more than worthy of the top spot on our list. It's often also included in our Where the Chefs Eat series, as it's one of the best, most authentic Thai restaurants in town. The fact that the plates are cheap and plentiful is just a bonus.

Come for the stellar array of curries -- like the kang massaman (7.95), a yellow curry with chicken (or beef, pork or shrimp), potatoes, onion, carrots and peanuts -- each served with a bowl of incredibly fluffy white rice. A whole fried tilapia will run you just $4.95, while a Thai-style som tom, a sweet and sour green papaya salad made with dried shrimp, can be devoured for $5.95.

Just remember: Spicy here is farang (foreigner) spicy, so order hot instead of Thai hot if you can't handle a runny nose.

See our other Top 5 Budget Lunch Lists:

Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in Montrose Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in River Oaks Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in Midtown Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in Upper Kirby Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in EaDo Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in Rice Village Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in the East End Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in the Galleria Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in The Woodlands Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in Old Downtown Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in Pearland

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