Lingering Over Lunch at Rioja

Fine dining establishments are suffering in these days of the downturn. But as we've mentioned many a time before, the best restaurants in the city have some of the choicest lunch specials. Bistro Don Camillo's business lunch, an appetizer, entrée and dessert for $18.95 is quite a deal and so is Tony's "Greenway Special," soup or salad, stuffed chicken and dessert for $17. Da Marco usually offers a helluva spread for $25.

But one of my favorite midday feasts is the $13.95 three-course tapas lunch at Rioja, the Spanish restaurant at Kirkwood near Westheimer. I love the variety of tapas available in the one-from-column-A, one-from- column-B, plus an entrée approach. The gazpacho is an excellent first course this time of year and so are the salads. Roasted cheese in tomato sauce, toasted baguette with shrimp spread, and Spanish chorizo are also excellent choices. Entrée choices include short ribs, beef tenderloin, pork tenderloin, leg of lamb and empanadas. But the smart move is to pay $3 extra and get Rioja's awesome paella as your main course. A glass of the namesake Spanish red wine wouldn't hurt either.

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