A funny thing happened when I sat down to compile a list of my favorite fast-food items: I couldn't think of that many that actually come from fast-food restaurants. Don't get me wrong, there are a few -- some burgers, and of course I included my go-to fast-food taco -- but most of my real favorites are sprinkled throughout the menus of "real" restaurants that I frequent, particularly for lunch.
Calling ahead or ordering online when possible obviously speeds up the process of grabbing "fast" food at "real" restaurants, but in my experience you don't need to wait long.
10. Taco Cabana: Shredded Chicken Taco
A few years ago, former EOW writer Kevin Shalin added the Taco Cabana Shredded Chicken Taco to his list of favorite fast-food chicken dishes, and it has since become a favorite of mine. I especially love to grab them on my way home from the airport when I know I have an empty fridge waiting for me. I've literally never ordered another thing off of their menu.
9. Smashburger: Texas Burger with Veggie Frites
I am a total convert to the "mustard-only" burger thing, in large part because of the Smashburger Texas Burger. I never put ketchup on hamburgers anymore! I just dig the burgers at Smashburger, too; they are fresh and greasy, which is no more an oxymoron than jumbo shrimp, so just accept it.
Add the veggie frites just because they are good, and because they count as a serving of veggies, right? Yes.
No specific dish, just Aladdin. I mean, I know I particularly like their tabbouleh and falafel and the Lebanese mashed potatoes. Especially the Lebanese mashed potatoes. Aladdin's cafeteria-style service line keeps things moving along, and they do a brisk to-go business. This is one of my strongest go-to restaurants for a quick "Oh shit, I didn't defrost anything for dinner" dinner.
7. Snap Kitchen Chili and Eggs
Healthy, filling, delicious and prepared by someone else -- now that's the perfect breakfast. There is nothing better than a warm morning meal, and the Snap Kitchen chili-and-egg combo is a reliable favorite. Great for days when a cold bowl of Cheerios just won't do (which is every morning, I think). The prepared foods at Snap Kitchen can be hit-or-miss, but they are leaps and bounds ahead of anything similar you find at the grocery store -- they are always worth a visit.
6. Paulie's: Summer Salad
Oh, you haven't had Paulie's Summer Salad? Then you haven't had one of the best things on the menu. Spicy arugula, pickled cherry tomatoes, a slice of fresh melon, all topped with fresh-shaved Parmesan, first-press olive oil and lemon juice. I order this salad 100 percent of the time that I go to Paulie's -- no joke. So bright and delicious (those cherry tomatoes should be illegal), and it comes out in a jiffy.
5. Villa Arcos: All the Tacos
I didn't think I could love Villa Arcos more, and then they started taking debit and credit cards. This is my kind of place: All of the tacos are amazing, their hot sauce is legit, nothing on the menu is more than four bucks. Breakfast tacos at Villa Arcos have saved my life a half-dozen times since I moved to Houston. Truth.
(I know "best tacos" is a controversial topic around here, and I'm bracing myself.)
4. Eatsie Boys: Kale Salad
The Eatsie Boys Kale Salad has changed a bit from the original version I fell in love with -- the current salad includes tempura kale, so I'm not exactly complaining -- but it's both light and filling, and even though it's pretty healthy, you still feel as if you're indulging a bit. It's always the simplest salads that taste the best, so all the kale needs is the white miso dressing and yellow raisins it comes with to be a complete thing unto itself. It's honestly a little magical.
3. Mytiburger: Mytiburger #1
A regular Mytiburger (lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard) plus cheese, a side of fries, a medium ice tea, all for $6.70. (Assuming you can resist the rest of the menu -- good luck.) Even an average burger would be a deal at six bucks, but this one is big, fresh and cooked to juicy perfection. The '50s diner vibe is cool, and the staff is so friendly. After they learned we had just moved to the neighborhood, they told us to remember to order ahead next time and pick up through the drive-through if we wanted take-out.
2. Whataburger: Whataburger Patty Melt
After struggling to find something to love on the Whataburger menu, an EOW commenter pointed me toward the brand's eponymous patty melts, assuring me they were far superior to other sandwiches. I've switched to the patty melt and haven't looked back, unless to test the occasional new menu item. When I am eating Whataburger, it's almost always a dripping, buttery, greasy, tasty patty melt.
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1. James Coney Island: Holy Molé Dog by chef Hugo Ortega
So, hello, get on it, Houston -- you have one more month to try the last dog in the "Chefs and Show Dogs" series at James Coney Island. Normally I like my dogs pretty simple, with just some mustard, relish and onions, but the Holy Molé should not be passed up: spicy chicken Andouille sausage topped with tinga, molé sauce, crema fresca and minced onions, all on a Slow Dough pretzel bun and garnished with thinly sliced radish. Want to hear something crazy? The radish kinda makes the whole thing, with its cool, clean crunch. Definitely go on an empty stomach -- you'll need the room.