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Nostalgic in Houston: The Foods of Our Youth

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Twenty-five years ago I was a wee elementary school lass who liked to watch Goonies, play Legos, and eat raw gelatin off my finger at swim meets. Life was easy back then - We got our sloppy joes from the cafeteria lunch lady and our Frito pies at the neighborhood carnival. Birthday parties had sheet cakes -- not sugar-free cupcake trees -- and "vegetarian" meant "fettucine alfredo."

Some reminders of our Bayou City youth are still creating memories for Generation2K - like milkshakes at Beck's Prime, chili cheese dawgs at JCI, and the #1 combo at Whataburger. But others are either gone or less fashionable now. Here are a few of our favorite foods that take us back to the days when ZZ Top warned us not to mess with Texas, and Kathy Whitmire made us Houston Proud.

Jose's Dip at Molina's Molina's Jose's Dip -- a deep bowl of queso topped off with a heaping helping of spicy taco meat -- is legendary 'round these parts. Lord knows our affinity for queso, and the idea of queso + ground beef, is an inventor's pension check. What's better than the vat of dip? We'd finish off our Jose's Dip and move right on to our massive plate of cheese enchiladas. Mmmmm, lactose.

Rectangular fried fish at Luby's Choosing our dishes at Luby's was about the most freedom we ever had as kids -- yet even with so many dishes available, I always came away with the same thing: that impossibly rectangular fried fish patty, served with a heaping side of tawwwtar sauce. Add some fried okra, mashed potatoes, and green jello, and you've got the '80s food pyramid: processed, fried, buttered, and deliciously fake.

Ribs at Luther's The Texan love of barbecue is not inborn, as some might postulate, but rather has to be taught. My first barbecue primer lessons took place at Luther's, a down-home, honky-tonk kind of place. Others might claim the hanging haze there was from cigarettes, but I'm gonna say it was form the meat smoker. Much like a star athlete, Luther's declined toward the end of its career, but the place was pure gold back in the day: juicy brisket, smoky sausage, and meaty, meaty ribs.

Puffed Tostada with Queso at Ninfa's As a kid, there were few joys greater than poking through the hollow, puffed tostada at Ninfa's and watching a fountain of queso drip-drip-drip down into the vacancy. While the thing probably cost about a dime to make and sticks to your ribs like an Olympic luger, it was all we yearned for. Those puffed tostados are all but extinct now, but the queso part remains a classic.

Crepes at the Magic Pan The Magic Pan was a full-service American chain turning out golden crepes with entertainment and flair. The most popular crepe was the one filled with spinach soufflé, but my favorite was the Monte Cristo, a powerful combination of turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, and raspberry jam. If we ate the whole thing, which we usually did, perhaps we could get a dessert crepe... the strawberry one, please!

Fajitas from Two Pesos Before Taco Cabana came to town, there was Two Pesos, the universal high school hang-out. We'd troll the menu, yet always end up with the fajitas... A few chunks of low-brow beef wrapped in plastic tortillas. There was no better meal after a long day at AstroWorld. Too bad Two Pesos sold out to Taco Cabana in 1993 after a landmark copyright infringement case.

French Fries from Luke's Some of us still aren't enamored of the French fries at McDonald's, and it's because we can still remember the totally tubular ones at Luke's. Burgers there were typical fare, but the fries were extra crispy from a double trip to the fryer. Yes, Luke's Hamburgers served colorful food to a colorful clientele. And that colorful clientele might still be there, since Luke's Hamburgers is now the Zone D'Erotica.

Cheese Pizza from Panjo's You might have liked Shakey's Pizza on Bellaire, Mr. Gatti's on Voss, or Pipe Organ Pizza in Memorial City Mall, but my favorite pizza was from Panjo's, a small shop on Westheimer. It didn't have the size or glitz of the others -- but it did have Ms. Pacman. Yes, Ms. Pacman and gooey, gory, gummy cheese pizza.

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