Sometimes it's just too damn hot to cook at home. And sometimes -- as in these days of record heat and few cloudbursts -- it's even too hot to want to brave a parking lot and sit in a possibly under-air-conditioned restaurant.
That's where drive-thrus and curbside pick-up become our best friends. What's better for beating the heat than having someone hand your food through your driver's side window while you never leave the A/C-blasting confines of your cool little car, absconding back home to eat your treasure on the couch with all of the shades drawn?
Maybe that's just me, but the fact is that great drive-thrus are often unrecognized, despite their ever-increasing popularity in our heavily car-crowded city.
When we polled our readers earlier this week, Twitter follower Jeff Greer swore by the curbside pick-up at Hooters: "50 naked Bentley Flappers with bleu cheese from Hooters - perfect for a game or movie at home..." Although you kind of miss the point of dining at Hooters by not having one of its scantily-clad waitresses tend to you, we can't argue with the logic of curbside wings to-go.
An old favorite of Robb Walsh's and of mine as well, Chacho's is famous for two things: Staying open 24 hours and serving fast-food tortillas that would put your grandmother's to shame. Check out the one on Westheimer near the Galleria for dual drive-thrus to minimize your waiting time.
8. Becks Prime
At certain Becks Prime locations, the greenery around the building makes it feel like you aren't even at a drive-thru; it makes for a pretty pleasant wait at this perennially popular burger joint. But the burgers and extra-thick milkshakes aren't the only draw: Where else can you get a drive-thru rib-eye or hunk of seared ahi tuna?
Sometimes nothing sounds better on a hot day than a Route 44 cherry limeade or a massive vanilla coke with your cheese tater tots (what?). And this summer, we're currently addicted to the very passable imitation of a Chicago-style dog that Sonic is hawking -- dragged through the garden and all.
Everyone has their own favorites from this Texas classic, from its spicy chicken sandwich deluxe to waffle fries dipped in its charmingly anachronistic Polynesian sauce. And far too fast-food places serve carrot-raisin salad these days. We especially love those rare Chick-Fil-A's with double drive-thrus.
Connie's is known for making its specialty frozen custard fresh every hour: the soft-serve made Robb Walsh's list of the 10 ultimate ice cream experiences in Houston as a result. And what makes it even more attractive during the summer is the ability to grab your cone to go from its drive-thru.
The curbside pick-up at this fast-casual Italian chain from the Mandola family is an elegant solution to dinner when it's too hot to turn on the oven for lasagna or pizza, and proof that drive-thru or curbside pick-up service doesn't always have to involve fast food. Our favorite is its classic whole roasted chicken to-go.
3. Tornado Taco
If you like Tornado Burgers, chances are you'll like Tornado Tacos too. Our readers swear by this breakfast taco drive-thru in Missouri City, claiming it has the "best breakfast taco, good price, good sauce and very quick."
Even though this fast-food burger chain isn't based in Houston, that doesn't stop it from being almost universally loved by Houstonians. Apart from our No. 1 drive-thru, it was the most mentioned by drive-thru connoisseurs, whether for breakfast taquitos in the morning or Whataburgers with cheese at night.
1. El Rey
Local Cuban-Mexican chain El Rey will always and forever top any list of Houston's best drive-thrus. It even won an award for it in our 2005 Best of Houston issue. This was by far the most common answer when we polled our readers, with responses like this one from former EOW blogger Amber Ambrose: "Cuban Tacos make me think, 'ain't life grand?'" And one of our Twitter followers put it best with this simple statement: "El Rey because my husband can get tacos and I can get ropa vieja with plantains. It's like fast food from my mom's house."
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Honorable mention: Gerardo's Drive-In
Beef cheeks aren't the only delicacy offered at this Houston institution, one of the few places in town to still cook barbacoa the old-fashioned way. And although it's a drive-in in name only, we still encourage people to head to the older part of the Heights and try some of Gerardo's barbacoa and menudo; just come prepared to wait.