If it's down-home comfort you seek, look no further than Laredo Taqueria -- one of the last old-school Mexican joints left on a street that was once dominated by the likes of Guadalajara Bakery and Matamoros Meat Market. From the woman behind the counter hand-rolling the softest of tortillas to the Little League photos and ceramic tiles depicting the Virgin Mary on the walls, this cozy restaurant feels like an old-timey taqueria because it is. The steam table boasts simmering troughs of pork, chicken and fajita meats, all of which are falling-apart tender. Plus, at $2 for a taco bursting with this much flavor, the price will make you feel good, too. Just prepare to stand in line -- as with The Breakfast Klub, there's almost no time of day where you won't need to wait. (But it's worth it.)
El Rey is a terrific Cuban/Mexican restaurant masquerading as a fast-food joint. Sure, you eat with plastic utensils on blue plastic cafeteria trays. And yes, the food arrives very fast, but -- as with next door neighbor Pollo Campero -- this is not your average fast food. This stuff has soul. And flavor. Lots of flavor. A huge, old-fashioned rotisserie roasts beautiful, golden-skinned chickens that turn up in soups, sandwiches, tacos and burritos -- and that also stand alone quite well, thank you. There are good accompaniments, too: nicely flavored Mexican rice with good-size chunks of carrot and deeply spiced refried beans that, when spread into El Rey's famous breakfast tacos along with some grease-laced chorizo, make the perfect restorative morning meal after a long night. Also perfect for those mornings? The lattes, which are almost too good to have come from a "fast food" restaurant.
BRC Gastropub is cheeky in more ways than one: Yes, the "BRC" stands for "Big Red Cock" and the menu follows a similar adult playfulness. Don't expect to escape without dropping some bills on the food, but do expect a phenomenal beer (craft and otherwise) selection and some truly fun dishes. The poutine with a confit duck leg is pure decadence, while the skillet-based macaroni and cheese is so good we couldn't help but name it Best Mac & Cheese for two years running. Happy hour is recommended, as the restaurant only gets busier as the night goes on, especially on Friday and Saturdays. And burger nights on Mondays get you a huge, beautiful BRC burger and fries for only $8.
The second location of benjy's is quieter than you'd expect for its Washington Avenue location, without any of the hassle of forced valet or clubby music throbbing in the dining room. Its chic, elegant look is mimicked in the menu, which is full of locally sourced and seasonal food such as free-range chicken with summer succotash, pork rib eye with Texas peaches, or Gulf flounder with white asparagus and English peas. You'll also see Asian-influenced dishes (inspired in part by chef Mike Potowski's half-Japanese heritage) that run the gamut from beef udon to daily sashimi specials. Save room for dessert in the form of benjy's wonderfully geeky beer list and structured cocktails.