Torta Cubana at La Guadalupana Bakery & Café

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Torta Cubana
Whenever I feel nostalgic for Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, I visit La Guadalupana Bakery & Café. During the period that I resided in that Boston suburb, I did my laundry each week at a laundromat next store to a terrific restaurant, El Oriental de Cuba, and in between cycles I frequently chowed down on their plantains, rice, and beans.

Although in Houston I have a washer and dryer onsite at my apartment complex, I am tickled that I still have the option of doing a load of whites and enjoying a good meal at the same time via La Guadalupana's proximity to coin laundromat. No matter that their focus cuisine is Mexican rather than Cuban--even better, actually, because that means I can have one of their wonderful tortas.

I very much like the Café's chicken and milanesa tortas, but my absolute favorite is the torta cubana.

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Kevin Naderi Talks Lillo & Ella and Lunch & Brunch

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Buddha welcomes you to Lillo & Ella.
Last week was a big one for Kevin Naderi.

The chef of Roost not only opened his second restaurant, Lillo & Ella, but also braved the television game show circuit, appearing on Sunday's episode of the Food Network's Guy's Grocery Games.

He came in second on the show--"I was the winner in my parents' eyes," he says laughing. "That's all that counts."--but where the restaurant is concerned, things are going great. After officially opening to the public on Tuesday, May 20, Lillo & Ella has been drawing large dinner crowds and a slow but steady lunch clientele.

"If you look around here, everybody's busy at lunch, but it does take some time to build up your name," Naderi says. "My biggest challenge is getting people to spend an extra $2 at lunch instead of wanting to go to the more affordable joints around here."

Based on my recent lunch at Lillo & Ella, though, I'd say it's worth it.


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The Five Best Spots in Houston for Take-Out and a Picnic

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Photo courtesy Google Earth
Bring your burgers to Watonga Park in Garden Oaks, and soak up some sun.
What is up with this Spring?

Usually by this time of year we're all cranking up the ACs as high as they can go and wishing we had oxygen masks when we go outside so we could breathe a little easier in the hot soup-like air. But something weird is going on this year. It's actually still kind of nice outside. Of course, putting that in print is bound to jinx it, but while there's still a nice breeze happening and temperatures in the 75 to 85-degree range, I say we get out and soak it up.

Instead of slaving over the perfect picnic, though, why not let someone else do the work for you? Here are the best spots in town where you can get food to-go and dine al fresco.

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Where to Get Food and Booze-a Near Comicpalooza

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Chuck Cook Photography
All the ladies love a Stormtrooper, expecially if he's buying. (Shot at The Pastry War.)

One of the best ways to guarantee you enjoy any convention is to remember to take breaks away from it. After hours of being on your feet among thousands of fellow fans, it's important to get away for an hour or two, sit down for a while and get some nourishment. Besides that, do you really want to spend your money on overpriced "con food" inside the convention hall when there are plenty of good places to eat and drink within half a mile? (Okay, maybe you do if you're waiting to meet Stan Lee...but after that...)

The following places have confirmed that they welcome your business during Comicpalooza, even if you are in costume. In fact, some of these places really want you to show up if you're in costume. In costume or not, remember your dining-out manners. Just because you're dressed like The Joker doesn't give you a license to try and act like him.

As far as cosplayers walking to restaurants and bars, Houston hasn't reached the level of San Diego, where cosplayers essentially take over the area of downtown near the convention center. However, we'll never get that kind of environment without a few of us brave ones starting the trend. Walking with a few companions will likely give you the most comfortable experience.


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Taco Bell Hack With McDonald's Habanero Ranch Sauce

Categories: Fast Times, Lunch

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Photos by John Kiely
Move over Cool Ranch. Here come Habanero Ranch.

Sometimes I fancy that I've had my lifetime supply of McDonald's, but the food wizards of Oak Brook, Illinois keep pulling me back with their culinary tweaks. Recently, it's McDonald's coffee, which is better than half the blends at Starbucks down the street, and Habanero Ranch Sauce.

The McDonald's at Ella Blvd and the 610 North Loop makes exceptionally good French fries if you get them at the high-turnover times of lunch and dinner. A co-worker, who grew up with a New York habit of dipping them into ranch dressing, recently became a chili addict, and started dipping her fries into the Habanero Ranch Sauce. Other people in the office thought her crazy, because the Habanero Ranch is surprisingly and definitely hot.

I tried the combo, and it was indeed crazy. Crazy delicious.

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First Look at Café Hélène in Midtown

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Minh T Truong
I won't go into a long history lesson but much of Vietnam's culture is heavily influenced by its long history with France. Everything from the architecture (French Colonial), to the language (French origin words, i.e., xa lát from salade, pho mát, from fromage) and of course the food (baguettes, coffee, pate). When I heard Café Hélène, touted as Vietnamese cuisine with a French twist, was opening in Midtown, I wondered what exactly that meant. It's such a natural combination so I was excited to see what they would bring.

Café Hélène is on Main at the corner of Rosalie. At first glance it is an odd location but it's a location that should benefit from all of the new residential construction in Midtown, it's proximity to the rail line and the HCC building. The restaurant itself is very modern, a lot of natural light and red tones, high booths and tall communal sized tables. There's even an outdoor covered patio and a small bar serving wine and beer.

On my first visit there, there was only one other table seated in the restaurant for lunch on a Saturday but on my second visit on a weekday, I could see that many of those working in nearby buildings had caught wind of the month old restaurant. Counter service is quick and the service extremely friendly -- from the moment we walked in to the moment we walked out the door there were always warm smiles and thank yous.

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Fish on Friday: It's a Good Thing

Categories: Lunch

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Photos by John Kiely
Doesn't seem like much of a sacrifice to have this for lunch.

It's a cinch to give up meat for Lent on the seafood-abundant Gulf Coast. But I grew up in the landlocked Midwest, and during the weeks leading up to Easter my parents had a fondness for baked haddock, one of the fishiest-tasting fish I know. I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.

When I balked, my parents told me I was lucky, as they abstained from meat every Friday of the year when they were young. That threw me, as I'd always thought it of a give-up-stuff-for-Lent sort of thing, a question of sacrifice and spiritual discipline. So, why did the rule change, and where did the practice originate?


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BB Donuts' Croissant Burger Might Be the Best Burger Value in Houston

Categories: Food Nation, Lunch

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Photo by Nath Pizzolatto
The website still calls it "BB Donuts," but the sign just added an ampersand to make it "B&B". Either way, they make a delicious croissant.


In a strip mall on Westheimer near Taft, nestled between a dry cleaner and a Chartway Credit Union branch, you can find BB (or B&B) Donuts. Not to be confused with BB's, this eclectic breakfast and lunch spot offers a wide range of options, from kolaches and donuts, to the sublime breakfast croissants, to lunch options from hamburgers to Vietnamese sandwiches and fried rice.

I discovered BB Donuts in 2013 on a recommendation from a friend. We recently went there for lunch to have a croissant burger, which for my money is one of the best lunch deals in town.


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¡Ay Chihuahua! The Right Cheese for a Quesadilla

Categories: Lunch

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Photos by John Kiely
There's something special about La Mexicana's quesadillas.

The quesadilla from La Mexicana restaurant completely changed my mind about that menu item. Normally, a quesadilla is like its American grilled-cheese-sandwich counterpart -- warm, gooey, comforting and something easily made well at home.

However, La Mexicana's version has a distinctive tangy white cheese, and I was entirely unable to make a similar one using store-bought "quesadilla" cheese. So I asked a longtime server what kind of cheese they used at the restaurant.

"It's Chihuahua cheese, and it comes here from Mexico," he informed me. I'd never heard of it before, so I investigated.

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Cheap & Good Eats: Top 5 Budget Lunch Spots in Chinatown

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Photo by Groovehouse
The crispy whole catfish at our No. 4 spot is topped with fried pork skin. Need we say more?
We've been rounding up our favorite budget lunch spots in different neighborhoods around town (See the complete list at the end of the post).

This week, we're moving to the dining mecca that is Chinatown. With its huge number of incredible and authentic restaurants -- from family favorites like Fung's Kitchen to younger, hipper joints like Mala Sichuan Bistro (where you'll want to spend more than $10) -- it was hard to narrow the list down. But, of course, we did.

With a focus on fantastic cuisine and even more fantastic prices, here's our list of the best cheap (less than $10) lunch spots that this area has to offer:

Honorable mention: Chicken pho at Pho Ga Dakao and Pho Thai Binh (for dry pho), the two lobster special at Confucius Seafood, sushi lunch specials at Sushi Miyagi.

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