Citysearch has done another Cheap Eats list, and as always, I have to wonder if they actually visit the restaurants before they list them.

We love Pico's, but wouldn't ever classify it as cheap. Same for Irma's, which is actually one of the more expensive places to get enchiladas in town.

Isn't the point of a Cheap Eats list to feature places that are, you know, cheap?

Go ahead and read the entire list and see for yourself.

Sorry for the rant.

We've noticed an increased number of Google Mashups, and here's one dedicated to pizza lovers: PizzaShare. It's not perfect, and there's not much for Houston, but it's an interesting idea that's worth a peek.


Escalante's has opened its fifth Houston location in Sugar Land's bustling Town Square. Escalante's offers Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine in a casual, upscale setting.

Swirll Frozen Yogurt is also open, offering a variety of frozen desserts and treats for kids of all ages.

This summer, Taisho will be opening a contemporary Japanese eatery in Town Square. Taisho features a variety of Japanese dishes, as well as the popular hibachi grill popularized by the Benihana chain.

Ryan Granger, owner of the Park Grill, has announced his new Mexican restaurant and tequila bar, Bodegas Taco Shop. It is scheduled to open on February 27 on the corner of Caroline at Ewing.

Bodegas will feature a variety of chicken and beef tacos, with over ten salsas to top them. Desserts will be offered as will a full bar.

Update: We visited Hubcap again, and now we understand what everyone's cheering about.

We'd heard outstanding things about the burger at Hubcap Grill, so we dropped by for lunch during the week. We'd seen the tiny little spot, with the outdoor seating area in a converted alley between two buildings, next door to the Alden (nee Sam Houston) Hotel. We parked across the street and went inside.

The place was busy but not packed. We ordered quickly at the counter and got a small surprise: Cash only. It's the 21st century, folks - if you're running a restaurant, get a credit card machine. Fortunately we had a bit of cash on hand, so the potential crisis was averted.

After a short wait, our burgers were delivered. The burger is a third pound beef patty, hand formed and griddled fairly flat. It was topped with a large slice of American cheese, about five strips of bacon, and fresh veggies. The bun was thoroughly toasted.

Our experience differs from most of the other reviews. The beef was fresh and flavorful, but it was cooked well done and was far too dry. The all-important ooze factor was absent. The generous amount of bacon was crisp to a fault; it was hard and crumbly, and the flavor had been cooked out of it.

There is potential for a great burger here, but it's going to require a more deft touch on the grill. We'll probably give Hubcap Grill another shot at some point, but we won't be rushing back.

In celebration of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday, HOP is serving free short stacks of pancakes in exchange for a donation to the Children's Miracle Network. According to their site:

"All we ask is that you consider making a donation to support local children's hospitals through Children's Miracle Network, or other local charities."

The promotion runs from now until 10pm.

We often wonder when it's necessary to discard a particular leftover. Back in college it was an easy choice; as soon as the food item began to lobby for its civil rights, we knew it probably wasn't wise to eat it. Now our fridge gets cleaned out a bit more often, and this dilemma was solved by rule of nose.

No longer. Our friends at StillTasty have compiled a database of the shelf lives of various food items. Very useful.

Sometime you should trust your first impression.

We were out in the NASA area on a sunny Sunday, and were in the mood for a nice brunch somewhere. But we had no clue where to go. The only place that serves brunch that came to mind was Cullen's; the over-the-top restaurant offering poorly prepared Applebee's fare at inflated prices.

Maybe if we tried some things that would be difficult to ruin it would be a success? Could Cullen's pull of a respectable meal? After all, it is a striking venue, the giant stone edifice located alone in the middle of nowhere. At least we'd enjoy decent food in a pretty atmosphere.

Let's ignore our first impression, and give 'em another chance. Maybe they'll surprise us.

It was not to be.

We arrived, and were promptly seated, in the cavernous and nearly empty main room. We were again taken by the extravagance of the setting, but couldn't help notice the little things that were done poorly. A talented interior designer could make this a spectacular room; apparently none were available when Cullen's was built.

On to the food. Our plan for the day was "Keep it Simple".

We started with the Wedge salad. A wedge of bibb lettuce, bleu cheese, bacon, some roast beets... this has to be tasty. Nope. The bleu cheese was overpowered by some shockingly lemony dressing that was a bad idea, and apparently the bacon market was cornered by Allen Stanford, because the few tiny bits present couldn't be tasted amidst the lemony morass.

Next was the frito pie. On the menu it sounded very interesting; "berkshire pork & chairman's reserve beef chili, toasted corn chips, texas goat cheese, oregon cheddar, creme fraiche & scallions"

What came out was perhaps the worst frito pie we've ever sampled. The heart of the problem was the "berkshire pork & chairman's reserve beef chili". There may be a blander chili somewhere on the planet, but it's a safe bet it's not in Texas. Combine that with nearly flavorless cheese and a glop of sour cream (what does sour cream have to do with frito pie, you ask? So did we, after trying it) and you end up with a really bad rendition of this ballpark favorite. (And yes, the average little league concession stand does a better job.) The generic fritos were lacking in flavor as well, but at least they were crispy - that's the only positive we could find with this unfortunate creation.

Finally the main course: Chicken-Fried Ribeye. Served with truffle-scented country gravy, mashed potatoes and wilted greens. How can you mess up a chicken-fried steak, especially if you start with a ribeye?

You can mess it up by not trimming the lumps of fat and gristle from the cut of meat before you bread it. Our first bite was about 2/3 gristle, underneath a fairly decent hand-breaded coating. The truffle-scented country gravy seemed to be standard CFS white gravy with a bit of fake truffle oil added; as with everything else served by Cullen's, the overwhelming experience was blandness. And after the chunk of fatty gristle that was our first impression, we weren't anxious to finish the entree.

The mashed potatoes weren't bad. They weren't terribly good, but they weren't bad. For this brunch, that was a major success.

The large, round room was essentially empty; there were perhaps six parties dining there. We were seated right in front of the window to the kitchen, where staff milled around, not doing much cooking. Our waiter was an enthusiastic but clueless young man who disappeared for long periods of time, apparently not waiting on others.

At one point the general manager walked by and asked how we were enjoying lunch. He got an earful; we politely described the failed dishes they pumped out. He nodded politely but seemed essentially uninterested. He did say he was going to "take care of the the food" for us, which we assumed meant that we weren't going to be charged for this dreadful meal.


Our check arrived, with one item (the ribeye) comped. "Didn't like" was the reason. I suppose there was no button for "Utter Failure in the Kitchen" on Cullen's no doubt state-of-the-art point-of-sale system.

Or perhaps there was, and it was worn out from overuse.

Post-Mortem: The items described on the menu actually could have been quite good had they been executed successfully, with the meat properly trimmed and the dishes properly seasoned. Perhaps if they invested a bit less in the over-the-top setting and a bit more in training the kitchen staff, they could improve things.

With a great deal of rework and attention, Cullen's could one day be a mediocre establishment. But don't hold your breath.

Cullen's Upscale American Grille on Urbanspoon

A new site has popped up devoted to dining deals in Houston. Unlike most of this ilk, it's all about deals at high-end restaurants - you won't find the Seniors Special at Denny's in this list.

If you like great food and great deals, check it out.

Bolivar's landmark Stingaree restaurant has reopened after being seriously damaged by Hurricane Ike. For Bolivar residents it's a sign that the area is moving back toward normalcy. For the rest of us it means that some of the best seafood on the Gulf Coast is available again, including the signature Oysters Jubilee.

Read more in The Houston Chronicle.

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