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Hunky Dory offers a fine lunch that won't break the bank.
Hunky Dory offers a fine lunch that won't break the bank.
Ellie Sharp/EHOU

13 Excellent Houston Lunch Options Under $20

A great lunch doesn't have to be expensive

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Hunky Dory offers a fine lunch that won't break the bank.
| Ellie Sharp/EHOU

Despite all the attention paid to brunch, lunch is truly the unsung hero of midday meals. It provides us sustenance to make it through a boring work day, provides an opportunity to drink before dark, and most importantly, it's much cheaper than dinner.

Or at least it can be. You can certainly spend as much as you like on a killer lunch at any of Houston's finest restaurants, but there are plenty of deals to be had even at swankier establishments. Each of these 13 excellent lunches can be scored for less than $20, which means that you won't have to break the bank to eat well during the day.

Is your favorite cheap lunch spot missing from this map? Shout it out in the comments.

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Melange Creperie

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Now open at The Conservatory, you can still score these excellent sweet and savory crepes on the cheap despite their fancy new digs. Fill yours with fruit and Nutella and it will sort of feel like you're enjoying dessert for lunch. If The Conservatory is too far, head to City Hall Farmers Market on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. throughout the summer.

Peli Peli

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The South African steak trio includes three different preparations of beef and two sides for just $16. Seriously what more do you need to know?

Pondicheri

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Everything on the lunch menu at Pondicheri clocks in at under $20, which means that you'll be able to order a few things to fill up on. Choose from chicken wings, saag paneer samosas, or a Frankie of your choice (served with fries!) for less than $15.

Cafe Brasil

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If you can ditch your desk, working from Brasil's killer covered patio is certainly preferable to a boring old cubicle. Here, you can score fried catfish tacos, salads, and a daily rotating quiche for under $15. Don't sleep on Brasil's signature housemade tamales, which will fill you up for just $9.50.

51fifteen Restaurant and Lounge

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Just because this renewed eatery shares walls with Saks Fifth Avenue, it doesn’t mean the prices are equally jaw-dropping. Bowls of lobster bisque ($9.50), roasted poblano ($8.50), and minestrone soup ($8.50) are great when paired with the kale Caesar ($14) or cobb salads ($16). Find two dishes of handmade pasta for $18 each: Carbonara with bacon, Romano, and English peas or the Primavera with spring vegetables and a white wine sauce.
Ellie Sharp

B & B Butchers

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Hit the Washington Corridor, easily accessible from downtown and the galleria offices, for a mouthwatering mix of cured meats perfect for noontime noshing. Sandwiches start at $11 and run the gamut from The Yorkville featuring Hungarian salami to the B&B Italian Special loaded down with ham, salami, capicola, mortadella, Provolone & roasted red pepper seasoned with a balsamic vinaigrette on a semolina hero ($14).
B&B Butchers & Restaurant

Foreign Correspondents

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Monday blahs? Take a midday mini vacation to Northern and Northeastern Thailand via a quick drive to the Heights for a spread of bright and engaging flavors. Start with a the cozy goodness of Tom Kha Gai soup ($13) for hits of lemongrass and lime and follow that with a plate piled high with laap goong tawd: herb-tossed fried shrimp, toasted rice spiked with lime juice, chili powder, and fish sauce served with jasmine rice ($15). Tip the scales of decadence by adding a duck egg for a mere $3 more. Note that the menu changes continuously according Chef PJ Stoops’ inspiration but these dishes are a strong reflection of what you might be offered.
Foreign Correspondents

Ginger & Fork

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East meets west in the dining room of this inner-looper Hong Kong-inspired hot spot where guests are treated to a marriage of historical flavors and modern appeal. Order a sampling of small bites like the Peking duck bao in which duck doused with hoisin sauce is tucked into expertly steamed buns ($9), crisp vegetarian eggrolls ($7), or chilled spicy tofu noodles ($7) and woodear mushroom medleys ($6). Stir fried seafood noodles barely hit the $20 mark but lucky for us they do: the dish blends shrimp, scallops, squid, and fish balls balanced with vegetables – what more could a hungry stomach want?
Ellie Sharp/EHOU

Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar

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Midtown diners have options galore and this delightful haunt should be high on that list. While most entrees are priced $20+, an impressive menu of $25 2-course prix fixe business lunches are worth the extra fiver (try the peanut soup followed by crispy duck and papaya salad!) or stick skip the first course and go straight to the large salads like the fried oyster chock full of pillows of Gulf goodness, charred corn relish, and a roasted garlic dressing. Choose from five ceviche/crudo dishes all for under $16 or less such as the red snapper tiradito, which is a cool melding of thinly sliced fish, Leche de Tigre, Peruvian potatoes, and aji limo chile peppers ($14).
Holley's

Hunky Dory Tavern

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Lunch may not allow lingering for hours but that doesn’t mean the food shouldn’t make you wish it did. Richard Knight’s plethora of mouthwatering meals served on the inviting patio or in the elegant dining room include a variety of proteins and veggies that will set you back less than a Jackson. Order lamb vindaloo ($17) to keep your taste buds singing ‘til 5 or opt for finger food fare like grouper fish and chips ($18) and the HD burger made with two local beef patties ($14). Post-lunch food coma free of charge.
Ellie Sharp

Mein Restaurant

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Enjoy the “everyday” food of Cantonese inspiration for a delightful change of pace from typical lunch sandwiches and the like. Try the charsiu honey roast pork that’s sweet and addictive ($6.50) or a heady bowl of curry duck noodle soup full of rich salty goodness of braised duck leg, wide egg noodles, pickles, and fresh herbs ($9.50). Bring a crowd to take advantage of the many rice and noodle dishes under $10 and try a sampler of techniques. Leave room for lava toast, a thick rich concoction of salted egg custard and maple syrup ($4).
Mein Restaurant/Facebook

State Fare

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There’s a lot to love on the menu at Memorial City’s latest beacon of delicious dining - the price tag is just the tip of the iceberg. Look for the Texas “Caviar” featuring a mountain of shaved kale served with cilantro-lime dressing, bacon-deviled eggs, pickled okra, and cornbread croutons ($10) or go with steaming bowls of rich Sabine Pass gumbo full of shrimp, Andouille sausage, whole crab, and chicken ($15) or JIMMY’s “Texas Red” beef chili served as-is or as Frito Pie ($9). Skipped breakfast? The Hicksburger – loaded with hot pastrami, grilled onions, Gruyere, chicken fried fries, and Lee’s burger sauce ($19) ought to tide you over ‘til dinner, or next breakfast.
Ellie Sharp

State of Grace

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For a late business lunch or afternoon snack break away from the office reserve seats at the oyster bar to indulge in $1 oysters Monday-Friday from 3-6pm. Head to the main dining room for heavier fare including twice-fried hot chicken with basmati fried rice ($18), fried bologna sandwich topped with American cheese and served with house fries ($10), or create a shareable feast from plates of cheese enchilada “a la Felix” ($8) Brussels sprouts with pork belly and mint ($9), or Covey Rise Farm squash with golden raisins and almond pesto ($6).
Katy Norris/EHOU

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Melange Creperie

Now open at The Conservatory, you can still score these excellent sweet and savory crepes on the cheap despite their fancy new digs. Fill yours with fruit and Nutella and it will sort of feel like you're enjoying dessert for lunch. If The Conservatory is too far, head to City Hall Farmers Market on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. throughout the summer.

Peli Peli

The South African steak trio includes three different preparations of beef and two sides for just $16. Seriously what more do you need to know?

Pondicheri

Everything on the lunch menu at Pondicheri clocks in at under $20, which means that you'll be able to order a few things to fill up on. Choose from chicken wings, saag paneer samosas, or a Frankie of your choice (served with fries!) for less than $15.

Cafe Brasil

If you can ditch your desk, working from Brasil's killer covered patio is certainly preferable to a boring old cubicle. Here, you can score fried catfish tacos, salads, and a daily rotating quiche for under $15. Don't sleep on Brasil's signature housemade tamales, which will fill you up for just $9.50.

51fifteen Restaurant and Lounge

Just because this renewed eatery shares walls with Saks Fifth Avenue, it doesn’t mean the prices are equally jaw-dropping. Bowls of lobster bisque ($9.50), roasted poblano ($8.50), and minestrone soup ($8.50) are great when paired with the kale Caesar ($14) or cobb salads ($16). Find two dishes of handmade pasta for $18 each: Carbonara with bacon, Romano, and English peas or the Primavera with spring vegetables and a white wine sauce.
Ellie Sharp

B & B Butchers

Hit the Washington Corridor, easily accessible from downtown and the galleria offices, for a mouthwatering mix of cured meats perfect for noontime noshing. Sandwiches start at $11 and run the gamut from The Yorkville featuring Hungarian salami to the B&B Italian Special loaded down with ham, salami, capicola, mortadella, Provolone & roasted red pepper seasoned with a balsamic vinaigrette on a semolina hero ($14).
B&B Butchers & Restaurant

Foreign Correspondents

Monday blahs? Take a midday mini vacation to Northern and Northeastern Thailand via a quick drive to the Heights for a spread of bright and engaging flavors. Start with a the cozy goodness of Tom Kha Gai soup ($13) for hits of lemongrass and lime and follow that with a plate piled high with laap goong tawd: herb-tossed fried shrimp, toasted rice spiked with lime juice, chili powder, and fish sauce served with jasmine rice ($15). Tip the scales of decadence by adding a duck egg for a mere $3 more. Note that the menu changes continuously according Chef PJ Stoops’ inspiration but these dishes are a strong reflection of what you might be offered.
Foreign Correspondents

Ginger & Fork

East meets west in the dining room of this inner-looper Hong Kong-inspired hot spot where guests are treated to a marriage of historical flavors and modern appeal. Order a sampling of small bites like the Peking duck bao in which duck doused with hoisin sauce is tucked into expertly steamed buns ($9), crisp vegetarian eggrolls ($7), or chilled spicy tofu noodles ($7) and woodear mushroom medleys ($6). Stir fried seafood noodles barely hit the $20 mark but lucky for us they do: the dish blends shrimp, scallops, squid, and fish balls balanced with vegetables – what more could a hungry stomach want?
Ellie Sharp/EHOU

Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar

Midtown diners have options galore and this delightful haunt should be high on that list. While most entrees are priced $20+, an impressive menu of $25 2-course prix fixe business lunches are worth the extra fiver (try the peanut soup followed by crispy duck and papaya salad!) or stick skip the first course and go straight to the large salads like the fried oyster chock full of pillows of Gulf goodness, charred corn relish, and a roasted garlic dressing. Choose from five ceviche/crudo dishes all for under $16 or less such as the red snapper tiradito, which is a cool melding of thinly sliced fish, Leche de Tigre, Peruvian potatoes, and aji limo chile peppers ($14).
Holley's

Hunky Dory Tavern

Lunch may not allow lingering for hours but that doesn’t mean the food shouldn’t make you wish it did. Richard Knight’s plethora of mouthwatering meals served on the inviting patio or in the elegant dining room include a variety of proteins and veggies that will set you back less than a Jackson. Order lamb vindaloo ($17) to keep your taste buds singing ‘til 5 or opt for finger food fare like grouper fish and chips ($18) and the HD burger made with two local beef patties ($14). Post-lunch food coma free of charge.
Ellie Sharp

Mein Restaurant

Enjoy the “everyday” food of Cantonese inspiration for a delightful change of pace from typical lunch sandwiches and the like. Try the charsiu honey roast pork that’s sweet and addictive ($6.50) or a heady bowl of curry duck noodle soup full of rich salty goodness of braised duck leg, wide egg noodles, pickles, and fresh herbs ($9.50). Bring a crowd to take advantage of the many rice and noodle dishes under $10 and try a sampler of techniques. Leave room for lava toast, a thick rich concoction of salted egg custard and maple syrup ($4).
Mein Restaurant/Facebook

State Fare

There’s a lot to love on the menu at Memorial City’s latest beacon of delicious dining - the price tag is just the tip of the iceberg. Look for the Texas “Caviar” featuring a mountain of shaved kale served with cilantro-lime dressing, bacon-deviled eggs, pickled okra, and cornbread croutons ($10) or go with steaming bowls of rich Sabine Pass gumbo full of shrimp, Andouille sausage, whole crab, and chicken ($15) or JIMMY’s “Texas Red” beef chili served as-is or as Frito Pie ($9). Skipped breakfast? The Hicksburger – loaded with hot pastrami, grilled onions, Gruyere, chicken fried fries, and Lee’s burger sauce ($19) ought to tide you over ‘til dinner, or next breakfast.
Ellie Sharp

State of Grace

For a late business lunch or afternoon snack break away from the office reserve seats at the oyster bar to indulge in $1 oysters Monday-Friday from 3-6pm. Head to the main dining room for heavier fare including twice-fried hot chicken with basmati fried rice ($18), fried bologna sandwich topped with American cheese and served with house fries ($10), or create a shareable feast from plates of cheese enchilada “a la Felix” ($8) Brussels sprouts with pork belly and mint ($9), or Covey Rise Farm squash with golden raisins and almond pesto ($6).
Katy Norris/EHOU

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