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There might be tchotchkes, but this is no Bennigan's.

Image: Alice Levitt

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Food comes out of here. Come an' get it!

Image: Alice Levitt

When dining downtown, there are generally two options: Go to a chain or drop some pretty mad bank. Either way, your dining experience will be slick and more often than not, fairly impersonal. And you'll spend even more of your hard-earned dough on parking. 

I've been glumly living with these realities since I moved to Houston, so I'm a little hurt that no one told me about Zydeco Louisiana Diner. First of all, it has a parking lot, a major virtue in its own right in that part of town. The neon sign out front speaks to a depth of character that a restaurant can only earn through a long life. Zydeco is 28, but feels decades older. Maybe it's the bag of onions holding the front door open that makes it feel like stepping into someplace a young Jerry Lee Lewis would have frequented with his cousin Jimmy Swaggart. Or maybe it's the fact that you serve yourself sweet tea or strawberry lemonade so blood sugar-spikingly sweet that I could have mistaken it for Kool-Aid, while food pops out of a window shared with the kitchen.

Since 1988, Zydeco was firmly a lunch establishment. That changed when dinner service debuted in March. On Saturday evening, it was sufficiently quiet that the gentleman at the counter brought me my food, rather than allowing me to pick it up at the window.

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Catfish platter, sponsored by Jax Beer.

Image: Alice Levitt

What he delivered was a heaping plate of juicy, igneous-hot fish flesh crisped with a thin cornmeal coating. Thin "Idaho fries" were appealingly salty, even if they lost their crunch under the catfish. The jambalaya seemed to be missing its promised slices of andouille, but more than made up for it with earthy spice and meaty chunks of chicken that turned to ribbons beneath my fork. 

There was no question that the dinner was made with love and authenticity. My only mistake: Not saving room for the bread pudding.

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Zydeco Louisiana Diner

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