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Can you guess what fast food restaurant this used to be? Yep, you're right.

Image: Alice Levitt

There were days when men were men and Taco Bells were Taco Bells. You know what I'm talking about, those clunky vaguely adobe-suggestive buildings that were phased out before many of us were born. At 7413 N. Shepherd Drive, one of those curiosities lives on, just not serving chalupas or taco salads. Since 2003, the building has had a far more wholesome tenant: Josie's Place.

Where the fast food giant's logo once stood is now painted the words "Southern Food from the Soul." Josie's, named for owner Sylvia Jones' mother, Josephine, is the kind of place where it's clear every single person working there legitimately cares about our experience. Even other customers get in on the act, making sure you feel welcome.

But a good heart isn't the same as good food; thankfully, Josie's has that, too.

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Catfish plate with three sides and bread, $8.25.

Image: Alice Levitt

Before I had a chance to look at the menu posted over the counter, the first lady posted at the counter asked if I was having the catfish. I had been loosely planning on it, but her sideways insistence that it was the correct outcome sealed the deal. I followed her lead all the way down the line, though I made the executive decision to order a mandarin orange-topped salad as one of my three sides.

The fish was cooked to order, so I missed the immediate gratification of ordering meatloaf or oxtails already waiting in a chafing dish. But she was right. It was worth it. The flaky, moist catfish was heavily seasoned with lots of salt, herbs and spices, but not spicy. Each piece was exceptionally large—I'm glad I didn't follow the suggestion to get three pieces, as I ended up taking one home with just the standard two filets.

The sides were a step above, too. Collards woven with bacon are one thing, crusty mac 'n' cheese (all too rare in Houston) is even better. A corn muffin that isn't too sweet? That's best of all. If you're not counting the life-affirming experience of service from folks who actually give a damn, that is. Because nothing tops that.

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