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Houston is no slouch when it comes to dining. But with almost 12,000 restaurants to graze through, it can make it hard to separate the diamonds from the coal. Luckily for your stomach, we are here to help, revealing the tasty centers of the places you may drive past every day and barely notice.

In the first edition of a continuing series, we visit Jake’s Sports Bar. It's an unexpected first choice, especially if you know me. I don’t even like sports. But one of my best friends, who practically lives there, converted me to the pub located on Chimney Rock in a small strip center right next to a Catholic bookstore. Chances are, if you frequent the Galleria area, you have driven right by Jake’s and not known it.

A neighborhood favorite and popular local hangout, Jake’s has an eclectic crowd that ranges from fresh-faced twenty-somethings to weathered old-school regulars, and is known for its Philly cheesesteaks. And that is what I had when I first visited Jake's.

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Being from New Jersey, I am tough on the cheesesteak, as I ate them almost daily in college. Done right, it is the perfect combination of tasty meat, grilled or sautéed onions, and melted cheeses served in a warm toasty, slightly grease-soaked loaf of bread. Done wrong…well, it’s a calorie-laden, soggy mess. Jake’s does not disappoint—before former Bramble chef Randy Rucker left Houston, you could catch him eating a cheesesteak at Jake’s too. Seriously. The cheesesteaks are really that good.  

This is just one of the things that makes Jake’s such a hidden gem. Family-owned and operated by  a gentleman who goes by the nickname Marvin J., Jake’s may be a bar, but one that takes quality seriously. More than 95 percent of what's served is made in-house, even the buttermilk ranch dressing. Couple this attention to freshness with a fully stocked bar, yes they can do the fancy cocktails pretty damn well, too. But this is a bar, so order a beer or a whiskey on the rocks, and you have a great place to watch the game or go out when you don’t want to go all out—exactly Marvin's aim. Since I eat there pretty regularly now (I am slowly becoming addicted to their housemade chili con queso), I sat down with Marvin for a little insight into what makes Jake’s so special.  

Marvin J. and his friends in the oil and gas business used to frequent Mama’s Café. When Mama’s shut its doors, they had nowhere to go.  But Jake's Philly Steaks around the corner was for sale and they took over in September of 2012, bringing many of Mama’s best chefs and bartenders with them. Expanding to a size of more than 4,000 feet, including an indoor patio room and an outdoor covered patio, they were able to include a private room, live music, darts, video games and lots of televisions.

This is one of those places where if you come once, everybody knows your name. Jake's has kept a lot of regulars from its original incarnation, and it means a lot to the owners to see the number of patrons who have become close friends through their bar. Jake's serves a full menu until 1:45 a.m. The owners aim to please—case in point, when regulars wanted colder beer, so they bought a special cooler to keep it at 26 degrees. 

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The cheesesteak itself.

Image: Beth Levine

But the cheesesteaks are what truly distinguishes Jake's from other dives. Marvin says he introduced a few more options when he and his team took over, but the original is still the house favorite. "I tend to like the Philly Favorite with beef rib eye, Provolone, bell peppers, and mushrooms; then add a little Worcestershire and A1, and is that good!" he exclaims.

He's also a fan of the QuesoPhilly with chicken, poultry smothered with the bar's house queso and pico de gallo. As the menu has expanded, Jake's has added sandwiches besides cheesesteaks, too. The burgers and chicken sandwiches are popular, and a number of others, such as Claire's BLT and Val's Tuna Melt, are named after customers. For breakfast taco lovers, there's the Jake's Breakfast Philly—two flour tortillas filled with scrambled egg, shaved steak, queso and pico.

So do yourself a favor: Venture outside the loop, pull up a stool at Jake’s and order yourself a cheesesteak and a cold beer—chances are Marvin is there too.

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