HAVING TROUBLE KEEPING UP with Houston’s busy restaur— (record scratch)

Okay, it's been a month, hasn't it? Restaurants aren't open for dine-in service, but many are hanging in with take-out, curbside pick-up, and delivery. Some have opened markets along with (or instead of) their regular establishments.

Well, I have two small children, and my wife and I are juggling each of our full-time jobs with other responsibilities. That means I'm just not eating from as many restaurants as usual, but I want to highlight a couple places I have visited. These are spots close to my home (the Heights) that I really enjoy. So think of this as where you should eat for April, but also think of it as you should eat from wherever makes you feel good and safe ... for April.

And away we go.

The pharmacy burger (at home) from La Lucha.

La Lucha

The first restaurant I visited after all the dining rooms closed was Blackbird Izakaya because I craved a comforting ramen bowl that only Billy Kin could craft. The next place I went to was La Lucha, because its pharmacy burger, courtesy chef Bobby Matos, is among the most satisfying things I could eat in Houston.

After closing completely for a few weeks to get right during the pandemic, La Lucha re-opened Monday, and that means opportunities to bite into this heavenly dream of meat, melted cheese, pickles, chopped onions, shredded iceberg lettuce, mustard, and collapsing bun topped by a big kiss of char. Be sure to order fries on the side with some oyster mayo, because that stuff is addicting.

Henderson & Kane

John and Veronica Avila's general store serves up fine barbecue lunches, good enough for our list of 12 new favorite smokehouses in the city, but you cannot sleep on the breakfast tacos. Here, soft, gleaming tortillas hold a perfectly packed cohort of ingredients. My favorite was the pulled pork, clearly one of Avila's strengths, and a bite of my wife's brisket taco won big-time approval. Some of my favorite morning bites in the city.

Squable

One weeknight early in quarantine I planned on walking to Eureka Heights for some to-go beer, but before leaving the house, I smartly opted to order some grub from Squable. Walking back home with my tall boy cans in one hand and my Drew Gimma-made dinner in the other, a driver pulled up (six feet from me) and asked where the party was. Sir, you already know.

I got the deliciously salty fried chicken with a side of mashed potatoes, plus a chicken fried pork sandwich that was just freaking divine. Pro tip: Get anything that has bread, because Gimma is as good as anyone with it.

Maybe the quarantine was an excuse to eat more burgers? Here's Cantina Barba's.

Cantina Barba

Another comfort-food staple of mine is the Cantina Barba cheeseburger, a simple but effective bite of patty, American, pickles, and tangy dressing in a soft bun. You can get five of these bad boys with a giant paper bag of fries (the only way to have 'em, let's be real) for $30. I scored a bag for the family, along with one of Cantina Barba's cocktail kits that includes all the ingredients and a recipe. Folks, it was a good Friday evening.

Mastrantos

I've always been a fan of Mari and Xavier Godoy. I'm also a fan of their restaurant, which offers an eclectic and worldly menu with inventive pastas and date-night-perfect entrees, but the Godoys seem to love owning a neighborhood restaurant in the neighborhood where they live. To wit, they post daily Instagram videos that are both menu rollouts and the scene in Rocky II where a bedridden Adrian tells Rocky to "win."

Mastrantos is serving breakfast (pastries, egg dishes), plus salads, pasta dishes (chorizo carbonara, for one), a weekly lasagna item, whole chicken, and family-style meatloaf. The items are perfect for a weeknight dinner when you just need a break from cooking at home.

Fluff Bake Bar

Hey, a new place! Rebecca Masson moved her popular Fluff Bake Bar from Midtown to the Heights (15th and Prince streets), and I'm really worried now that I can walk there. Masson makes some of the finest sweets in Bayou City, so when you need a little sugar rush, think about her snickerdoodles, unicorn bait cookies, and SOLs (like a MoonPie). I didn't get there fast enough to take home a couch potato (potato chips, pretzels, Corn Flakes, marshmallows, chocolate chips ... essentially cookie heaven), but there's always next time. I just gotta walk there.