Veggie Girl: Houston's

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This week, Veggie Girl braved the crowds of plastically enhanced Women Who Lunch to try out Houston's. Rumored to have one of the best house-made veggie burgers in Dallas, Houston's is part of the Hillstone Restaurant quasi-chain that includes R + D, across the street in Preston Center, and a few others scattered from Manhattan to Palm Beach.

I knew, in other words, that it wouldn't be cheap, but I was determined to try the veggie burger.

The servers at Houston's wear all black, with black aprons, and have their hair neatly swept back, creating a sort of clean-lined, Catholic orphanage look, and the bar is invariably populated with blond women (my friend Eduardo's "Find the Fake Blonde" game wouldn't be much fun here) with carefully sculpted bodies and fishlike lips.

("Now I know why I need biggg lips," e-mailed my lunch companion after we went our separate ways. "It is to keep the food in mouth. Hee...")

The quality of people watching is therefore quite high, and our server placed us at a table strategically positioned at the far end of the bar, where we could see everyone and they wouldn't notice us--indicating she either knew our intentions or that we just didn't look as good as the rest of the clientele. Either way, though, service was prompt and polite. And when we explained the parameters of veganism, our server happily brought us a whole grilled artichoke without butter--perfectly delicious, if a bit messy--followed by a vast vegetable plate (no parmesan cheese on the veggies) and a veggie burger with French fries (fried in canola oil).

The veggie burger is indeed a treat. Homemade, spicy, chunky and thick, it's a far cry from the frozen variety--and about three times as big (we split it). The other main vegan option on the menu is the seasonal vegetable platter, a sampling of some of the day's vegetables, plus the house couscous and a serving of bread. They were happy to replace our bread with spinach, one of the staple vegetable sides, cooked just to the point of wilting and minimally seasoned.

The spinach and a surprisingly flavorful mix of garlicky, steamed broccoli and cauliflower were the best the veggie plate had to offer. The couscous was over-oiled and lost its identity between parsley, radishes, golden raisins and peanuts. It would have done better in a simple tabouli-style. Maple-glazed carrots didn't have much syrup flavor but were fine; the tomatoes--two fat slices of red beefsteak tomatoes punctuated with fresh basil that, like the spinach, are available regularly--were very good but not particularly inventive.

The painful part didn't come, however, until the end of our meal: $3 for an iced tea, $11 for that blasted artichoke, $13 for a veggie burger?!

Still, should any of you poor little vegans be stuck on dates with wealthy benefactors who prefer the see-and-be-seen sort of atmosphere, Houston's is a good choice. They're accommodating, and the vegan options aren't apologetic afterthoughts but rather true possibilities.

Just be sure to smile pretty.

8300 A Preston Road

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