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Best Of 2001

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Chicken-Fried Steak
Ouisie's Table

Never underestimate chicken-fried steak. It may seem like a humble dish, but it is a humble dish that is taken very seriously by native Texans. Elouise Cooper, owner of Ouisie's Table, takes chicken-fried steak very seriously. The golden-brown, Southern-fried crust is so perfect that the cream gravy is served on the side with the mashed potatoes, the mustard greens and the custardy corn pudding. Your task is to pour the gravy at just the right instant. If you wait too long, the meat is not hot enough anymore; pour too early and you either burn your mouth or sit in frustration while that awesome crust goes soggy. Or here's a better idea: Cut off a piece of battered steak, put a little mashed potato and greens on it and then dip the whole thing into the gravy boat. Now savor it slowly -- Ouisie's chicken-fried steak in among the best in the state.

3939 San Felipe St., Houston, 77027
MAP
713-528-2264
Best Martini
Zimm's Martini & Wine Bar

Zimm's has been a wine bar; it's been a coffee-and-wine bar; it's been all but burned out in a fire last year; and it's been flooded by Tropical Storm Allison. Still, it endures, and it makes a damn good martini. The drinks are helped by the seductive ambience of the place -- dark and agreeably louche, with not-too-loud music, which one staffer describes accurately as "always calm and sexual and jazzy." The crowds on the weekends can get a little too pretentious for some tastes, but the weeknight vibe is more amenable and the martinis are just as good.

4321 Montrose, Houston, 77006
MAP
713-521-2002
Best Margarita
El Pueblito Place
Jeff Balke

These sublime concoctions are undoubtedly best enjoyed alfresco, and to do so there is no place better than the Guatemalan/Mexican surf-and-turf, El Pueblito Place. First, there's the marg itself, which is tartly delicious as any in town and comes in large, extra large, and call-a-cab sizes. Then there are the cabana-comes-to-Montrose surroundings of the restaurant's new back patio, in which riots of pastel shades delight human eyes, and hanging plastic bags full of water bamboozle those of the flies. Accompanied by the restaurant's legendary pineapple salsa (or its severely underrated red companion) and the relatively cool breezes of the Gulf Coast evening, the El Pueblito Place alfresco margarita experience is not to be missed.

1423 Richmond Ave., Houston, 77006
MAP
713-520-6635
Best Breakfast Tacos

Houston's unique brand of spontaneous fusion is in full flower on Telephone Road. Formerly home to the white middle class, now part Asian and part Hispanic, Telephone crosses all the lines. Shipway began its life as a run-of-the-mill doughnut shop, and then it was purchased by a Hispanic family who expanded the place. So now the glass cases are filled with the usual chocolate-frosted and plain-cake doughnuts, along with brightly colored Mexican pastries. There's also a full menu of Mexican breakfast items like bacon-and-egg tacos, chorizo and egg plates. You can also order a tres leches cake for your kid's birthday party. And if that's not enough of a selection, Shipway also sells some of the best homemade pork or chicken tamales in the city on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. A hot foil package containing a dozen tamales sells for $5. Better get two: one to eat on the spot, slathered with hot sauce, and one to take home for the family.

Best Fried Chicken

Old-timers remember the era when Sunday afternoons meant post-church meals where anything but fried chicken would constitute outright heresy. Now the special repast is almost strictly the domain of fast-food joints. Fox Diner pays due homage to the heritage of fried chicken on Sunday. While the cooks of past eras never would have dreamed of coating the chicken in corn flakes, they'd be more than a little pleased at how this place does it with spectacular results -- the crust is properly crunchy and tasty. And the chicken itself stays oh-so-moist and flavorful. Have faith. This is one Fox you want in the henhouse.

Best Plantains
Cafe Piquet

When we say plantains, we aren't talking about those crunchy chips you find in a bag of trail mix. No, we're talking plantains here, the ones you peel and fry up in a pan. Most restaurants will serve up slabs of fruit from plantain purgatory, soft and pretty yellow on the outside, with a stiff, flavorless center. But Cafe Piquet is a place that understands Caribbean cooking. The tostones, fried when the fruit is still green, are thick and dry, and add the right touch to certain dishes. But the maduros are what keep us coming back. Sweet and gooey, they almost glisten as they drip off the fork. They aren't much to look at, with none of the pretty cinnamon sprinkles or frilly garnish. They're misshapen, blackened lumps that leave it to your taste buds to be the final jury. But don't let the discoloration scare you -- that's proof that this place knows the one secret to serving up good soft plantains: Pick 'em when they're ripe.

5757 Bissonnet, Houston, 77081
MAP
713-664-1031
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Best Chicken-Fried Steak: Ouisie's Table

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