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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Socio-Anthropological Study

A rare but boisterous black-leathered-biker eruption over by the 50-cent pool tables sends the timid scattering toward the bar, but seasoned Big Easy patrons look up to ensure no bottles are flying in their direction and continue their conversations, which are not always easy to hear over the R&B that throbs from the tired jukebox. Tattooed patchworks that are the arms and legs of bartenders move fast to keep up with a thirsty crowd, from loudmouthed Creodonts, aging hippies, a gaggle of middle-aged women enjoying girls night out, twentysomething investment bankers in faux-funky after-hours attire and a silver-haired man tap, tap, tapping the screen of a video poker game. For a snapshot of social strata, visit the Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club any night. Conversation comes easy; drinks are reasonable. Dogs make occasional appearances at the heels of their owners, stopping appreciatively to lap up the attention of strangers who coo in universal dog-adoring exclamations. Weekend musical entertainment comes for a modest cover. But at the Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club, the best entertainment is every night, and it's free.

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
Photo by Houston Press Staff

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 Socio-Anthropological Study: The Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club

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