La Tapatia Taqueria's poor boys are practically an entire Mexican meal between two fresh buns. Along with a belt-bustingly generous serving of one of 12 meats or a veggie, the sandwich is smeared with refried beans and sour cream. It also includes slippery avocado slices (which sometimes escape the sandwich when you're taking a big bite), lettuce and tomatoes. Shredded cheese is 25 cents extra. Some places like to skimp on shrimp. Not La Tapatia. The shrimp poor boy is loaded with medium shrimp that are cooked to where they're still firm and juicy, not soggy. The pastor (marinated pork) poor boy is similarly loaded, and its sweet-hot marinade makes the cooked-till-falling-apart pork a taste to remember. Other meats include chicken breast, beef, lean pork, barbecue, beef brains, lean breaded meat, goat, beef tongue and ham. And these poor boys won't plunder your pocketbook. The shrimp and chicken breast sandwiches are $3.75; the rest cost $2.70. True poor-boy prices.
1. Houston is a car city.

2. Houston is hot.

3. Driving in the heat makes you crave big cold drinks.

Which is why you should drive to Bambolino's. Without leaving your car, you can buy a semifrozen lemonade for a piddling $1.29. At 32 ounces, the large serving is sufficiently big. And it's crushed-ice-cold enough to give you an ice-cream headache.

Pizza? At an Irish bar? We didn't think that made sense either. We were expecting DiGiorno or something far more frozen. But this homemade pizza is the best we've ever tasted. They've made it fresh every day for the past 11 years, and they almost always sell every slice they make. It's hot and greasy, and the cheese oozes off the pizza into your waiting, wasted mouth. One of the benefits of the pizza, we will admit, is probably that beer goes with pizza. It always has; it always will.
Treebeards
Normally Texans do not associate chicken-fried steak with a Cajun restaurant. Granted, the one served up at Treebeards -- best known for its red beans and rice -- is not the typical battered piece of meat smothered in a white cream gravy. Instead, this is chicken-fried like your grandmother used to make. This thick but tender piece of steak looks and tastes like it has been well worked over with a tenderizing mallet, battered and fried and then covered in dark gravy made in part from its own juices. The difference is divine. Available Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Cafe Adobe
Life is complicated enough. Don't let your liquor be that way. Unhappily, Houston has hundreds of bars and restaurants trying to hook consumers with ever-evolving concoctions. By all means, let them audition. Encourage them to pour all kinds of fruity and frothy mixtures to be zapped into life by 220-volt blenders, like some Frankenstein creation. Just don't let 'em mess with the margarita. Cafe Adobe understands this basic of the beverages. Drinkers can order up unlimited arrays of specialty blends. There's even a variety of margaritalike drinks for the asking. But the establishment also appreciates -- even honors -- tradition above all. Order up the perfect margarita. Let the Herradura Plata tequila unite with Cointreau. Even the lime juice comes specially made here, and it does a grand job of marrying flavors into an ice-crowned bond. Yes. The real margarita is the essence of purity. At the Adobe, this tradition is honored. Now enjoy.
1. Houston is a car city.

2. Houston is hot.

3. Driving in the heat makes you crave big cold drinks.

Which is why you should drive to Bambolino's. Without leaving your car, you can buy a semifrozen lemonade for a piddling $1.29. At 32 ounces, the large serving is sufficiently big. And it's crushed-ice-cold enough to give you an ice-cream headache.

Captain Benny's Half Shell Oyster Bar
Jeff Balke
Some people refer to journalists as bottom-feeders. Well, as long as there are crustaceans like the ones served up at the Captain's around, we will consider ourselves in good company. Since the restaurant is best known for its oysters on the half shell, the cold boiled shrimp sometimes get overlooked, but not by us. Never overcooked, these large pink beauties are spiced just right, always firm and fresh, and always cold. Make your own dipping sauce with condiments that include ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, Tabasco, lemons, salt and pepper.

Ocean Palace
Being new, big and shiny, Ocean Palace has a few obvious advantages over its competitors: a ballroom-size dining room with 100 tables, a pond in front of the restaurant garnished with lily pads, and substantial hype that keeps people waiting every Sunday morning for a table -- for good reason. Ocean Palace serves the largest variety of dim sum in Houston. Where the average Chinese restaurant serves two kinds of rice porridge, Ocean Palace serves twice as many. Where all dim sum restaurants serve shrimp dumplings in a transparent, gauzelike wrapper, Ocean Palace also dishes out the hard-to-find bean leaf with shrimp ball. Keep your eyes peeled for the endless parade of carts loaded with dishes and steam containers for different kinds of lotus-leaf-wrapped sticky rice; steaming pork sui mai; duck feet in white vinegar; tiny briny clams in black bean sauce; shrimp-stuffed vegetables; jellyfish cold cuts; and baos (buns) filled with barbecued pork, or chicken, or sweet bean paste. And if you have room for dessert, Ocean Palace offers the greatest variety, with its carts full of pastries, custards and jellies. Best of all, you don't have to wait for the weekend to sample all these treats -- Ocean Palace serves dim sum Monday through Friday until 2:30 p.m., and until 3 p.m. on the weekends.
Chinese Cafe
Photo by Houston Press Staff
At most Chinese restaurants, fear the "special" fried rice. Rumored to be made of day-old rice and whatever leftover meat and vegetable bits fall from the cutting board, the only thing special about the rice is that it's drowned in soy sauce, creating a super-salty and greasy meal. But not at Chinese Cafe. Here, "special" means lots of ingredients (shrimp, pork and assorted veggies) and a big serving -- all for only $4.75, including a side of hot and sour soup. When the dish arrives, notice how the rice grains remain white and separated, never sticky or mushy. The quality of not just the fried rice but all the dishes at Chinese Cafe is comfortingly consistent. Although it's known as Chinese Cafe in English, its Chinese characters actually read "north and south," revealing the restaurant's wide range of dishes. Try the chicken with black mushrooms and spinach, the beef with crisp Chinese broccoli or the smooth, perfectly cooked shrimp with pelt beans. Plus, the wait is never long here at this serve-yourself cafe. Chinese Cafe serves good Chinese food fast, not Chinese fast food.
Almost everything at this Thai/Chinese restaurant is good. One strange bonus is that the place is almost always empty. The walls are red with gold trim and funky Chinese artifacts; the waitstaff smiles and doesn't say much. The garlic beef is the best food we've ever tasted in our entire lives. They must marinate the meat for a month, or maybe they raise cows in the back on a diet of pure garlic. We don't know, we don't care, we just want to eat there every day. The platter usually comes with two slices of cucumber, a slice of tomato, a big pile of beef and steamed rice served in the shape of Texas. We usually ask for extra vegetables, and they happily bring us a few more slices of cucumber on the side. The beef is so good we lick the sauce off the plate. The last time we were there we of course asked for extra veggies, but the dish came out different. The portion was much larger, and instead of just a plate piled with beef, there were fresh snow peas, mushrooms and carrots. Plus, it was a little bit spicy. We didn't think they could make it any better, but they did.

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