Yes, your kids like those giant plastic Habitrails that loom over every fast-food burger joint. But wouldn't the little rowdies like a real playground even better? One that's outdoors? One with sand, shovels and buckets? One where they can keep their shoes on? Joe's Crab Shack has thought of all that. And it serves food on the patio next to the playground, so while you eat, you can watch your kids zoom down the slide and wobble across the little swinging bridge. They're reasonably happy; you're reasonably happy. And these days, when public spaces are designed either for kids or grown-ups but rarely for both, that mutual happiness seems an accomplishment.

Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue
This is one of the oldest barbecue joints in the city. When legendary pit boss John Davis founded the place in the early 1930s, it was called Shepherd Drive Bar-B-Q. Davis's secret recipe for zingy sauce died with him, but the business, including the original pit, was sold to Jerry Pizzitola, who kept up the hickory-smoking tradition. Pizzitola added an air-conditioned dining room to the old barbecue joint that he decorated with his favorite fishing photos and Aggie propaganda. Pizzitola's brisket is fork-tender and smoky, and the deboned chicken sandwich is one of the city's favorite git-it-'n'-go lunches. If you like your ribs dry-style with a chewy texture, you'll love the ones they serve here. The sausage, which is from V&V in Flatonia, is a well-spiced beef-and-pork blend. Pizzitola has done his best to replicate the old barbecue sauce recipe, and old-timers say he has come pretty close. Save room for the famous coconut cake.
Opa! You can't go wrong ordering Greek food at Mykonos. The only thing the restaurant doesn't have is crashing plates. The traditional dishes of this long-standing mom-and-pop eatery are all top-notch. Start with the skordalia, a blend of garlic, potato, olive oil and lemon for $4.50. This flavorful "Greek caviar," served with toasted bread for dipping, is so light it doesn't endanger your appetite before you get around to the entrées. Appetizers such as the spanakopita (spinach-filled pastry, $3.95), the keftedakia (Greek meatballs, $3.95) and the stuffed grape leaves ($3.95) also can be found on the restaurant's whopping Greek combination plate for $13.95. All are killer. Mykonos offers to perfection the traditional Greek dishes of moussaka ($9.95) and pastitsio ($9.95), but let your eye wander down to the lamb Riganato ($14.95), a giant lamb shank slowly simmered with olive oil, lemon and oregano. This is lamb at its best: very tender, with a deep and deliciously dark flavor. And the owners aren't shy about touting their signature dish, simply called Mykonos Best Seafood Dish ($24.95), which is red snapper cleaned and deboned and charcoal-broiled with shrimp and fat, juicy scallops in a special Greek sauce that is an old family recipe. Even the hungriest Greek-seeking restaurantgoer may be packing a to-go box out the door with this one.
Seoul Garden Restaurant
Someone has written a comment in ballpoint pen on Seoul Garden's menu: "Yum!" It's right beside the thinly sliced, marinated beef ($12.95). They might as well have gone down the entire menu, writing the same comment. Other favorites in the barbecue section of the menu are the beef ribs ($14.95) and the sliced pork marinated in spicy sauce ($10.95). The latter is deceiving to the mouth. At first taste from the sizzling platter, the pork seems sweet; the spicy kick is delayed, but it's nothing to push the fire alarm about. With all these dishes come a dizzying array of side orders: miso soup, kimchi (fiery hot marinated cabbage), marinated seaweed, watercress, bean sprouts, panfried potatoes in a gentle chili sauce, fried tofu in a hot chili sauce and a big bowl of rice. Also wonderful are the lightly crusted soft-shell crabs ($5.95), and the shrimp and vegetable tempura ($12.95). The pork dumplings, which come both deep-fried ($3.95) and steamed ($4.50), are terrific appetizers. Full-size entrées are enough for two. And the lunch special is heavy on the appetite and short on the pocketbook. It includes one entrée from a choice of six, served with two pieces of California roll, fried rice, chef salad and miso soup -- all for $5.95. Untried, so far, is the pine-nut porridge ($8.95) and the fish-egg casserole ($10.95). True Seoul food.
Gorditas Aguascalientes
Jeff Balke
There are so many fabulous little taco places in Houston, it is difficult to single one out. And so we picked a fabulous big taco place instead. Gorditas Aguascalientes makes antojitos of all kinds, not just tacos. The fresh masa huaraches and gorditas are real stand-outs. And the soups are great too. But the tacos here are sensational. All are prepared with fresh handmade flour tortillas, and all cost $1.25. The taco de carne deshebrada (shredded meat), topped with lots of hot sauce, is the one that Mexico City citizens like the best. Tejanos are fond of the taco de barbacoa (steamed beef head) and the taco de nopales (prickly pear). Breakfast tacos include eggs with carne deshebrada, ham, bacon and chorizo, and also cost $1.25. The cool tile interior and cheery decorations make this a very pleasant place to hang out and sip aguas frescas ($1.80, large; $1.08, small) and smoothies ($1.95) or sample the ancient Mexican corn-and-chocolate breakfast drink called atole ($1.39).
Mark's American Cuisine - CLOSED
If ever there was a "temple of cuisine," this cutting-edge American restaurant located in a former church must be it. There are stars painted above the former altar, and the bar runs where the communion rail used to be. Here, in this Montrose church-turned-restaurant, an un-solemn congregation of convivialists meets nightly to enjoy the culinary inspirations of chef-owner Mark Cox. Cox, a former chef at Tony's, has paid his dues. Now, at the peak of his career, he has his own restaurant and enough experience to know what to do with it. Cox is the rare chef who has attained an equilibrium in which imagination, enthusiasm and skill all work together in a perfect balance. American food is Cox's genre, and his dishes are bold statements. A stunning appetizer of air-cured venison and raw, thin-sliced buffalo steak drizzled with olive oil is an ingenious American answer to Italy's bresaola and carpaccio. Seafood entrées the night we visited included such rarities as ivory salmon (which lacks pigment), black sea bass from Virginia and gulf soft-shell crabs, each served with a vibrant sauce and spectacular garnish. An excellent wine list includes top wines by the glass, so diners can get different wines without sacrificing quality. The knowledge of the waitstaff is the restaurant's only flaw. While the service is excellent, the waiters we encountered all had a propensity to bullshit when they didn't know the answer to a question. Nobody's perfect. But Mark's comes close.
This is a no-frills experience all the way. These two little Heights-area huts have been around forever and, despite occasional turnover in staff, continue to serve up the best greasy burgers in town. You can either walk up or phone in your order. Most people get their food to go, as there's no place to dine inside. If you feel like eating outside, picnic tables are available.
Baba Yega
Jeff Balke
This cozy cafe, named after a Slavic witch, has been a favorite for locals ever since Montrose became the capital of the bohemian culture. Now, the homey converted bungalow -- with patio seating and a lush herb garden, complete with trilling birds -- serves Houston's largest gay population, as well as artist types, workers and even families. Like its clientele, the food is a mixed bag of deli, home-cooking and vegetarian cuisine -- all prepared simply but deliciously. Winners include the Baba Yega Caesar, a creamier version of the classic, topped with grilled chicken and charred red peppers, and the skewered grilled vegetables over herbed brown rice. There are even tuna, trout, salmon and rib-eye dinners for heartier appetites. The best bet, however, is the huge, perfectly char-grilled burger, served with a side of Baba Yega's famous dill potato salad. Paired with a Bloody Mary from the full bar, it's the ideal cure for the common hangover.
Avalon Diner II
Given that the historic Avalon Drug Co. and Diner is more authentic -- even if it, too, is in a newer spot -- many Houstonians consider it blasphemous to name the also-ran as the best diner. After all, what says "diner" more than screaming fry cooks and surly, seasoned waitresses? Well, let's review. Avalon II has all the right decorative touches: swivel stools, vinyl booths, checkered floors and vintage soda-fountain art, mixed with cheerful new snapshots of the local clientele (apparently a lot of families and cheerleaders). The faithful food consists of eggs scrambled on the grill, fluffy hotcakes, old-fashioned burgers on a buttered bun, fat fries, homemade onion rings and, of course, shakes, sodas and malts, made right before your eyes and delivered with the mixing canister. Blue-plate specials include meat loaf, chicken and dumplings and chicken-fried steak, though it's a shame to use fake gravy on real meat. Add to all that friendly waitresses, ready to treat your kids like royalty, and you have a diner deluxe.
Cleburne Cafeteria - CLOSED
Sure, the local institution that once sported a retro, school-cafeteria feel has given way to the neotraditional design trend of West University Place. But the food is still good, and the company is even better. Cafeteria standards like roast beef, chicken-fried steak and a really tasty piece of fried fish are joined by Greek fare, like pastitsio and moussaka, thanks to the native land of the owners. Enjoy the entrées, but don't forget to eat your vegetables, especially a sweet cracker-topped version of yellow squash casserole and America's favorite comfort food, macaroni and cheese. It's loaded with real cheddar cheese that globs in a heavenly mess on your fork and in your mouth. If we had one complaint, it would be the refusal to offer smaller, more economical plates, like the Lu Ann Platter at Luby's. Judging by the line that snakes out the door for lunch and dinner, it's a good guess that Cleburne doesn't need to offer any specials to attract more guests. Besides, the cafeteria makes up for it by offering every kid a goodie bag stuffed with toys and trinkets, as well as those old-fashioned mouse balloons.

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