With south-of-the-border fare having gone gourmet, Felix is often dismissed by highbrow naysayers. They forget that it's the good old-fashioned grease factor that makes true Tex-Mex. It's in abundance here, although it's a little sad to see the disclaimer: "We cook with cottonseed oil only!" Felix also is keeping up with the changing times with its light, bright hacienda. A recent fire not only fanned the flames of Felix's popularity but also afforded the 50-year-old place a much-needed face-lift. Colorful linoleum floors and table settings now serve as a fanciful backdrop to cheese enchiladas smothered in onions, chili and the kind of cheese that sticks to your palate. Fried taco shells are stuffed with fried meat and then fried some more, but Felix aficionados -- like former hometown girl Linda Ellerbee -- most often praise the chili con queso, an oozy blob of that questionable cheese spread nearly a half-inch thick over a fried corn tortilla. Also good are such rare nonfried and cheeseless items as the oniony guacamole, served on a lettuce leaf. As the famous Fido says in the commercials for that other Tex-Mex place, "I think I'm in love."
Kolache Factory
There's nothing quite like rolling through the drive-thru around 7:30 a.m. at the Kolache Factory, the morning sun in your eyes and the mouthwatering prospect of imminent kolaches teasing your palate. Even better, should you have a spare moment, step in just as a warm batch of sausage-and-cheese kolaches emerges from the oven, filling the store with that tantalizing smell of freshly baked goods. They will melt in your mouth -- if that woman in front of you doesn't buy them all for her office. (Yeah, right.) Where else can you get that homemade baked and buttery taste that infuses each of these delectable goods? Carnivores aren't the only ones who can oink out here, though. Several fruity flavors, like apple, blueberry and strawberry, blur the line between breakfast and dessert, health food and indulgence. And the pastries, particularly the cinnamon rolls, hold their own against the classic kolaches.
Mai's Restaurant
All the bars are closed, there's no life on the streets, but you and your friends aren't ready to trundle home. Plus, you're all starving. Usually late-night fare is limited to those 24-hour egg-and-bacon places or the drive-thru lane at a fast-food joint. But you want real food. Mai's Restaurant offers an extensive array of Vietnamese food, and the eatery's schedule definitely keeps late-night diners in mind. Open from 10 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday, Mai's is jam-packed during lunch and dinner, and sometimes just as busy late at night. The soft spring rolls and accompanying peanut sauce are second to none in the city, and the various combinations of bun (vermicelli) just may hold the magical powers of menudo in warding off next-morning hangovers.

Best Neighborhood Spot in the Village Area

The Raven Grill

The Raven Grill
Don't be too quick to quoth "Nevermore," upon a first visit to The Raven Grill. This tribute to Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem and the nearby elementary school bearing his name has taken flight as a neighborhood haunt. The flock of fans may be due to the trendy industrial decor with the huge raven print and cute boxed birdseed cocktail tables. But also high in the pecking order are such top sellers as the mesquite-grilled catfish, served with pico de gallo and grilled veggies, as well as the Raven's signature tacos, which are more like flautas. The pot-roast dinner, featuring heart of chuck that is slow-roasted with burgundy, herbs, garlic, rutabagas, turnips and tiny onions, is also something to crow about. Lunch favorites include tuna, chicken salad and veggie sandwiches and the favorite margarita grilled cheese, prepared with mozzarella, roma tomatoes and pesto, all of which goes to show that anyone can find a nesting place on the menu.
Nuevo Latino gets funky at this new outlet for Michael Cordas cooking, located in the back of a shopping mall in the Galleria area. At his nearby fine-dining restaurant, Amricas, Corda uses traditional South American and Central American dishes as jumping-off points for exciting upscale presentations. Here at Amazon Grill, he shows us a more casual side, with lower-priced entres, big salads and interesting soups, like the Latin American-style seafood gumbo. The signature dish here is Chicken Amazon, corn-crusted chicken breast served with a cream sauce, sauted vegetables and Peruvian rice. Non-exotic beef and chicken sandwiches and soups like chicken noodle also are available for the non-foodies at the table. Its a walk-up counter format just like Cafe Express, and theres a good reason for that: This location used to house a Cafe Express. But now there are plantain chips and chimichurri where the baguettes and olive oil used to be.
If you're looking for a chicken-fried steak covered in cream gravy with a strawberry shake on the side to wash it down, this is not the place for you. And you won't find the sparkly blue vinyl booths or garish neon signs that good old Americans have come to expect at the local diner. No, owner-chef-busboy Tom Williams's cozy, quirky Fox Diner transcends such banality with an array of delightful culinary options, from beef tenderloin stuffed with spinach and blue cheese to seared jumbo shrimp with tasso red-eye gravy and lump crabmeat to "angel's" pasta with love apples and herbs. And fanciful art from rotating exhibits transforms this petite Fourth Ward gem into a casual gallery. But there's one traditional comfort food the Fox is always fixing: unique, sinful desserts.
Some restaurants feature a table, generally in the kitchen, where you can experience the hustle and bustle of the back room firsthand. Others feature small intimate rooms or cozy nooks for a private get-together, away from the common folk. All of this, in an effort to make the dining experience extra special. If privacy is what you're after, then there's no finer chef's table than the wine room at the Rainbow Lodge. Tucked away behind the sommelier's office is an intimate space where the walls are lined with wine bottles. While it can seat up to ten people, it is best enjoyed with your one favorite person, and you can count on the waitstaff to know when not to disturb.
Restaurant CINQ at La Colombe D'Or Hotel
Jeff Balke
Start out at the intimate bar, then move on to the elegant and sumptuous dining room, where you'll experience not only first-class classical French cuisine but service to match. If the evening is going well, and you're feeling lucky, upstairs rooms with names like Renoir and Cezanne go for $195 to $575 per night. Of course, you could go all the way, and for $10,000 on Friday night rent the Grand Salon de la Comtesse, an elaborately decorated large salon with hand-carved wood paneling dating from the early part of the 18th century. Since it's large enough for 300 guests, it might be a bit grandiose for two, but it would make one hell of a dance floor.
Backstreet Cafe
Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Nestled between La Griglia on West Gray and Tila's on Shepherd, amid a sea of lofts that are sprouting like weeds, you'll find a quiet oasis on the patio of the Backstreet Cafe. Flowers are plentiful and always in bloom, and there's plenty of shade from a huge oak tree, although umbrellas cover those areas that the tree limbs don't quite reach. For those who don't enjoy the blistering heat, there's a transitional sunroom with French doors, where you can pretend you're eating outside but still enjoy the comforts of air-conditioning. This is the perfect spot to enjoy some lighter summer fare like the sherried wild mushroom soup or the roasted beet, goat cheese and orange salad or the wonderful lobster sandwich.
It doesn't attract much attention to itself in the large strip center in the 3800 block of Bellaire, but Hunan's food is worth coming back to -- again and again. Go before you're really hungry. You'll need the extra time to wade through the eight-page menu in the understated but elegant surroundings. Where to start? The vegetable dumplings ($5.25 for ten), stuffed with Chinese black mushrooms, hot bean curd, carrots, spinach and Chinese cabbage are a good place. The accompanying ginger sauce packs a punch and is the perfect complement to the fresh-steamed delicacies. From there, just choose what you're hungry for -- there's not a bad item on the menu. The most popular entrées are the shrimp and chicken with cashews ($8.50), the General Tso's chicken ($8.95), the scallops and shrimp with vegetables ($9.95), and the shrimp with chili sauce ($9.95), an intoxicating blend of secret family ingredients made fresh. Other notables are the crispy duck ($8.95), steamed ahead of time to rid it of extra fat, marinated in another secret family recipe, deep-fried and served with vegetables in a hoisin sauce; and the "volcano" crispy shrimp, fried in cornmeal, served on a bed of broccoli and with a bowl of the sweet but powerful volcano sauce, made fresh, on the side. You'll erupt in cheers.

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