—————————————————— Best Seviche 2001 | Urbana | Best of Houston® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Houston | Houston Press
It's crystal clear why the seviche is better at Urbana, the hip Montrose spot that's as cool as the blue ocean itself. The clean, crisp marinade of lime juice -- aided by a kick of jalapeos, cilantro, red onions and just a few diced tomatoes -- lets the flavor of the seafood swim to the surface. It's not to be confused with the version that drowns the featured attractions in a murky tomato juice, resulting in a Bloody Mary without the benefits of vodka. Instead, Urbana offers huge shrimp, chunks of fresh crabmeat and generous amounts of avocado in a retro soda-fountain glass, surrounded by whimsical red and blue tortilla chips. At $8, you can also get hooked on the price of this cup of crustaceans.
Although former owner and executive chef Don Chang has quit the restaurant biz and moved to Austin, his younger brother, Daniel Chang, continues to run this oasis of to-die-for food in west Houston just as his brother did, with artfully prepared dishes and leisurely service. Don was responsible for many of the creative fusion items at Nara, and his mark remains all over the menu. Take, for example, the Don No. 2, a specialty sushi roll with crabmeat and cucumber, topped with white fish and baked in an exquisite caviar cream sauce. The aptly named "Watch Your Butt" consists of tuna katsu topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese and jalapeo. "Lickety Split" is rolled with crawfish and tuna, topped with spicy tuna, salmon, yellowtail and avocado. More traditional fare, like regular sushi pieces, is consistently fresh and high-quality. Be sure to make reservations, as evenings often get crowded. And don't miss Nara's non-sushi dishes too, especially the baked mussels. These will probably come at the end of your meal even though they are listed as an appetizer, but they're well worth the wait.

Locals line up at the counter of this retro spot in the heart of West University Place's original business district -- not the strip-center sprawl now lining its perimeter. Edloe St. Deli's avenue of Americana includes the Little League field, the school, the grocery store, the library, the courthouse and the cafe. The favorite sandwich is the club, piled ridiculously high with turkey and bacon and served on thick slices of egg bread. We dare you to eat the whole sandwich in one sitting, much less the stellar side dish of homemade potato salad, chock-full of red peppers and parsley. It's a '50s flashback, all right, even more reminiscent of Pleasantville during moderate months, when diners can hit the great outdoors to watch the world go by from its patio.
Don't you hate it when you order a salad and they haven't sprinkled enough croutons on it, at least not as many as you would like? You'll never have that problem at Cafe Express. Whoever designed this place was smart enough to leave extra toppings in big jars at a kiosk. Gourmet toppings, too, for that matter: sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, jalapeos, sweet roasted garlic, capers, crisp pickle slices, zingy gherkin pickles, olives with pits intact and, yes, croutons. Like a cherry on top of a sundae, the help-yourself condiments are what really makes this place rise above its decent-but-nothing-to-write-home-about food and the bland but sometimes puzzling decor. (What is it, anyway, with the fake palm tree bearing green and purple leaves and what appear to be stainless-steel coconuts?)

As more and more converts are discovering every day, ya don't need a cow to make a delicious burger. And no one knows that better than Hungry's. Their veggie version can go head-to-head with those patties o' flesh any day. Hungry's starts with a toasted whole-wheat bun, dabs a little mayo on it, and tops it with a tasty black bean burger flecked with bits of corn. Then the decadence begins. The patty is stacked with a litany of delectables: more black beans, smoky provolone, ripe avocados, leafy green lettuce and pico de gallo studded with jalapeos. This outrageous masterpiece is accompanied by your choice of sides, and we recommend the perfect skin- on fries. It's enough to make a cow moo in agreement.

The boardwalks of the Jersey Shore are dotted with Kohr Brothers custard stands, and generations of Garden Staters are grateful. Now the company has moved to Houston, and even if your cone won't be accompanied by the smell of a nearby stand grilling up a sausage-and-peppers sandwich, you can still taste why Kohr's has lasted more than 80 years. They claim to have the calories of frozen yogurt, but it's hard to tell from the flavor. The custard is made from Grade A milk, cream, sugar and eggs and has a texture like soft ice cream. There are two Houston locations, at the large "entertainment center" that includes Jillian's and the Edwards Cinema, near Silber and I-10, and at the work-in-progress Memorial City Mall. Neither site really offers the full East Coast ambience, but you'll just have to imagine that everyone around you is talking like an extra from The Sopranos.
Sure, the name doesn't sound appealing. But there's nothing but joy to be had in the steaming plate of lard nar prepared for you at Thai Spice. There is no lard in lard nar. Thick rice noodles, softer than an angel's pillow, are covered in a secret house gravy. Broccoli chunks are thrown in over that. Then the concoction is topped off with chicken, beef, pork or tofu a-plenty. We recommend the tofu. It soaks up the special sauce until each piece lingers in your mouth like a piece of bean-curd heaven. Trust us, that's a good thing.

It's becoming increasingly hard to find a spot where you can get a decent, tasty Jamaican patty. The cats over at Bluemountain have some beef and chicken patties that are worth the trip all the way out to West Bellfort. Located in the same strip mall as Club Riddims, this cafe offers affordable patties ($1.50 a pop) that are always hot, spicy enough to make your eyes water, and flaky as Drew Barrymore on a talk show. And if you catch the staff on a good day and you happen to be a quarter short, they'll give you a break and let you slide. Good service. Good patties. It's enough to make you start singing Bob Marley tunes at the top of your lungs.
Everyone agrees on the basic ingredients for nachos -- and yet no dish seems to be more diverse in interpretation. It ranges from the runny goulash of Enron Field, that stuff that looks more suited for the disposal, to the barren terrain of only token enhancements at too many establishments. Noche presents a beautiful blend: big meaty strips of steak (almost a meal in themselves), tasty rather than simply torrid jalapeos, bits of bacon to accent taste and texture, fresh crisp chips that somehow stay immune to the curse of sogginess, a layer of quality cheese to properly bond the elements -- and a nice smattering of pico de gallo to give it more punch. With that kind of culinary craftsmanship, call the Noche the Nacho Cocina.

Dawn McGee
Go for a table in the middle of one of the two gigantic dining rooms. If you sit at the corner of two aisles, you will double your luck. It may sound greedy now, but wait until you've had Kim Son's dim sum! Colorful xiu mai with a fluffy shrimp and pork filling, slurpy rice noodles, and mushroom-capped meatballs are standouts. If you're new to dim sum, ask for Kim Son's handy illustrated menu with four pages of color pictures. On the weekends, the carts carry lots of specials that aren't on the menu. Velvety baked eggplant stuffed with shrimp paste, green pepper stuffed with shrimp paste and clams in black bean sauce are ones to watch out for; they come around only every now and then. On the weekend, Kim Son's carts push an average of 70 dim sum items. And dim sum lovers agree, they are the best in town.

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