Smaller than a hubcap but bigger than your face, the chicken-fried steak at Rio Ranch is actually a thin-cut sirloin steak that has been dipped in buttermilk, hand-dredged in seasoned flour and fried until it's crispier than Grandma's chicken wings. It's served atop a large pile of steaming mashed potatoes with black pepper-specked cream gravy on the side. Rio Ranch, which was opened by Robert Del Grande in 1993, is one of the earliest outposts of the "cowboy cuisine" cooking style that has since gained considerable notoriety in the national press. Designed to resemble a Hill Country ranch house, the interior and exterior are built almost entirely of native limestone and cedar, some of it salvaged from old ranch buildings. The bar and most of the tabletops are made of mesquite. And the place is decorated with quirky knickknacks made by Texas artisans. Don't miss the bizarre deer antler chandelier.

There's an undeniable truth in cooking: Deep frying makes everything better. The law behind it is simple. Frying adds fat -- lots of it -- to anything, and fat means flavor. Exhibit A: the chimichanga. The chimichanga is a beautiful thing, in a horrifying way, like a chicken-fried steak. Take chicken, cheese, onions and cilantro, wrap it all burrito-style in a flour tortilla, and submerge it in really hot oil until it's golden-brown. Plan a trip to the confessional and the gym after one of these bad boys. We're not quite sure what makes the deep-fried log at Chapultepec a notch above the rest. Maybe it's the homemade, non-Sysco quality of the ingredients. Or maybe they've figured out the perfect temperature for the oil to make the shell crispy, but not crunchy. Either way, we've yet to find better proof of the deep-fried theorem than this Tex-Mex dish.
House of Coffee Beans has been Houston's gourmet coffee roaster for almost 30 years. You can smell the roasting beans before you're even through the door. The secret to their success is simple: They focus on doing one thing and being the best in their class. They purchase the best green coffee beans from every coffee-growing region known to man, then they roast them in small hand-tended batches. They prefer to roast their beans medium rather than dark, which may mask any imperfections in the beans. Five different coffees are brewed daily. Customers can try a free sample or buy a cupful. In addition to having nearly 100 different coffees, they have a large selection of teas from around the globe. They have both unblended coffees from small estates and blended coffees, in both caffeinated and decaffeinated varieties. Many different flavors are also available. The most expensive variety is the Jamaican Blue Mountain at $42 per pound, although insiders tout the Indian Monsooned Malabar at $14.50 per pound, which is completely free from acidity and astringency. It undergoes an airing and watering by nature as well as hand-picking and turning twice a day during the curing period. That's one nice cup o' joe.

Screw the NyQuil. When you're sick, you need Jewish penicillin. We recommend Kenny & Ziggy's Mish Mosh. Their matzo balls are light and fluffy. You can slice your spoon straight through these tasty dumplings. (That's a sign they're probably unhealthy; the only way to get really light and fluffy matzo balls is to use a gallon of schmaltz -- fat. But who cares? You're sick.) The best part of this soup is that it includes kreplach. Kreplach is a bitch to make -- even Jewish moms make it only once a year, for high holy days. The gentile dictionary defines it as Jewish ravioli -- little ground beef-filled noodles that float in your soup (and make it so special). If you're famished, we recommend a plate of corned beef and cabbage to follow. Oh, to enjoy such flavor. You should live so long.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of