Frenchy's Chicken
Jeff Balke
The fact that there are always people standing in line at Frenchy's guarantees that every piece of chicken you get has just come out of the fryer. But Frenchy's is more than a chicken shack. Since 1969, Percy Creuzot has turned out the tastiest greens, the most satisfying andouille-studded red beans and rice and some of the best dirty rice and jambalaya the city has ever known -- all sold in Styrofoam containers for a veritable pittance. Located on Scott Street in the shadow of the University of Houston's Robertson Stadium, this venerable Creole chicken shack has fed starving UH students for more than three decades. It's also popular with those who keep late hours, since it's open until 1 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Nielsen's Delicatessen
When the original owners of Nielsen's first came to Houston from Denmark, they tried to sell the famous Danish open-faced sandwiches called smorrebrod. But customers didn't know how to eat the messy sandwiches (Danes use a fork and knife) and the health department wouldn't let them be displayed without some kind of covering. So Nielsen's gave up and started serving American-style overstuffed sandwiches with cole slaw, potato salad and deviled eggs on the side. Fifty years later, Nielsen's Danish deli on Richmond is a Houston landmark. But what made the place famous is a bit of a surprise: Houstonians come from far and wide to buy the homemade mayonnaise. While the thin-sliced pastrami on rye is excellent; and the corned beef, liver paste and Swiss sandwich is a work of art; it's the homemade mayonnaise-laden potato salad that caused Gourmet magazine to ask for a recipe. Nielsen's sells its mayo by the pint, too, so when you stop by for a sandwich, you can get some to stick in the fridge.
A fusion restaurant that brings together Persian, Indian, Mediterranean and American dishes, this place serves the most ferociously seasoned Middle Eastern food you've ever eaten. All the meats are halal, the Muslim equivalent of kosher. Standouts include the Mix Grill Dos, with two kinds of tandoori chicken; a half skewer of jujubideh, a Persian chicken kabob seasoned with saffron and lemon; and a full skewer of koobideh, a highly seasoned Persian ground-beef kabob. The menu also includes a Greek shawarma wrap and bakra ke korma, a fabulous slow-cooked goat curry. "The animals sourced for halal meat are not fed hormones of any kind, so you can be assured of receiving healthier, better-tasting meat for your dining experience," claims the menu. Don't miss the fiery halal hamburger! Unfortunately, tencafé's halal status also means that you can't get any beer with your spicy food.
The decor is romantic excess, the oversize chairs are well upholstered, and the carpets are extra-plush. Once you get seated, you know you're going to be here awhile. There's no menu. There's no waiter, either. There's just Aldo Elsharif. The talkative chef comes to your table in his sauce-stained whites and spouts poetry about his fish of the day, his fabulous veal and rare exotica, including ostrich and zebra. Aldo will convince you that everything you know about Italian wine is wrong and that you simply have to try his special of the day. The prices aren't low, and without a menu, it's easy to get surprised by the bill. But the food is wonderful and the little dining room is one of the most intimate in the city. By the time you leave, several hours will have gone by, and Aldo will seem like an old friend.

Spanish Flower Mexican Restaurant
Jeff Balke
Tucked away in a corner of the Heights, this all-night Tex-Mex mix offers fantastic, affordable food to all walks of life. Wander in around 3 a.m. You'll see barhoppers getting that fatty high-protein burrito fix necessary to whittling away the effects of too many martinis. You'll find artists taking a break from their creative woes, seeking solace in perfectly spiced mole enchiladas. You'll find a table of police officers enjoying a moment to socialize with their comrades over coffee and sopaipillas. What we like most about the Flower are the freshly made tortillas. Anytime from four in the afternoon to four in the morn, a waiter will approach your table with the hot bread, fresh off the mechanized comal to accompany your meal. Spanish Flower will satisfy, whether it's an eye-opening breakfast or that last taste of heaven before stumbling off into dreamland.
The Cheesecake Factory
Photo by Houston Press Staff
With close to 200 items on the menu, if you can't find something to eat here, there's something seriously wrong with you. It's the largest menu in town. Fortunately, they've organized the menu into logical sections; nevertheless, it will probably take you longer to decide what to eat than to eat it. There is so much to choose from that picking just a few items to highlight is almost a futile task. Favorite appetizers include the avocado egg rolls, Thai lettuce wraps and California guacamole and Brie melt. There are 11 different pizzas and 13 different pastas, the standouts being barbecue chicken pizza and Louisiana chicken pasta. The house specialities include a grilled tuna burger, orange chicken and chicken marsala, and the entrées range from seafood to steak to pork, in varieties too numerous to mention. With 34 different cheesecakes, it might take some parties a long time just to do dessert. The portions are big as well.

Best Diner with Waitresses to Give You Wholesome Dreams

59 Diner

59 Diner - CLOSED
Dave Rosales
People put a lot of faith in the cooks, servers and busboys who work at their favorite diner. Patrons want to know that when they place their order and get their meal, they're in good hands. They wanna look in that waitress's eyes and know they have nothing to worry about -- not just with their dining experience, but with everything in general: the state of the world, the weather, their financial woes…And the decent, all-American waitresses at the 59 Diner are in your corner. They make you feel like life is worth living, dammit! "Everything's gonna be all right, honey," they seem to be saying through each smile and Coke refill. These are the gals who men were fighting for back in WWII ("Johnny, please come home safely!"). These are the gals your mother constantly pressures you to hook up with so she can have the grandkids she needs. These are the gals who can complete you. To paraphrase Prince, "complete me, baby, 'cause I just can't take no more!"

Best Diner with Waitresses to Give You Perverted Dreams

House of Pies

House of Pies
Jeff Balke
This may sound like we're bad-mouthing the fine, upstanding ladies who work their butts off at the House of Pies, but trust us, we're just giving 'em their props. Because, fellas, the 59 Diner may have waitresses you could take home to your parents, but the gals over at the House of Pies are the bad girls your parents told you to steer away from. But you can't, can you? You're drawn to their enigmatic bad-assedness. The tattoos. The dyed hair. The occasional sneer that makes you wonder if they've ever done time. They are your biker-mama Hustler-honey wet dream. These are the kind of girls you can easily picture riding into town on a Hog covered in leather; the kind who whisks you away from your jail cell of an office cubicle and pays some sweaty, fat dude to give you a fresh tattoo while she gets a new piercing somewhere, um, unmentionable; the kind who wahoos an economy-sized bottle of vodka from a liquor store and takes you to a motel room in the middle of nowhere; the kind who turns your ass out and makes you say thank you. Oh, take us away from this bland hell, House of Pies waitresses. Please take us away! Oh, yeah, could we have another slice of strawberry-rhubarb?
Darband Shish Kabob
Photo by J.C. Reid
"Under $25" is the title of a column Eric Asimov writes about inexpensive restaurants for The New York Times. They think that's cheap? At Darband Shish Kabob on Hillcroft, you can feed your whole family for $25 and have enough change left over to take them to Dairy Queen for dessert. Darband's chengeh kabob, which includes two skewers of grilled lamb chunks with onion, charbroiled tomato, fresh basil and parsley, scallions, radishes and hot-out-of-the-oven Iranian flatbread, sells for $4.95. The Darband Special, which includes one skewer of the lamb chunks and another of tender shish kebab (beef cubes), with the same vegetables, herbs and flatbread, is priced ten cents cheaper at $4.85. Cornish game hen kabob, seasoned with lemon and saffron then nicely charred and served with lime wedges, is $5.45. Yogurt and cucumber dip or hummus is 95 cents extra, and a pot of tea is $1.25. Eat your heart out, New York.
James Coney Island
People say we're elitist. Oh, sure, we only eat our steaks Pittsburgh-style and drink our Russian vodka chilled. But dammit, we also go to James Coney Island, just like everyone else in Houston. Why? Because it's a slice of Americana. It's a captured childhood moment. Remember those summer days of grilling hot dogs in the backyard? Remember eating Frito pies right out of the bag at Friday-night high school football games? Since 1923, James Coney Island has been serving up smilin' wienies and sides. Now that JCI has 24 locations all over town, you're only a hop, skip and a jump from feeling like a kid again. Go ahead. Get the chili dog smothered in onions (still just $1.29). Those cheese fries 'n' tater tots taste just like the ones Mom used to buy. Oh, memories…Sigh.

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