Brasil
Photo by Houston Press Staff
The eggplant is a fine-looking fruit (yes, technically it's a fruit). It's big and round and dressed up in royal purple. But let's admit it, most of us are at a loss as to what to do with it in the kitchen. So why not leave that task up to the cooks at Brasil? They've certainly proved themselves worthy enough with their delicious baked eggplant sandwich. Big yummy hunks of the nutritious food (low in calories, but high in fiber) are nestled between fresh spinach, tomatoes, feta and a delicious black-olive tapenade -- pure delight with every bite. The sandwich is served on warm French or focaccia bread with a side of bagel chips. While we're busy honoring the lovely eggplant, here's another fun fact: Although technically a fruit, the eggplant is botanically categorized as a berry. But who cares when it tastes this good?
The Ginger Man Pub
With 57 draft beers and 52 in bottles, The Ginger Man has something to please even the most discerning drinker. It also has the best selection of ciders in Houston. Draft selections include our locally brewed cask-conditioned St. Arnold's Amber, as well as a wonderfully refreshing Paulaner Hefeweizen (Germany) wheat beer. Then there's the highly complex Young's Double Chocolate (Great Britain) and the Lindemans Framboise (Belgium), with more than a hint of raspberries. Bottled beers include an organic brew called Wolaver's Brown Ale (United States) and the wonderfully named Delirium Tremens (Belgium), which is what you may end up with if you attempt to try all the brews available here.

Sometimes in Houston you need to fight fire with ice -- and the right thing to put over that ice is horchata, the Mexican agua fresca made from rice and sugar. Sure, there are pleasant versions flavored with vanilla or cinnamon, but the best of all is coconut. The deli of your local Fiesta Mart offers a coconutty version so good that you'll be tempted to suck the last sandy dregs of rice from the bottom of your Styrofoam cup. But when a grande costs only $1.39, why not just spring for a second?
Hard Rock Cafe
Over at the Hard Rock, it's not all about framed trinkets of rock-and-roll days gone by and a stocked gift shop. They also serve delicious food that's worth eating under a glass display of Rick Springfield's surgical scrubs from General Hospital. And believe it or not, one of their best delicacies is their milk shake, because, unlike those at some other Houston eateries, their milk shakes actually taste like freakin' milk shakes. When you order a strawberry milk shake, there are real strawberries in that bad boy -- none of that syrupy stuff like they serve at IHOP. Usually the Hard Rock serves it up in a slim glass. But when you order it to go, they give you this big-ass Styrofoam cup, and they thick that baby up so good that you have to suck with all your might just to get a sip. It's a struggle, but it's a good one. Fight the good fight, the sweet fight.
At least four things have to be right to make the perfect espresso. First, the ingredient: finely ground Italian espresso-roasted coffee. Second, the equipment: a machine capable of bringing the water to 2000 degrees and delivering the right pressure. Third: the know-how, in the form of an experienced barista who both knows how to tamp down the coffee in the gruppa (the metal cup) and keeps a watchful eye on the whole process. Last: knowing to serve it in a porcelain demitasse, which is far more civilized than a cardboard cup and makes it taste much better. A fine espresso should be enjoyed much as you would a fine wine. Swish it around in your mouth to get the full flavor and texture; it should have an almost syrupy feel. The thick, reddish-brown crema on top, the symbol of a perfect extraction, should be thick enough to hold two teaspoons of sugar for a few seconds before letting it sink to the bottom of the cup. At Dolce & Freddo, that's what you get.

Saba Blue Water Cafe
"What's in this?" we asked, taking a sip of our first ever mojito. "Heavenly goodness," a friend said. A mojito is a Cuban drink made with rum, soda and simple syrup. A delectable muddle of mint leaves and lime sits at the bottom. Saba adds to the sugar-water sweetness of the simple syrup with a splash of 7-Up. It's the perfect summer beverage for people who are sick of Jolly Rancher-flavored apple martinis but want something more elegant than a shot of tequila. Saba's ambience adds to the "I'm hip and trendy and drinking a cooler drink than anyone else" vibe. The best thing is to drink a couple mojitos at the bar, then go sit at a table. They'll serve you crispy shrimp chips. Pour soy sauce on them, drink another mojito and listen to the chips sizzle. The more mojitos you have, the cooler this will seem. Trust us.

Seoul Garden Restaurant
If you only kind of feel like cooking -- but definitely want to get out of the house -- Seoul Garden is the place to go. The bulgogi is brought to your table. This fantastic Korean beef tastes as though it's been marinating since JFK was alive and is sliced into paper-thin strips. There's an open grill where you cook your own dinner. The dish is accompanied by a chorus of tofu, spicy potatoes, Korea's ubiquitous kimchi. Be careful with your legs. It really hurts if you accidentally slam your thigh into the grill. But don't get too entranced in conversation and forget to flip your beef. If you toss it on expecting the waitress to come back to turn it for you, your tender beef will end up burned and tough.

If you listen to KIKK FM, you've probably heard Jerry Jeff Walker's "Sangria Wine" about 73 times. Sangria is most easily described as fruity trash-can punch. But it's hard to find a place that puts real fruit in it, not to mention the difficulty in finding someone who doesn't use watered-down wine that tastes like Kool-Aid. No bones about it, the sangria here is damn tasty. And if you ask for extra fruit, they'll cut up a whole apple for you. The best meal to have with your sangria? Start with an empanada. Then devour a heaping plate of picadillo, essentially Cuban chili. This heavenly hash combines ground beef, tomato, green pepper, green olives or capers and plenty of garlic. Serve it up with rice, fried plantains and a bowl of black beans and -- madre de dios -- que delicioso! Once you've kicked the pitcher of sangria, we recommend a glass of café con leche. Then you're gonna need a nap.

El Hidalguense
When you walk in the front door of this place, the aroma of goat smacks you in the nose. Or is it mutton? Chivito asado al pastor (spit-roasted goat) and barbacoa de borrego estilo Hidalgo (Hidalgo-style lamb slow-cooked in maguey leaves) are two of the restaurant's specialties; if it's Friday or Saturday, odds are you're smelling both. Weekdays the goat is reheated in sauce, but on the weekends the chivito (or cabrito, as it's called farther north) is spit-roasted over charcoal while you watch. There's a band playing favorite tunes from Hidalgo on Friday and Saturday nights when the whole Houston Huastecan community comes here to hang out.
Watch out! The innocent-looking paper-wrapped package they hand you when you ask for a cheeseburger at Adrian's is actually a delicious mess waiting to happen. The giant hand-formed meat patty is topped with a sloppy mountain of lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickles. The burgers are fried to order, so they're piping hot. They're also so big you need a strategy to eat one. First of all, be sure to ask them to cut it in half. This will reduce the likelihood of the entire sandwich coming apart and cascading down your shirt on first bite. Next, consider sharing with a friend. Two people can easily split the $4.35 monstrosity. Try one of the awesome steam-table potato or vegetable dishes instead of french fries. The food here is beautiful, but the dining room is ugly. That's probably why most Adrian's Burger Bar patrons call in their orders and get the food to go.

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