According to the sign in the window of this no-frills grill on Hillcroft, Kabul serves such traditional Afghani foods as tekka kebab, shami kebab and the ever-popular qaduiy pulow. But don't worry about the weird names: Everything ends up being highly spiced ground lamb or ground beef shaped onto kebabs and grilled. The green chutney is made with jalapeos and tastes just like Tabasco's green sauce. Another relish made with tomatoes, onions and cilantro might as well be called pico de gallo. You get rice mixed with carrots and currants and a velvety eggplant stew on the side, along with hot crusty Afghani "slipper bread" -- all for incredibly low prices.

Emporio Brazilian Café
Most Americans seem to think that Brazilians are all cowboys, like the gaucho waiters at Fogo de Chão. But if you want to experience the African-inspired home cooking that represents Brazil's true cuisine, you have to go a little farther down Westheimer. Emporio Brazilian Café is a homey affair. The modest, 18-table restaurant is equipped with folding chairs and a minimum of decorations. This is where Houston's Brazilian community gathers to eat comida caseira, or Brazilian home cooking. The food manages to taste homemade partly because the Emporio kitchen concentrates on just a few regional classics each day. Feijoada is served on Saturday; Friday is the day for bacalhau, a dried cod dish. And the rich shrimp stew called bobó de camarão is the Wednesday special. You can feed an entire family here for the $50 you pay per person at Fogo de Chão, and the food is much more interesting.

Thelma's might best be described as a joint. It's a joint, however, that serves terrific barbecue. When brisket is cooked to perfection, the outside is black and a little charred. Underneath the char should be a thin layer of pinkish-red meat. The meat should have a deep, smoky flavor, but it should not overpower. It should be slightly moist, never dry. You should be able to pull it apart easily with a fork, and yet it should hold together when you pick up a piece and eat it with your fingers. That's how it is at Thelma's. Then there's the sauce. Every barbecue cook has his -- or in this case, her -- own special recipe. The best ones, like Thelma, never tell you exactly what's in it.
How can a Fifth Ward hole-in-the-wall with a burned-out TV and a bunch of falling-apart chrome dinettes be considered the city's best burger joint? Tradition. Adrian Cooper may run this place, but it isn't really his hamburger -- it's his grandmother's. Vivian Wilson started serving it at Vivian's Lounge on Market Street 40 years ago. Today, the menu on the wall lists a mushroom burger, a bacon burger and a mushroom-bacon combination called an Adrian's burger. Each one is a hand-formed patty made from a solid pound of fresh ground beef. The first time you go to Adrian's Burger Bar, you'll see a pot-holed parking lot, a shabby dining room and a business that appears to be on its last legs. But after a burger or two, you'll start to see a third-generation restaurant tradition thriving against all odds in the city's most historic black neighborhood.

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