Taqueria La Flor
Jeff Balke
What can you get for less than a dollar these days? One heck of a breakfast taco at La Flor Taqueria. You'll find a line every morning as the cooks ladle out taco after taco. The standard fare on the steam table includes eggs with potatoes, eggs with sausage and eggs with bacon. But the real finds are the fajitas and the barbacoa. The well-seasoned meat is falling-off-the-bone tender. It should be accompanied on your corn or flour tortilla by refried beans and fresh onion and cilantro. Add some of the hot sauces that accompany each taco, and your taste buds will be wide awake.
the breakfast klub
Mmm, butter. From the neatly folded three-egg omelettes to the crisp Texas toast to the mess o' fluffy grits, The Breakfast Klub's grub is saturated with it. And what's not dripping with butter is perfectly fried, which is what makes the wings-and-waffle breakfast plate and the catfish and grits so popular. This little joint, housed in a former convenience store in Midtown, has a down-home atmosphere to match its menu. Owner Marcus Davis himself is likely to greet you at the door when you line up to order, and he's yet to get a cash register to facilitate that process. But while you wait, you can watch the hot platters of French toast, eggs and biscuits parade by and decide whether you'll want a booth by the window or a little wooden table. After you order you're on your own to grab utensils, hot syrup and a drink. Now if we could just get Marcus to serve on Sundays...

It's hard to find something great to say about Anthony's since it moved into Vallone's old spot on Kirby, but their seafood martini wins Best Ceviche hands down. This is no watery, frozen-fish-tomato-goo dish. Instead, it's all about fresh mangos with Asian cabbage in a lemon vinaigrette. You want crustaceans in that ceviche? You can't miss the big chunks of crab, shrimp and lobster. At $13.95, it's pricier than most, but the lobster and mango make it worth every dollar.
Ouisie's Table
Ouisie's Table serves a world-class chicken-fried steak -- without a doubt, one of the best in Texas. But it's available only on Tuesdays, when the Southern-fried specialist makes her weekly appearance. The sides are usually mashed potatoes, a vegetable such as mustard greens and custardy corn pudding. The undulating golden-brown crust is so perfect that the cream gravy is astutely served on the side. For maximum enjoyment, you want to pour the gravy at just the right instant; wait too long and the meat is not hot, pour too early and you'll burn your mouth. When your CFS has cooled to the perfect temperature, don't go overboard and pour out the whole gravy boat -- start modestly with a couple of tablespoons on one corner of the battered steak. That way each bite is not only swaddled in the salty warmth of cream gravy and savory meat juice, it's also still nice and crunchy.

So your sinuses are stuffed and you can't breathe. You feel like hell, and don't want to cook. Call Niko Niko's and order some lemon chicken soup to go. The steam will clear up your sinuses. The strips of chicken will make you feel like you're getting some protein. The rice in the soup will fill you up. And the lemon -- well, the lemon just adds that magical, antibacterial zest that will wake up your sick, sleepy taste buds.

Hugo's
Houston is a Mexican food town. And Hugo's Mexican food is among the best in the nation. Rick Bayless in Chicago and Zarela Martinez in New York are chef Hugo Ortega's main competitors -- few others come close. As a native of Puebla who received his culinary training here, Ortega has a big advantage. His grasp of Mexican flavors is so confident that he doesn't feel the need to prove himself all the time. While others slavishly imitate out-of-date Mexican culinary concepts in the name of authenticity, Ortega cuts loose with new American abandon. His roasted rabbit in guajillo sauce with yams and jicama salad seems like a cross between Mexican and American Southern cooking. The tacos al pastor have so much pineapple mixed in with the crunchy pork, they taste Hawaiian. Meanwhile, there's no chips and salsa on the table, no fajitas on the grill, and no compromising to our usual Tex-Mex expectations. It's a brilliant balancing act: Ortega is upholding Mexican culinary integrity and charming the Houston fine dining audience at the same time. If you're looking for a restaurant that will blow away your food snob friends from New York or California, this is the place.
Artista
Photo courtesy of Artista
Michael Cordúa's best dishes are shockingly imaginative combinations of bold flavors presented in wild new ways. And there has never been a better stage for Cordúa's brilliance than Artista, his extraordinary new restaurant in the Hobby Center. The location in the performing arts center has inspired everything about the restaurant, from the name to the menu design to the theatricality of the decor. The Hobby's soaring roofline creates a three-story-high space inside the restaurant. And the enormous windows frame the downtown skyline. Wacky overstuffed modern chairs surround the tables, red oval-shaped booths line the back walls, and the romantically lit bar is two stories tall. It's a treat just to walk into this place.

Joyce's Seafood & Steaks
Joyce's is a rarity: a high-end restaurant with great Cajun food. There's lots of grilled fish and a couple of steaks on the menu, but the Louisiana cuisine is the real attraction. The awesome shrimp poor boy is made with shrimp that have been butterflied and dipped in a spicy batter before being deep-fried and dressed on a crusty roll. The gumbo is made with an inky dark roux and lots of seafood. And the New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp come swimming in the richest butter sauce you've ever tasted -- with lots of French bread on the side for dipping. The restaurant was formerly known as Joyce's Oyster Resort. They changed the name because too many people assumed oysters were all they served. Luckily, they still dish up the same oyster stew, oysters Rockefeller, and oysters on the half shell as well as a serious fried oyster platter.

Fung's Kitchen
Like fresh fish? Pick out a ling cod swimming in one of the aquariums up front and Fung's Kitchen will rush it to the stove, steam it and serve it up in a minimalist soy and ginger sauce for you. It is the purest fish flavor you will ever taste. But if fish isn't your favorite, don't worry -- you're bound to find something you like on this 400-item menu. The tofu dishes are especially good. Chef and owner Hoi Fung is originally from Hong Kong and comes from a family that has produced many famous chefs. When the daughter of the emperor of Japan visited Houston a few years ago, this is where she and her husband came to eat.
Lankford Grocery and Market
Eydie Prior's parents opened Lankford as a grocery in 1939. After a while, Eydie took over and started serving food. It was well received, so in 1977 she decided to turn the place into a restaurant. Since then, generations of regulars have filled the rickety joint to the gills nearly every day. Anyone who's ever heard of Lankford will ask if you've had the thick-'n'-juicy hand-packed burgers. Those more in the know will suggest the enchilada special. These are some of the best cheesy, beefy enchiladas in the downtown area, with a hearty mix of chili powder and cumin in the chile con queso topping. A half order will leave most bellies plenty full. Chicken-and-dumplings aficionados should be sure to pencil in that special as well. There's nothing this place can't do well.

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