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.

This is the place for home-style Cuban food. The restaurant could never be considered fancy, but the food, that's another story. The mariquitas con mojo make a great starter. Thin plantain chips are covered with an onion, garlic, olive oil and lime sauce that will have your taste buds singing. Entrées include many classic Cuban dishes like ropa vieja, vaca frita, picadillo and arroz con pollo, but accolades go to the masas de puerco fritas, which are large chunks of fried pork -- crispy on the outside yet moist and tender on the inside. All of the main courses come with the classic black beans and brilliantly white rice as well as ripe plantains known as maduros, which add an interesting sweetness to everything they touch.

Kahn's Delicatessen - CLOSED
Alfred's in the Village was once Houston's favorite New York Jewish deli -- legendary for its overstuffed sandwiches, kosher-style pickles and box lunches. Today, Alfred Kahn's son, Michael Kahn, carries on the tradition at Kahn's Deli in Rice Village, not far from his father's original location. The walls are decorated with old photos of Alfred and Houston celebrities of yore along with dozens of write-ups from newspapers and magazines. There are a couple of places to sit, but Kahn's business is primarily takeout. The tiny walk-up sandwich counter serves a spectacular oversize Reuben that sells for $7.50 and is best approached with a knife and fork. Other popular sandwich combinations include roast beef, turkey and cheese with Russian dressing. But for the deli purists, there are also plain sandwiches, including corned beef, pastrami and chopped liver, not to mention the excellent half-sour pickles.
Kim Son Restaurant
Dawn McGee
On the weekend, Kim Son's carts carry an average of 70 dim sum items. Don't miss the velvety eggplant stuffed with shrimp paste, mushroom-capped meatballs, Chinese broccoli, golden-fried turnip cakes, slurpy rice noodle rolls, cylinders of shrimp paste wrapped in seaweed and deep-fried in tempura batter, pork dumplings with quail eggs inside, or the sweet taro roll covered with almonds. But wait, you say, dim sum is Chinese, so how could the best dim sum in Houston be served at a Vietnamese restaurant? "I was born here in the States, but like the owners of Kim Son, my family is Chinese-Vietnamese," explains Andy Troung, the manager of the Stafford location. "Chinese people ate dim sum all the time in Vietnam. So eating dim sum in a Vietnamese restaurant in Houston makes perfect sense to Chinese-Vietnamese-Americans like me."

Resist the temptation to ask for a knife and fork. When you eat Ethiopian-style, the spongy flatbread called injera serves as both your plate and your eating utensil. You pull off a chunk of bread and wrap it around the food, turning everything into an injera taco. There's even Ethiopian salsa, not that you need it -- the food at Blue Nile is all incredibly hot. Green beans, potatoes and carrots in a spicy sauce are a favorite vegetable combination, as are the lentil stews. Other standouts include the lamb cubes with onions and peppers and a lamb in a turmeric-heavy sauce. It's easy to share dishes here. All of your orders are combined on one big platter set in the middle of the table and everybody digs in. The atmosphere is pleasantly unusual. Try the Ethiopian honey wine.

The Capital Grille
Photo by Houston Press Staff
Capital Grille is the perfect place for you, if: a) you are male, b) you like a clubby atmosphere, c) you like your meat well hung, and d) you're spending $100 of someone else's money. Start out with the Grille's steak tartare ($9.95), which is the best there is. Skip the soup or salad and head straight for the dry-aged, 24-ounce, bone-in porterhouse ($32.95). Dry-aged means that the steak was cut from a loin that was hung in a climate-controlled room for a minimum of 21 days -- that's what gives the meat its unmistakable taste and high price tag. The must-have sides are cottage fries and onion strings ($5.25), creamed spinach ($5.25) and roasted mushrooms ($7.95). The sides are meant to be shared, but no one will mind if they tend to gather on your side of the table. Wash it all down with any of the wines on the outstanding list, which boasts close to 400 choices. Follow this up with the Berries Capital Grille infused with a dash of your favorite liqueur ($9.95), and an espresso. A C-note is easy to drop.

Cafe Rabelais
Photo by Houston Press Staff
François Rabelais's writings were known for combining earthy humor and sophisticated themes. And this tiny French cafe honors its namesake with delicious irony. Though located in a sophisticated urban shopping center in Rice Village, Café Rabelais features rustic peasant dishes from the French countryside. Try the astonishing mussels in cream sauce, the merguez et frites (lamb sausage and french fries) or a goat cheese and olive tart. The blackboard menu might also include steak salad, bavette frites (flank steak and french fries) or an old-fashioned vegetable potage. The mottled cream-colored walls look like old plaster, and somehow the French rural look is absolutely charming despite the parking lot outside the window. Maybe the French rustic thing works so well because the employees are actually French.
Grilled mustard shrimp with tomato chutney and a sensational seafood mulligatawny are just a couple of the new Bombay-on-the-Gulf of Mexico seafood dishes you'll find here. All of the food is remarkably innovative. Owner and head chef Anita Jaisinghani once worked as a pastry chef at Cafe Annie, and the sensibility shows. This isn't a typical Indian restaurant with a couple of special dishes, this is a complete departure from the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet concept of Indian cuisine. Try the crab samosas with papaya ginger chutney, and the Maple Leaf Farm duck grilled tandoori-style and served in a toasted almond curry with fluffy white basamati rice. And don't miss the exquisite nan bread and the unassuming yellow lentil dahl, which is flavored with garlic, ginger and cumin. Renowned sommelier Paul Roberts, now of the French Laundry in Napa, put together the short but intriguing wine list.
Among the smiling faces on the cover of July's Food & Wine magazine is Scott Tycer, the chef and co-owner of Aries restaurant. Tycer and nine other young chefs were chosen by the magazine as "America's Best New Chefs 2003." According to the magazine, Tycer's work at Aries fits in with a movement going strong in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere: chef-run restaurants with a dedication to fine ingredients and craftsmanship. Perhaps his awards and national reputation will help quiet local fussbudgets who fault Tycer for refusing customer requests for tomatoes out of season, sauce on the side and vegetarian remakes of existing dishes. Let the chef do what he does best.

Da Marco
Photo by Houston Press staff
When The New York Times reviewed San Domenico, a restaurant thought by many to serve the best Italian food in Manhattan, the critic raved about an incomparable pasta dish that was so good it was unfair to the competition. It was a giant ravioli stuffed with a poached egg yolk and drenched in truffle butter. Sound good? Well, you're in luck. You can get that same "incomparable" pasta dish any night of the week at Da Marco. Which just goes to show, Da Marco's competition isn't in Houston -- it's in New York. The food here is a radical departure from the old-fashioned red sauce-smothered fare that's served in most Houston Italian restaurants. But sophisticated palates will recognize chef Marco Wiles's take on Italian as truly world-class.

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