Otilia's
Finding good sangria at a restaurant is as difficult as predicting summer rain. Don't fool around with commercial, store-bought knockoffs when you can have the real thing made with love by the owners of Otilia's. A former hamburger stand, this family-owned Mexican eatery concocts a sangria that would make Jerry Jeff Walker pick up his guitar and sing it for the millionth time. Making it from scratch each day involves a lot of improvisation. "What recipe?" chuckled the owner. Ingredients aren't measured, just blended by taste for optimum refreshment. Great for hangovers, Saturday-morning garage sales or marathons.

Pass on the $6 panini. Decline the $8 deli sandwich. Instead, visit the original Givral's sandwich shop and try a banh mi thit for between $1.50 and $2 each. At Givral's, they use time-honored methods for making these Vietnamese hunger-busters. They start by heating an eight-inch-long French roll until it's super-crispy. Then they cut it lengthwise, scooping out all of the doughy center (to make room for extra filling) and slathering both sides with creamy homemade mayonnaise. They fill the sandwiches with long, thin strips of crisp cucumber, carrots, jalapeos and cilantro. Then comes your choice of meat -- from homemade pâté and ham to pulled chicken and pork. The most popular is the grilled barbecue pork, which goes straight from the grill to your sandwich.

There are many reasons to like tofu: It's good for you, and it's versatile. But there are some people who think tofu basically tastes like nothing -- no matter how many spices you put on it or how much soy sauce you drown it in. These are people who could never imagine the phrase "Can I please have some more tofu?" ever exiting their lips. We challenge these die-hard carnivores to try Vung Thai's cashew ginger tofu. It's deep-fried (so you can forget about any health-conscious hang-ups you may have). It's got zest. It's got spice. And amazingly, it still tastes good the next day. If you have leftovers (which is unlikely), stick them in the fridge and they're tasty cold or reheated. This is miracle tofu.

Tropical drinks just seem to taste better when they're served in proximity to a large body of water. And it's almost too appropriate to order a drink called a Tidal Wave -- rum, pineapple juice and blue curaçao -- within spitting distance of Seawall Boulevard. Most bars have 'em (tropical drinks, that is), but few can offer a setting like the Hotel Galvez. Crashing surf, towering palm trees and well-manicured lawns make this grand old lady of a hotel one of the best places in Galveston to get knocked off your bar stool. Go for Sunday brunch and while away a few decadent hours.

Leave it to master chef Arturo Boada to turn a healthy fish into a sheer taste delight. His yellowfin tuna Mediterranean stands out even among several stellar offerings on the menu of this downtown restaurant and bar. Boada takes primo sashimi-grade tuna, sears it in the skillet and piles on the ultimate in pleasure foods: fresh artichokes, garlic, olives, peeled tomatoes and liberal sprinkles of rosemary, oregano and capers. White wine and lemon juice complete the textured blend of savory flavors, which will satisfy both happy-hour appetites and late-night cravings.

Asparagus doesn't make its way onto most beef- and broccoli-laden Chinese restaurant menus. But at Canton Seafood, they've got a dish that puts the stalk center stage. They take a chicken breast, pound it flat and wrap it around thick shoots of asparagus. Then they drown it all in a tasty, sticky-sweet sauce. You may think to yourself that it's too much, that there's no way you can finish it, that it might be nice to save some of it so you can revisit the taste later. Don't do that. Indulge. Clean your plate. The stuff doesn't reheat all that well. The magic, well, it's fleeting.

There's an open grill right by the hostess stand, shamelessly charring the flesh of a variety of animals. Then there's the low lighting, leather banquettes and black-clad servers. It's enough to make a vegetarian think, "There's nothing for me here." But don't despair. Houston's just so happens to make the most delicious veggie burger ($8) in its namesake town. The handmade patty -- made of black beans, purple beets, green peppers, brown rice and oat bran -- is served on a large soft, sesame-seeded yellow bun and dressed with melted Jack cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes and diced onion. The burger is wonderfully sweet, with a crispy, chargrilled crust and a sneaky spiciness. The texture is chewy (from the cooked rice?) and moist, and the beets impart an appetizing reddish color. After one bite, you'll take heart that a restaurant like Houston's values its veg-heads so much.
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.

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