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.
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.
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 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.

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.

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