Best Chocolate-Covered Anything

The Chocolate Bar The Chocolate Bar has chocolate-covered ice cream, chocolate-covered fruits (the bananas are to die for), chocolate-covered potato chips, popcorn, fortune cookies and nuts. There's even chocolate-covered chocolate -- but let's not get greedy. This Montrose-area sweetery has doubled in size since opening four years ago. No longer do you squeeze into the little shop, almost dizzy from the delicious scents wafting out of the chocolate factory behind the counter. Now there's room to spread out, with an ice cream counter and tables and chairs in what used to be the novelty shop next door. The goodies at The Chocolate Bar are also great for gift-giving, so take home some chocolate flowers or one of their famous chocolate pizzas for your sweeties, and just try to leave without a little nibble for yourself. There are even carob-covered bones for the dog.

Berryhill Baja Grill It's fat. It falls easily from the corn husk wrapper, revealing a generous layer of sweet, steamed cornmeal. But what lies inside is even better: tender strands of pork. If you want a vegetarian tamale, you can be certain it also will be stuffed. Berryhill's hefty tamales have a generous Houston-based history, too. For years, Walter Berryhill and his wife tested, tasted and retested their recipe, throwing the rejects into the creek behind their farmhouse. His motorized tamale cart became a fixture along Washington Avenue and then the River Oaks area in the 1950s. But he quit the business after his wife died, and a local attorney with a serious tamale fix bought the recipes and took it over. The tiny original restaurant on Revere has sprouted six new locations all over the Houston area and one in Austin -- and more are on the way for the Yankees in Dallas.

Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream It's not just novelty that drives the masses into the tiny Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream shop on Kirby Drive. This veteran institution of ice cream and righteous causes has shops just about everywhere nowadays, but only since May has Houston been able to delight in Ben & Jerry's sweet Vermont goodness. It's about time. Here, all-natural ingredients bring a sweet bouquet of exotic and vivid flavors to the tongue; try the mango-lime sorbet, the cinnamon-rich oatmeal cookie dough ice cream and the black raspberry yogurt. The scoops are relatively small compared with the other creameries in town, but they're big on taste -- so big that some customers order a scoop and get back in line for another.

Panera Bread Company The croissants at Panera Bread Company look like they're on steroids -- almost twice the size of normal ones, they dwarf the side-dish plates they're served on. When you bite into one, you can immediately tell that it's made with real butter. A second bite reveals that it's very fresh, since flakes of pastry go everywhere (trust us, you'll be so busy enjoying it, you won't stop to care). The croissants at Panera are so fresh because they're baked throughout the day, not just first thing in the morning. Croissants like these are best enjoyed naked -- they need absolutely nothing on them.

Giannotti's Pasta Factory Fresh pasta is common at upscale Italian restaurants and in Italian family homes, and it's easy to see why. One taste of the stuff at Giannotti's Pasta Factory is enough to convert anyone from the dry boxed kind. The beauty of fresh pasta, apart from its incredibly clean taste, is its speedy cooking time -- only three to four minutes. Giannotti's specializes in standards like spaghetti, capellini, fettuccine and linguine, which you can buy plain or in spinach or tomato flavors. They also make some incredible manicotti and cannelloni, and plain sheets of pasta for lasagna are also available. Best of all, the pasta can be sampled with a comforting home-style tomato sauce any day of the week at Giannotti's restaurant.

Goode Co. Texas Seafood Come crawfish season, this fixture on the Houston dining scene is packed with cravers awaiting bright red piles of mudbugs. It's no wonder: Goode Co.'s homemade fresh Creole seasoning of garlic, onions, celery and dried chiles is hot and flavorful. And these crawfish are big enough to win a fight. They're served with homemade smoked sausage, boiler onions and -- this is important -- corn and potatoes that have been boiled with the crawfish (not separately, the way many other establishments prepare them).

Edloe St. Deli This club sandwich is the best because it's the plain-Jane real deal. And you can only find it inside the ever-so-quaint, breakfast- and lunch-only Edloe St. Deli in West U. Served up with a fruit bowl or an onion-y scoop of creamy potato salad, the traditional double-decker sandwich at the Edloe is served on fresh and chewy egg bread, very lightly toasted. It's nothing fancy -- just tender turkey slices, extra-crunchy bacon, Monterey Jack, thick mayo, juicy tomato slices and frilly green lettuce leaves. This is a comfort-food junkie's ideal lunch.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar These ain't your Jack in the Box fried rings. Fleming's stacks a towering plate about six inches high with fresh, thick slices of white onions fried lightly so they're crispy on the outside and juicy inside. The golden batter -- made from Japanese bread crumbs, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley -- offsets the sweetness of these choice onions. A chipotle mayonnaise dipping sauce adds a tasty zip to the rings, which are so big you'll need a knife and fork to eat them -- or you could just wear them as a bracelet. At $6.95, they could be a meal on their own, so order these rings as an appetizer only if you've got a big appetite or several friends with you.

Barbecue Inn The batter-fried steak at this fabulous old Houston dining institution features the crunchiest crust and juiciest meat combination imaginable. The bright white cream gravy might be a tad sweet for some. It's that old-fashioned variety that tastes like it was made with evaporated milk. The standard order comes with two chicken-fried steak patties, a salad and your choice of hand-cut fries or a baked potato with sour cream, cheddar, chives and bacon bits, served from a spinning stainless-steel carousel. The fried shrimp and fried chicken are also incredible. For a Barbecue Inn surf and turf, ask for a half-order of fried shrimp with a single chicken-fried steak patty on the side. Get a bottle of Tabasco and some extra horseradish to spice up the bland cocktail sauce.

Nundini Food Store At Nundini Food Store, $1.50 will get you a scoop of real Italian gelato. Gelato has less air churned into it than ice cream, so it's creamier and a whole lot denser. It also stays cold longer and doesn't melt as quickly as its U.S. cousin. At Nundini, it's hard to recommend one flavor over another, since they change every week. But if you come across zuppa inglese (English soup), try it: Made with vanilla gelato and brandy-soaked pieces of cake, it isn't available anywhere else in Houston. Traditional flavors include nocciola (hazelnut) and that all-time Italian favorite, the soft green-colored pistachio gelato. Its subtle, nutty spice goes down oh-so-easily.

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