the breakfast klub
The Breakfast Klub Marcus Davis, owner of The Breakfast Klub, is a God-fearing man. And his food is divine. For two years, this breakfast, lunch and social haven in Midtown has served up consistently fantastic Southern-fried catfish, wings 'n' waffles, pancakes, grits and, oh yeah, lunch items. Even on the busiest days (and with the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. hours, it's busy) the eggs are fluffy, the sausage peppy and the coffee reliable. For those who haven't experienced a Southern-fried breakfast -- like the green eggs and ham (eggs with spinach, paired with a generous ham steak), potatoes or divinely buttery grits -- the Klub is a must. The signature breakfast sandwich features ham, bacon, eggs, cheese and tomatoes on gloriously fresh, crisp sourdough bread. As the diverse mix of regulars can attest, Davis, who closes the Klub on Sundays, may keep the faith, but his breakfast is downright sinful.

Best Neighborhood Spot in Midtown

Julia's Bistro
Julia's Bistro At Julia's, bistro cooking has gone international. The restaurant's brand-new menu features both down-to-earth Mexican and funky Asian fusion dishes -- creations of Artista's former executive chef. Duck taquitos and lobster quesadillas fire up the appetite for some sensational entrées, like roasted rack of lamb with mango chutney or sea bass topped with a papaya-chipotle sauce that practically tingles on its way down the throat. This area of Main Street is filling up fast with hot eateries, but with delectably inventive dishes like these, Julia's will definitely keep its fans coming back.

Best Expense-Account Restaurant

O'Rourke's Steak House Owners John O'Rourke and Sam Hernandez grill a mean steak, but this Museum District eatery also sports some fabulous stuffed potatoes, divine salads and hearty seafood, like Chilean sea bass and Australian rock lobster tails. A fairly extensive wine list, a piano player, superb service and a relaxed players-club atmosphere make this locale a great impress-your-client lunch or dinner spot. On a good day, the New Zealand lamb chops don't even need the mint sauce. And the martinis are potent.

Restaurant Indika Indian fine dining reaches new heights at this enchanted cottage out on Memorial across from Town & Country Mall. Owner and head chef Anita Jaisinghani, who once worked at Cafe Annie, changes the meaning of samosas with a crab-stuffed version served with papaya-ginger chutney. Her answer to chicken tikka masala is Maple Leaf Farms duck tandoori served with almond curry. Indika shines brightest in astonishing renditions of familiar Indian dishes. The nan tastes like a fresh-out-of-the-oven Indian pizza crust. The yellow lentil dahl, with garlic, ginger and cumin, is electrifyingly spicy. And seafood dishes like Gulf shellfish mulligatawny are a sensational departure from gumbo orthodoxy. The short wine list, created by Paul Roberts (now the sommelier at the French Laundry in Napa), offers innovative choices at fair prices. One meal at this place will get you beyond the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet preconceptions of Indian food.

Green Pine Tree Bar & Grill This friendly Korean sushi bar and barbecue joint gives you your choice of sitting out in the middle of the action at one of the barbecue grill tables, or hiding away in a private dining nook. The barbecue table has a gas grill recessed into the middle. You cook your own meat and then roll it up in romaine leaves, taco-style. There are garlic slivers and pepper slices to grill with the meats, and a dozen little bowls filled with kimchi, pickled seaweed, dried fish, potato salad, hot sauce and other condiments are delivered to your table automatically. The No. 1 family-style dinner with the "variety meats" is the typical order for Koreans. But unless you love tripe and intestines, stick with the American-friendly Nos. 2 or 3, which feature steak, bulgogi and seafood, but no offal. "And never go out for Korean barbecue on a date," our waitress jokes. "Your clothes will smell like smoke and meat all night."

Best Meat-and-Three Restaurant

Avenue Grill
Jeff Balke
Avenue Grill Cops, firefighters and EMS types flock to this time-honored cafeteria across the street from Central Police Supply. The cranberry carpet is well worn, and the wood paneling and tile ceiling have seen better days. But the Avenue Grill prides itself on its "greasy spoon" reputation. The television is permanently on, and it seems like somebody is always having a spirited conversation over at the counter. At lunchtime, the meat-and-three format (one meat and your choice of three sides) is executed in classic Southern steam-table style. The fried chicken, chicken-fried steak and hamburger steak are all good bets. The squash casserole is excellent, and the greens aren't bad either. The yeast rolls are outstanding. And should you find yourself downtown looking for an early breakfast, the Avenue Grill opens at 5:30 a.m.

Skeeter's Mesquite Grill
Skeeter's Mesquite Grill Got kids? Then you're going to love this place. Skeeter's lets kids be kids and moms and dads relax. The crayons are already on the table, and you don't have to worry what the little monsters are coloring on -- the walls here are already decorated with toddler masterpieces. So are the terra-cotta planters, the trunks of the fake trees, the bricks and some of the windows. There are electronic games and other such harmless activity magnets tucked away in the nooks and crannies, so there's no need to chase the kids. Think of this cavernous restaurant as a cageless zoo where ankle-biters roam. And believe it or not, the Velveeta chile con queso, mesquite-grilled hamburgers, and chicken breast and steak sandwiches are all quite tasty. Best of all, there's cold beer for Mom's and Dad's frazzled nerves. Don't have any kids? Run screaming!

Tony's Tony's is the final flaming star in the celestial Tony Vallone empire. Since the sale of his other restaurants to Tilman Fertitta, Vallone has concentrated on his "baby." And the waitstaff at Tony's is even more attentive, efficient and knowledgeable than it was in the glory days. The restaurant's red-walled dining room and banquette seating, central A-list tables and constant stream of servers will make you feel like royalty (chef Bruce McMillian's osso buco will, too). We can't wait for Tony's new digs to open on Upper Kirby so we can witness how this Houston upper-crust classic reinvents itself. In the meantime, Tony's on Post Oak is open for lunch again, and regulars are flocking back for its stellar service.

Cafe Piquet The local Cuban community may have been the first to discover Cafe Piquet when it opened in 1996, but today the secret's out about this small, cozy eatery. The menu's not long or extensive -- Piquet specializes in a few traditional dishes that have won the hearts of many, and not just because the food is plentiful and the prices reasonable. Ropa vieja (shredded beef with tomatoes and olives, $8.95), masas de puerco fritas (chunks of fried pork cooked with garlic, $9.95) and a whole red snapper ($17.95) are just some of the outstanding items offered here. Whiter-than-white rice, blacker-than-black beans, yucca in garlic sauce and ripe plantains are among the side dishes. And remember to complete your order with a perfectly brewed cafe cubano.

Hugo's Don't ask for chips and salsa, fajitas, nachos or any other of those familiar standards here. Chef and co-owner Hugo Ortega is a Mexican national who worked his way up from a busboy at Backstreet Cafe, and he doesn't do Tex-Mex. At the upscale Mexican restaurant that bears his name, the duck, cabrito, rabbit and tacos al pastor are the main attractions. The chocolate is ground fresh, the tortillas are hand-formed, and the moles are all made from scratch. Hugo's does serve margaritas, but you're better off ordering one of the dozens of premium tequilas served Mexican-style -- straight up with a shot of sangria on the side. There's also an excellent wine list selected for its compatibility with the intense, spicy flavors. The Mexican food here compares favorably with the best in the nation. And in truth, it blows away a lot of the top restaurants in Mexico.

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