Kahn's Deli Don't plan to get a table -- there are only a couple, and they're always full. But Kahn's Deli is a tiny sandwich counter with a whole lot of history. Here, Michael Kahn carries on the New York deli tradition that his father, Alfred Kahn, first introduced to Houston. Alfred Kahn's original deli was located in Rice Village just a few blocks away from its current incarnation. And his legacy lives on in such favorite combos as the roast beef, turkey and cheese with Russian dressing. The corned beef, pastrami and chopped liver are also top-quality, as are the half sour pickles. Regulars are addicted to the enormous homemade brownies, which are moist, dense and baked fresh every day. But the No. 1 seller at Kahn's deli is the oversize Reuben, which sells for $7.50 and easily feeds two.

Rainbow Lodge Tucked away on Buffalo Bayou, this once-private home with a pond, meandering gardens and sunroom overlooking a quaint gazebo has a way of making you think you're nowhere near the city. Pick a shady spot on the terrace and lose yourself in the trickling of the bayou below. The hand-carved wood bar, the collection of antique outboard motors mounted on the walls and the deep red cedar and pine details give the place a cozy hunting-lodge feel. If you don't mind stuffed trophies peering at you as you munch on some of the best Gulf Coast cuisine Houston has to offer, you'll enjoy a menu that leans heavily on wild game (the mixed grill appetizer includes venison, quail, elk and wild boar) and fresh seafood (salmon, lobster and blue crab plus daily fresh catches).

Best Neighborhood Spot in the Heights

Onion Creek Coffee House The Houston Heights is a great neighborhood that's starving for more social spots, and the Onion Creek Coffee House is a prime example of what those hangouts could look like (if more people had the fortitude to battle the prohibition-minded Houston Heights Association). Onion Creek's expansive sun deck, embellished with a tropical flair by owner Gary Mosely's green thumb, has transformed a once-bleak strip along White Oak into a magnet for everyone from morning dog walkers to late-night hipsters. Whether your thing is a $1.50 brunch-time mimosa, a Shiner, or just a cup of joe, this is where it's at. Settle into one of the retro velvet couches, and you might hear an aid worker talking about her recent trip to Afghanistan, or a thespian explaining the perks of canned-food night at the Alley. The Heights is just that kind of place, and Onion Creek helps make it happen.

Best Pre- or Post-Theater Restaurant

Photo courtesy of Artista
Artista The best complement to a fine performance is a fine meal. Lucky for theatergoers, the perfect eatery is right in the thick of downtown. At Artista, on the second floor of the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, every dish is a skilled production. From the ethereally light soft-shell crawfish taquitos to the crispy duck scallopini to the flourless chocolate cake with orange-chocolate bisque sauce, Artista's sometimes surprising taste combinations are an art form unto themselves. With an elegant atmosphere and a view overlooking Tranquility Park's trees and fountains, the stage is set for the perfect evening.

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 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

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.

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