Nundini Chef's Table Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar
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.

Cotton Exchange Bar We like toasting our balmy weather with a light beer in a cheap koozie. But sometimes we feel more genteel, and that's when we head to the Cotton Exchange Bar for a mint julep. A true speakeasy marked only by the "808" on a black awning, the bar/lounge is housed in the historic building of the same name, a once-bustling center of trade and commerce in 1890s Houston. The Exchange's julep harks back to those older days, when sweaty businessmen would simmer down over the minty, icy bourbon cooler. Watching its creation is a lesson in bar science: Bartenders here muddle huge mint leaves and then add crushed ice and Maker's Mark bourbon to a silver cup. (The silver creates a chemical reaction with the whiskey, igniting a one-of-a-kind flavor.) Sip from the icy, frosty silver tumbler and you're suddenly more relaxed, more refined, more...Southern. All that's missing is the seersucker.

Pezcalato Peruvian Restaurant If you think ceviche means rubbery chunks of mystery fish in a lime juice marinade, Pezcalato is going to spoil you. When you order ceviche at this mom-and-pop Peruvian restaurant on Richmond, you have to specify your fish. There's grouper or snapper ceviche ($14 a plate) or tilapia or catfish ceviche ($12 a plate). The fish tastes like it's been tenderized; it literally melts in your mouth. Every order comes with plenty of mixto, a delectable mélange of tender octopus, squid and mussels in a lime juice marinade. The seafood is covered with flecks of fresh cilantro ground so finely it resembles a pesto, and it comes to the table South American-style with a slice of cold, cooked sweet potato and a little round of corn on the cob. When you're done with the ceviche, drink the marinade. Called tiger's milk in South America, it's said to be a hangover cure.

Wing Stop Chicken wings fly out of this Dallas-based franchise. After placing your order at the counter, be prepared to wait precisely 14 minutes, since everything is cooked fresh. Their original wings are similar to those at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York (which purportedly invented buffalo wings in 1964 and made them a part of our national culinary heritage). But even though the wings at Wing Stop are authentic, they're nowhere near hot enough to make us Texans break a sweat. The atomic wings, however, are coated in a habanero-pepper sauce and should come with a fire extinguisher. Nontraditional flavors worth exploring are the garlic-Parmesan wings and the lemon-pepper wings, along with the homemade ranch and blue cheese dressings that accompany the celery sticks.

Rudyard's
Rudyard's A few years back Rudyard's Pub was given Best Burger honors. This year we salute their burger sans viande. The generous, tasty and never-dry patty made from nature's goodness sits on a perfectly toasted bun alongside crisp lettuce, ripe tomatoes and thin slivers of red onion. You call the condiments. One bite of this delicious, no-cholesterol stomach-stuffer might make you forget meat for good. Eat upstairs during happy hour to take advantage of cheap drink prices and avoid all the cigarette smoke.

Christian's Tailgate Bar & Grill Swaddled in tissue paper and laid in a plastic cradle full of french fries, this burger seems to glow. Maybe it's just the grease sheen on the upper bun reflecting the fluorescent lights. Or maybe there really is an aura surrounding the burgers at the convenience store called Christian's Tailgate Bar & Grill. The sandwich perches on the side of the basket, awaiting your grasp, its tissue paper tighter on the well-wrapped downward side so the top and bottom buns part slightly to reveal colorful lettuce, tomato and jalapeos within. The tissue-paper corners face forward and then double back so that the burger seems to be emerging like a flower blossom. If you pull up the top bun, you will notice a dark char circle surrounding the golden interior -- the mark of a perfectly toasted bun. Inside, the hand-formed patty is made from a half-pound of never-frozen, freshly ground beef. This is it: All hail the perfect burger.

Kim Son
Kim Son When you crave steamed pockets of Asian goodness, a drive to Kim Son's Stafford location is more reasonable than a 14-hour flight to the Orient. Truth is, once seated and eating at Kim Son, you might start believing you've left the United States. The palatial neo-Chinese-style restaurant and banquet hall adorned with a dramatic goldfish pond looks like the real deal. At $3 to $5 a pop, the 30-plus-item menu is so diverse -- pan-fried, stuffed bell peppers, beef or shrimp noodles, savory wrapped tofu, chasu bao, ha gow (shrimp dumplings), sticky rice and mixed meat in lotus leaf, to name a few -- everyone is bound to find something they like. The dim sum is offered only on weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., so save yourself the jet lag and drive on out to Stafford.

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