Gilhooley's Raw Bar
Robb Walsh
Gilhooley's Raw Bar Gilhooley's, which has been described by its detractors as a biker bar, has an admittedly rough-hewn ambience. Signs on the wall that prohibit the admittance of children and encourage patrons to "show us your tits" probably don't impress the Mobil Travel Guide folks much. But Gilhooley's has a secret benefactor. Misho Ivic, the owner of Misho's Oysters, one of the largest oyster processors in Texas, personally selects the tasty bivalves that will be served at Gilhooley's, which also happens to be Misho's favorite restaurant. In cold weather, when the oysters are sweet and plump, the ones at Gilhooley's are always just a little sweeter and just a little plumper. And during the rest of the year, when smart consumers eat their oysters cooked, there's the Oysters Gilhooley. This magnificent plate of oysters smoked with pecan wood, dusted with Parmesan and dripping with garlic butter may be one of the premier examples of barbecued oysters on the entire Gulf Coast.

Mi Cocina These folks are pushing the national frozen drink of Texas to dizzying new heights. The frozen mango margarita is quite good, with lots of rich tropical-fruit flavor and not too much sugar. The "mambo taxi," made by alternating layers of frozen margarita and sangria, is excellent as well. But it's the three-tone margarita parfait, the "dilemma," that is truly a towering achievement. Served in a tall pilsner glass, this tequila monster has alternating layers of mango, strawberry and pale green lime frozen margarita slush. It's served straight from the freezer, and, like a liquid-nitrogen-fueled rocket just before liftoff, sheets of ice form on the cocktail's cylindrical exterior. It's pricey at ten bucks, but the "dilemma" packs more wallop than any two conventional margaritas, and the variety can't be beat: All you have to do is maneuver the straw to change flavors.

El Hidalguense
El Hidalguense Baby goat is incredibly tasty and tender. Old goat is not. At El Hidalguense, it's not hard to guess which they serve. Their cabrito is offered in one of two ways: naked or dressed. The naked version, cabrito asado al pastor ($17.99) is simply skewered and grilled, infused with a smoky flavor from the mesquite on the grill. The more elegant version is the cabrito asado enchilada ($17.99), baked in a rich, terra-cotta-colored chile sauce until it falls apart. Traditional Spanish rice and some earth-shattering charro beans accompany both dishes.

Tampico Seafood and Cocina Mexicana
Jeff Balke
Tampico Seafood & Cocina Mexicana There are a lot of Mexican seafood restaurants in Houston, but none is as consistent as Tampico. Named after the seaside city on the Mexican Gulf Coast, this little oyster bar and grill has brought the best of our neighbor's seafood traditions to the north side of the border. You never have to wonder what kind of fish you're eating here; you buy your whole fish from the counter and pay for it by the pound. It's seasoned with red achiote paste and served a la plancha over soft cooked onions and green peppers on a sizzling comal. The cocteles are schooners full of cold-boiled shrimp, octopus, or your choice of other seafood mixed up with lime juice, onions, tomatoes, avocado pieces and cilantro in a ketchup-based cocktail sauce. To eat them Tampico-style, squeeze in more lime juice, and add a few drops of hot pepper sauce, then scoop some out on a cracker.

Cleburne Cafeteria - CLOSED
Cleburne Cafeteria Many of the faithful who line up at West U's Cleburne Cafeteria can afford to eat at fine restaurants where the food isn't served on gray plastic trays. But Cleburne owner George Mickelis seems to have tapped into their inner eight-year-old with his macaroni and cheese. The macaroni pasta itself is never soggy, dry or rubbery. You can actually taste the fresh milk in his smooth, buttery light yellow cheese (a shock to those accustomed to the bright orange glaze of Kraft's boxed variety). And there's a slight sweetness to this concoction that makes it even more addictive. After one serving you'll discover why Cleburne's version of this dish, normally relegated to midnights and microwaves, is the essence of comfort food.

Best Chocolate-Covered Anything

The Chocolate Bar
Dave Rosales
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.

Chicken Supremo Burrito
Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Chicken Supremo Burrito
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.

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