Kubo's Japanese Restaurant Chef Kubo was the best sushi man in Houston. Unfortunately, he left town several years ago, but he trained his replacement, chef Hori, very well. The new sushi master is doing an admirable job of filling Kubo's sandals. There's always something interesting on the specials board at Kubo's, and the fish is always the very finest in quality. An even younger chef named Suzuki, who is fresh from Japan, is executing some splendid renditions of traditional sushi preparations. His chirashi, presented in a textured, three-tiered bowl, offers artful compositions of sashimi, radish shoots, seaweed, rice and other elements tucked one beneath the other. Crazy rolls and the like are done by a pair of imaginative Latin American sushi chefs. They also run a special all day Sunday, when every piece of sushi sells for $1.25.

Batli Joselevitz
Jarro Cafe Houston hot sauce has been in a slump lately. Maybe they toned down the heat level for visiting All-Star Game fans and forgot to zip it back up again. If you've gotten used to insipid picante sauce, Jarro Cafe's salsas will open your eyes -- wide. At this bright and sunny little taco joint on Gessner north of Long Point, they bring you different salsas and some lime quarters in six brightly colored bowls with every order. But these aren't your ordinary Houston salsas. There's "Mayan" salsa, made of chopped purple onions flecked with Mexican oregano and chile powder; an oily, brick-red chile arbol sauce; a deep green salsa that tastes like chopped jalapeos and cilantro; and a bright orange sauce made with lots of pureed red chiles. Last but not least, there's a neon-green salsa made with pureed tomatillos and serranos that will rip out your tonsils.

Marine's Empanadas When you name your business after yourself, you'd better be good at it. The empanadas ($2.35 each) at Marine's are better than good -- they're outstanding. Marine's offers 47 different versions; most are savory, but some are sweet, distinguished by a dusting of powdered sugar. These made-to-order, stuffed, doughy, fried little wonders are the ultimate finger food. Funky favorites include "the hippy," made with salami, fried onions and raisins; "the avocado," a smooth blend of mashed avocado and melted cheese; and "the fig," made with fig jam, melted cheese and walnuts. Anyone would be proud to lend his name to these beauties.

Photo by Houston Press Staff
Brown Bag Deli You get a brown bag and a pencil when you walk into this busy lunch counter. On the bag are a series of commands like "Choose Bread," "Choose Meat" and "Choose Cheese." Oddly, the fabulous sandwich filling of a Southern childhood, pimento cheese, is listed under the meats. Not that we're complaining. Where else can you get a decent pimento cheese sandwich these days? If you aren't from around here, you may be wondering, What is this stuff exactly? In an article titled "P'minnuh Cheese: The Pâté of the South," author Kendra Myers explains that while all versions of PC include cheddar or American cheese and chopped pimientos (generally bound with mayonnaise), regional variations might include garlic, cayenne, buttermilk, pickle juice or cottage cheese. In some parts of the new multicultural South, pimento cheese is eaten on toasted bagels. We recommend you try the excellent Brown Bag Deli version on white bread.

Pico's nachos Jorge If you're looking for something light to snack on, hit the road. Pico's nachos Jorge are a mountain-sized heap of smoldering ingredients. The plate of tortilla chips comes piled high with the restaurant's trademark marinated pork roast, shredded for your convenience and blanketed with oozing Chihuahua cheese, guacamole and sour cream. Counterbalancing the heat and salt are sweet, luscious pink rings of pickled onion -- also a signature ingredient at the homegrown Mexican restaurant. It's a gamble seeing just how much weight a single tortilla chip will bear as you pile it on. No chip can hold all the stuff that comes on top of these nachos. Thankfully, Pico's nachos are served with a fork.

La Unica Bakery Declaring the best breakfast taco in Houston is kind of like choosing the best hot dog in Chicago, the best pizza in New York, or the best boob job in Los Angeles. We know that the big yellow truck at the corner of Houston Avenue and Center Street serves a fine breakfast taco, and yes, Houston, we know from your votes that Whataburger does a good job too, but the folks at La Unica Bakery take the cake -- so to speak -- this year. Their masterpiece is the bacon-and-egg taco, which is wrapped in a homemade flour tortilla. They're not the first people to ever scramble their eggs and fry their bacon in the same pan, but somehow they do it better than anyone else. They keep the bacon pliable and juicy, without letting the grease overrun the eggs. For the perfect start to your day, add some frijoles and queso blanco. Did we mention that they make their tortillas fresh?

Beso In a city steaming with heat and humidity, the competition is keen for the best mojito. Beso's classic Cuban concoction will chill out the city's sweatiest soul, combining the acquired expertise of its owners to capture the mojito crown, elbows down. Master chef Arturo Boada insists on only the freshest ingredients, and co-owner Bill Sadler has a consummate taste for fine beverages. Their blend of sugary base, rum, club soda and lime comes to life under the rich spell of aromatic garden-fresh mint. We also suggest sampling the equally exotic raspberry mojito under the patio's palm trees. Havana daydreamin' is on the way.

Jeff Balke
Frenchy's The lines have died down at Pollo Campero. Its zesty Latin version of fried chicken is still excellent, but it isn't new anymore. And while the old-fashioned Southern fried chicken at Barbecue Inn on Crosstimbers is still as crunchy as it used to be, the crust is admittedly bland. If you like your chicken spicy, nothing tops the flavor of hot and juicy Frenchy's chicken. And some of the city's best Creole dishes -- the sausage-heavy red beans and rice and the greens -- are on Frenchy's sides menu. The battered Frenchy fries are stellar, too. Standing in line may seem like a nuisance, but it's also your guarantee that every piece of chicken has just come out of the fryer. And Frenchy's is conveniently open until 1 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, for folks with a late-night craving.

Photo by Houston Press Staff
Barnaby's Just flip on the tube or try dodging a pop-up ad and it's clear: This is the year of the Atkins and South Beach diets. But Barnaby's has done the high-protein, low-carb thing for years. Owner Jeff Gale (who named the eatery after his dearly departed sheepdog) understands his ultra-healthy clientele so well that bottles of Bragg Liquid Aminos (a popular garnish for those in serious workout training) are as much a table staple as ketchup and salt and pepper. Lunch at any of the three Inner Loop locations is often a muscle show -- regulars in tight, form-fitting shirts or workout gear polish off grilled salmon, burgers (without the bun, natch), chicken breasts, lean pork chops or gargantuan salads. And if you're not an Atkins believer, don't worry: Comfy, calorie-rich offerings -- like baby back ribs and diet-destroying apple pie à la mode -- are favorites, too.

Photo by Houston Press Staff
Buffalo Grille "Man, it feels like someone jammed a shard of glass through my forehead. What time is it?" "It's, like, noon, dude." "Ugh. It's bright out. What the hell were we drinking last night, anyway?" "Bartender called it Gulps Gone Wild. I think I saw him put 151, SoCo, some kind of schnapps and, like, Fierce Melon Gatorade powder in it." "Christ! What's with this long line?" "Dude, this place is so worth it. These people know what's up." "Man, I hope so. Shit's taking a while. What're you getting?" "Biscuits and gravy. Bacon. The bacon's good, dude. Real good." "Yeah? Yo, I need some coffee. Hold my spot here a second?" "Cool." (Pause. He comes back over holding a cup of regular, stirring in one packet of cream, the rich aroma caressing his nerves.) "Oh...Oh, man! This is good." "Told you."

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