Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
If you're into testosterone-induced bragging of the "mine is bigger than yours" sort -- referring, of course, to expense accounts -- then this is the perfect place to show what you've got. In a wonderful atmosphere reminiscent of the art deco era, you can impress that important client and easily drop a C-note per person with dishes including the jumbo lump crabcakes, the prime beef, the dry-aged 26-ounce porterhouse, sides such as creamed spinach or sauteed mushrooms, and the unequaled gooey pecan cake. However, it is with the beverages that you can really do some damage. How about a preprandial single-malt Macallan '46 at $350 a glass? Follow this with a bottle of 1899 Chateau d'Yquem for $30,000, and end the meal with a '63 Delaforce port for $400 a glass. Now, how big did you say yours was?
Close your nose and open your eyes. Served atop a flame on a silver platter, the "double spicy stinky bean curd" at China Gourmet is beautiful. A steaming tofu mountain flowers with mustard leaves, leeks, jalapenos and garlic slices, all surrounded by a red moat of pepper sauce. It's almost enough to make you forget that it smells just like a sweaty sock. And tastes pretty much the same. This is not a dish for denizens of the Whole Foods hippie section. But fans of stinky tofu, which is flavored with fermented mustard, will find plenty to choose from: "Fried stinky bean curd" and "steam stinky bean curd" also meet the exacting olfactory standards of die-hard Chinese and Cambodian foodies, who pack the place. For other adventures, try the snails with basil or the mysterious "four things soup."
P.F. Chang's China Bistro
What exactly is an Asian pear? We're not sure, but we'll take Asian pears over the regular garden-variety any day if they taste as good as they do in the mojitos at P.F. Chang's. This twist on the popular cocktail will make you want to dig poor Papa Hemingway's body up out of the ground so he can get a taste of what he's missing. Sexy rum dances on the palate with lime and sugar, as faint aromas of pear waft all up in your olfactory. This drink is like a breezy summer day.
Readers' choice: Beso
Just Oxtails Soul Food
Just Oxtails Soul Food is modestly named and modestly situated in a corrugated metal building next to a church and a biker bar. It easily lives up to its name, offering divine oxtails, which are tender and drenched in an addictive, slightly sweet gravy. But that's not the only reason the line inside stretches ten deep late into the afternoon. The menu also features smothered chicken, smothered pork chops, meat loaf and meatballs, as well as eight sides. Every plate is delicious. The thick chicken gravy -- "30 weight," as one soul food veteran describes it -- is spiked with ample black pepper. The mustard greens are perfectly salted, the green beans balanced with just enough bacon, and the yams simple and delicious. The iced tea comes regular or super-sweet. For a scene, come on Sunday. Oxtails may not save souls, but they feed a flock of loyal congregations.
Lupe Tortilla
Kids can run rampant at this family-friendly Tex-Mex joint located in an old house just off the Katy Freeway, with a large outside seating area and open-air bar. Since the wait can be excessive, the owners built a sandbox for the little ones to play in, and they invariably bring the sand, toys and anything else they can get their hands on into the restaurant. This doesn't bother the owners or the parents, who seem content sipping margs while they wait for their tables. Typical family-pleasing Tex-Mex fare such as nachos, chile con queso, enchiladas and fajitas keep the little ones and the big ones satisfied.
Gilhooley's Raw Bar
Robb Walsh
Gilhooley's is Misho Ivic's favorite restaurant. And since Misho is the owner of Misho's Oysters, one of the largest oyster processors in Texas, he personally picks his best bivalves to be sent to the restaurant. In the winter, 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, you can't beat the Oysters Gilhooley, which are dusted with Parmesan and dotted with garlic butter before being smoked in a pecan-wood-fired barbecue pit. They are one of the premier examples of barbecued oysters on the entire Gulf Coast. If you like to wear a black wife-beater T-shirt with a Harley-Davidson logo on the back and a bandanna on your head, you'll feel right at home here. A great many of the patrons arrive on motorcycles. It's not much of a family restaurant, either. In fact, a sign on the front door reads "No children!" And they aren't kidding.
At this cozy little cottage, the chef is also the waiter, and all the food tastes homemade. Chef Neville Monteith grew up in rural East Portland, Jamaica, not far from the Boston Beach jerk shacks and the Port Antonio banana plantations. After training at the famous Trident resort hotel on the island, he cooked at top U.S. luxury hotels like the Beverly Hilton and the Royal Biscayne. Now he is happily serving his "home food" at his own place. The menu offers some of the best Jamaican jerk barbecue and curry goat you will ever sample. Six-dollar lunch specials include both Caribbean dishes and soul food favorites such as oxtails and smothered pork chops. But real Jamaican food aficionados come in for the all-you-can-eat Caribbean buffet served at Sunday brunch and sometimes on Friday and Saturday nights (call for details).
The Amacones don't just look cute -- they're delicious.
Photo by Troy Fields
The Amacones don't just look cute -- they're delicious.
The plantain chips at the Amazon Grill are long -- the entire length of a plantain -- as well as thick, crispy and golden. There are lots of them, and best of all they're free. You can choose from two dipping sauces; one's a chimichurri (parsley, olive oil and garlic), the other a mango, and both of them are wonderful. There's an art to piling them on your plate so that you don't embarrass yourself if they fall off, but of course you can always go back for more.
If there is a little El Salvador in Houston, it's on Bissonnet. Hell, there's a "Little Everywhere" along that endless stretch of road. Several pupusarias coexist in the 6000s or so, but this one ranks the highest with its yummy little Salvadoran street snack, the pupusa. The hole-in-the-strip-mall El Cuscatleco serves pupusas hot and fresh off the griddle, stuffed with a white cheese that oozes when you bite into it. At $1.65 each, they're cheap, and they'll fill you up fast. If you spice them up with the large plastic jug of curtido (a spicy pickled cabbage condiment) on your table, make sure you have something cold to drink. And maybe a breath mint.

Best Neighborhood Spot in the Southwest

Java Cup

One of Houston's more intriguing shopping centers is located near West Bellfort and Chimney Rock, where Westbury Square tries, as it has for 30 years, to stay alive. The center's New Orleans feel -- brick paving, porches, a fountain -- is so strong that Infernal Bridegroom Productions once staged a Tennessee Williams play outdoors there. There's no better place to anchor a stroll around this odd little corner of Houston than the new Java Cup coffeehouse, which offers plenty of iced drinks, pastries from Three Brothers Bakery and all the joe you could want. The place is clean, cheery and sunny, with a friendly staff and outdoor seating for the autumn days. Go, and try to figure out just what the developers were thinking all those years ago.

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