Prince's Hamburgers
A pioneer in curb service, the old Prince's Drive-in on Main Street was the place where Houstonians went to hang out in their cars. The new Prince's doesn't have carhops, but the retro burger-joint decor pays homage to the original with displays of historic photos, old menus, vinyl booths and classic Formica. It also features some nostalgic menu items such as the chocolate malted and the Original, a hamburger doused with Prince's sauce, which looks like a slurry of pureed fresh tomatoes. Big eaters will want to try the King's Favorite -- a half-pound patty with chili, cheese and grilled onion on the top, and lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and mayo on the bottom.
Mambo Seafood
Ceviche has to be the simplest way to prepare fish. All you do is marinate it in lime or lemon juice with some hot peppers and salt, and the result is fish that's both chewy and tender. At Mambo,
they are true to the tradition of serving ceviche made with only white fish, uncomplicated by any other kind
of seafood. (Otherwise it becomes
a seafood salad.) They do, however,
add avocado, onion, cilantro and tomato, creating interest and a sublime fresh flavor.
Mi Pueblito
Two TVs constantly tuned to soccer, live music on weekends, arepas (corn patties) served with everything, large portions and great value in a relaxed atmosphere all make Mi Pueblito a favorite of local Colombians. Regulars prize the ajiaco bogotano (chicken soup with three kinds of potatoes), and the bandeja paisa plate, which contains a little of everything, is legendary for its size: Steak, sausage, a fried egg, avocado, chicharrn, plantains, red beans and rice and an arepa are sure to satisfy even the hungriest of diners -- all for just $7.65.
Maybe it's because the shops were born right here in Houston. Maybe it's because it's still a family-run business and there really is a Mr. Shipley who oversees the 200 or so company-owned and franchised stores. Maybe it's because Shipley's hasn't changed its recipe much in more than 70 years. Whatever it is, these folks know how to make a great doughnut. Whether it's plain or glazed that makes you salivate, iced or sugar-dusted, cream or jelly-filled that populate your daydreams, Shipley's has a doughnut you can't resist.
The big puffy buns tighten around the slippery burger patty, keeping the sandwich hanging together perfectly even though the half-pound of fresh-ground USDA Choice sirloin is extremely juicy. Garnished with lettuce, tomato, mustard and mayo and served in a basket with fries, this is a classic Texas burger. Add cheese or guacamole for 75 cents, bacon or venison chili for 95 cents. Live music, cold draft beer in schooners and a saloon atmosphere do wonders for the flavor. The Armadillo Palace's burger utterly outclasses the offerings at Goode Co.'s other burger joint across the street.
Arirang Korean Restaurant
Photos by Mai Pham
Korean barbecue is an after-hours tradition. You wind up a long night of partying by gathering your gang around a grill set in the center of a large table, and everybody takes turns cooking. Favorite meats are bulgogi and wang galbi -- marinated steak and marinated boneless short-rib meat. Arirang's advantage over Houston's other Korean restaurants is a picnic-grove motif and a two-story interior. It's not only a clever design, it's also uniquely suited for indoor grilling -- the smoke and grease from the grills have plenty of room to rise. The grills aren't lit at lunchtime, but there are some great deals on bento boxes and buckwheat noodles at midday.
Magnolia Bar & Grill
Magnolia Bar & Grill opened in 1983 during Houston's Cajun-restaurant frenzy, the same boom that got the Pappas brothers and Tilman Fertitta started. Most of the Cajun restaurants that opened back then compromised on the spicy Cajun flavors to become family-friendly -- but not Magnolia Bar & Grill. The food here tastes exactly the way it did 20 years ago -- rich, spicy and outrageously delicious. Try the fresh red snapper, the pee-wee soft-shell crabs, the roasted duck, the gumbo and the touffe. The "crab maison salad," made with a rmoulade recipe stolen from Galatoire's, might be the best crab salad in Houston.
Floyd's Cajun Seafood House
If you like your mudbugs extra-spicy, this is the place for you. Floyd's cooks them in a peppery boil and then dusts them with a cayenne-heavy spice blend. Your lips will burn for hours no matter how many beers you wash them down with. And yet there are Floyd's patrons who douse their crawfish with an extra coating of pepper sauce for good measure. During the season, the eatery offers an all-you-can-eat crawfish special. You can't miss the all-you-can eaters at the boat-shaped bar at Floyd's new location on the Gulf Freeway -- they're the ones who never run out of mudbugs.
Chuy's
Jeff Balke
"Big as yo' face" burritos have been a specialty at Chuy's since long before McDonald's got into the burrito business with the Chipotle chain. Chuy's regular burritos are stuffed with your choice of ground sirloin, chicken or fajita meat and then served with beans, cheese and the sauce of your choice. But it's the "house specialty" steak burrito at Chuy's, modeled on the famous steak burrito at El Cumbre restaurant on San Francisco's Mission Street, that gets our vote for the best burrito in town. It's a big flour tortilla stuffed with strips of grilled steak and lots of cheese, topped with a Hatch green chile sauce and served with charro beans and green rice. And if you prefer
the deep-fried burritos known as chimichangas, try some Chuychangas -- chicken, cheese and green chile burritos, deep-fried and garnished with sour cream and your choice of sauce.
Fung's Kitchen
The steamed scallops in garlic sauce at Fung's are exquisite -- probably because the scallops are still alive when you order them. The shellfish come to the table barely cooked and attached to the shell and lovingly decorated with chopped garlic. Chef and owner Hoi Fung adheres to the culinary aesthetic of his native Hong Kong, where the belief is that fresh seafood should be served simply. A little ginger and scallion is all the sauce you'll need on the snow crab, lobster and ling cod that you see swimming around in the aquariums near the front door. The live seafood items are the best things there, but they don't come cheap. If you don't like seafood, order something else from the 400-item menu. Chef Fung comes from an illustrious Chinese family that has produced many famous chefs, and this is Chinese fine dining, not cheap eats.

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