Lee's Sandwiches
Lee's is a sandwich mecca, bread factory and dessert carnival, all under one roof. Open 24 hours every day, Lee's serves up a large variety of Vietnamese and traditional American sandwiches for $1.85 to $2.15. If that's not enough to get you sprinting to this Chinatown spectacle, they also bake their baguettes behind a wall of glass in a Willy Wonka-esque contraption that seems to be in perpetual use. With all the money you save on your sandwich, you can indulge in some killer Vietnamese iced coffee or tiny custard-filled snacks called delimanjoo, which are also baked on the premises. If you're in a hurry, there are drive-thru and walk-up windows to get you on your way, but we recommend sticking around and taking in the neon-studded scenery.
Bodard Bistro
Photo by Houston Press Staff
Bodard Bistro is a 24-hour fast-food joint that serves pho, mi, all kinds of noodles and Vietnamese sandwiches. (The sandwiches are an incredible deal -- buy two and get one free.) The restaurant is usually packed at lunch and dinnertime, and people wait in line for a table here while a half-dozen other Asian restaurants in the same center sit empty. Try the fabulous stir-fried flat rice noodles, broad white rice noodles folded over each other and then fried into a thick, crusty oval and topped with your choice of chicken, beef or shrimp. The noodle portions are extremely generous, so there are always leftovers. We love the big plate of steaming hot lo mein, but we also like to eat it cold, right out of a Styrofoam box while standing in front of the refrigerator.
Cafe Montrose
They're not curly, they're not seasoned, not wedged, not shoestring, not waffled, but they are some damn good fries. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, Cafe Montrose's french fries actually taste like the potatoes whence they came. In the Belgian tradition, these fries are meant to accompany the wide variety of mussels on the menu. They're served with white vinegar, mayo and ketchup, but taste best when dipped in the sauce that came with your mussels. (We recommend the escargot butter.) Or go straight for fries and one of their exceptional desserts.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
There are only a handful of steak houses in the city that offer dry-aged USDA Prime, and Pappas Bros. Steakhouse has more of them than anybody else. Granted, the dark-paneled men's-club atmosphere is getting a little dated, as is the whole cigar-lounge thing. Newer steak houses such as the Strip House offer much more imaginative side dishes. And the gender-neutral Fleming's has a much better deal on wines. But in the category of old-school chop houses, Pappas Bros. is tops -- as long as you're willing to spend the money. There's no point in going here on the cheap: Try to spend less than $100 on a bottle of wine and you can expect to be sneered at while you slurp it down warm. To really enjoy the place, you've got to pop for $80 on two good steaks, $20 for a couple of sides and desserts, and at least $150 for a wine they actually keep in the wine cellar. With the tip, a first-class dinner with no appetizers will run you a minimum of $300. If you still feel flush after that, they have Louis XIII cognac at $500 a glass.
Katz's Deli and Bar
Rude waiters who keep forgetting the pickles, obnoxious drunks at the bar and lousy, overpriced sandwiches -- is this an authentic New York deli, or what? We always order a salad plate with chopped liver or egg salad, a stack of fresh rye bread and some pickles -- and then we make our own sandwiches. It's hard to mess up that order. "Katz's never kloses," as the slogan goes and, thanks to the Montrose location, you can see an extremely wide cross-section of humanity there at three o'clock in the morning. As far as people-watching in the wee hours goes, this is as wild as it gets.
The Black Labrador Pub
Photo by Houston Press Staff
Mussels are not the first thing that comes to mind when most Houstonians think about the Black Lab. There's the beer, of course, and the fireplace and the classic British fare, but shellfish? Steamed in white wine with tomatoes and garlic, these mussels are tasty, and the broth is great for dipping. Unlike some places, where you get a big bowl of shells and have to go searching for their tiny rubbery inhabitants, the Black Lab's bivalves are consistently plump and tender. And even though the mussels are on the appetizer menu, they're the perfect size for an entre, and they go down nicely with a pint of lager.
Kelley's Country Cooking
Dawn McGee
The Kelley's Grand Slam breakfast is spread out over three plates -- there's a monster chicken-fried steak on the first, three eggs and your choice of grits or hash browns on the second, and an oversize biscuit with a bowl of gravy on the third. Those looking for lighter fare might opt for the Country Boy breakfast, which comes in a cast-iron skillet containing a whole pound of country ham. The extensive breakfast menu also includes such Texas classics as chili and eggs and huevos rancheros. Order the pancakes and take home the leftovers -- the short stack will feed a family of three for a week. The best seats in the huge high-ceilinged restaurant are in the "bikers only" dining room up front. Bikers, cops and seniors all get special treatment at Kelley's, perhaps because owner Jim Kelley is a retired motorcycle cop.
El Tiempo Cantina
Robert Z. Easley
What sets apart the nachos at El Tiempo are the toppings: You can choose from brisket, chorizo, veggies, carnitas, fajitas, crabmeat and shrimp. The waitstaff is very accommodating, so if you want to mix it up, they're happy to combine ingredients, add stuff or go half and half -- perfect for those who have issues with decision-making. The shrimp-and-crabmeat nachos are excellent, especially after the addition of bacon. But be sure you have plenty of help eating them, or you'll never make it to the entre.
Tex-Chick
Jeff Balke
It's called mofongo; that's Puerto Rican for a great plantain dish. Don't go looking for a "heart-healthy" sign on the menu for this one, and once you read the list of ingredients, you'll understand why. A mortar is filled with garlic, chicharrn (the fatty, crispy kind, not pork rinds), olive oil and plantains, then the ingredients are ground together with a pestle until they're well incorporated. The resulting mass is shaped into a ball, which is then fried. The result is a crispy, heavy, pork-flavored mash resembling mashed potatoes. It can be an appetizer or a side dish, but whenever you eat it, the memory will linger for a long time.
If you have trouble thinking of Hooters, that steamy hotbed of sexual titillation, as a family restaurant, odds are you aren't a regular. Poke your head inside the front door of a Houston Hooters location, and you're likely to see quite a few kids -- and a lot of hot waitresses doting on them. What are kids doing at Hooters? Well, it's not their moms who're bringing them -- it's their dads, especially the divorced ones. The restaurant features guy foods like wings, burgers and ribs, and lots of television sets all tuned to sports. There's a full bar with great drink specials, and then there are the Hooter girls, the best-looking baby-sitters in town. A few months of the year, Hooters runs a "kids eat free on Wednesdays" promotion. It's probably just a coincidence that the standard visitation times for divorced dads are Wednesday nights and every other weekend.

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