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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo by Houston Press Staff
Try the rich, fluffy version of the classic Italian ice cream at this Rice Village restaurant at your own risk -- you could lose your taste for Blue Bell. The flavors change daily. Sometimes they don't have chocolate, but they just might have such alluring choices as mango, strawberry, raspberry, hazelnut, panna cotta, peanut butter and pistachio. Try a peanut butter and strawberry combo -- it tastes like a PB&J. Instead of vanilla, get panna cotta, which tastes like toasted marshmallows. The mango has a fresh fruit flavor, and the pistachio, which is a weird dark green, is very intense.
Tropical Grill's $10 weekend buffet features stellar curried goat and pickled fish, plus hard-to-find Jamaican classics such as velvety soft stewed tripe, tangy boiled green bananas and chunky homemade dumplings. Though some of this fare might seem a bit arcane, the buffet also includes such approachable items as shrimp salad with mango dressing, spicy jerk chicken, Creole chicken with sausage, and rice and peas, which is the Jamaican version of beans and rice. And if none of that appeals, you can't miss with the weekday lunch special -- a plate of curried, stewed or jerk chicken with salad and rice and peas for just $4.50.
Nobody's opening Southwestern cuisine restaurants anymore, yet Houston's best chef, Robert Del Grande, is still hanging on to the Southwestern label. Sure, he made upscale enchiladas, tortilla soup and black bean terrine famous a decade and a half ago, but those dishes are so dated now they're beginning to look retro. But Cafe Annie hasn't lost any of its highbrow audience. On the contrary, its elegant dining room is the classiest dinner destination in the city, former sommelier Paul Roberts left behind a wine collection of astonishing depth, and the food still tastes wonderful. Thankfully, Del Grande is too big a talent to stay strictly within the Southwestern niche. Sometimes, when he comes up with something truly brilliant -- like his new appetizer of barely seared yellowfin tuna with shaved roasted beets, toasted pecans and aromatic black truffle vinaigrette -- he doesn't bother trying to make it sound Southwestern. Cafe Annie is scheduled to move into bigger digs across the parking lot soon, and Del Grande promises a modernized menu. Hopefully the expansion will give him some conceptual room to move.

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