Doozo Dumplings and Noodles
There are many opinions as to what makes Doozo's dumplings so good. "It's the dough," one source says. "The dough is handmade." "Definitely the sauce," says another. "You don't have to bother with the spicy one, because the regular is so good." Really, Doozo has hit on a combination of all good things. The dough is substantial without being chewy, and the sauces -- regular and spicy -- are a welcome change from the create-your-own variety at most dumpling places. The pork version is flavorful, and the vegetable dumplings are the best of their kind. The atmosphere and location (a food court in the middle of downtown) can be an obstacle unless you work nearby, but Doozo is definitely worth the trip. Make sure that trip is on the early side of lunch, though, because when the dumplings are gone, you're out of luck.
Sangria, although simple to make, can be a tricky thing; it's often too sweet or tastes too much like a glass of cheap red wine. Bossa's sangria is fruity and just sweet enough without going over the top, and it's served in a pint glass with crushed ice and wedges of orange and lime. Although not traditional sangria (there's pineapple juice in it), it's refreshing and a great deal. (A very honorable mention goes to RA Sushi for its multicultural approach to this classic drink. After a few glasses of the fusion beverage that is Sake Sangria, you'll feel one step closer to world peace.)
We always remember to bring our own beer to Vieng Thai, because food this hot doesn't taste right without it. If only we could bring our own air conditioner! The restaurant, a former Asian grocery store with scuffed concrete floors and a malfunctioning a/c, is short on ambience and long on authentic Thai flavors. The green papaya slaw is the best you'll ever have. (Try the Laotian version with purple crab sauce if you're feeling daring.) The tom kha gai chicken soup with lemongrass, lime juice and kaffir lime is very sour and extremely piquant. If you don't like exotic dishes, extremely hot peppers and really pungent fish sauce, then do the rest of us a favor and go eat somewhere else -- you can get sweet and sticky Americanized Thai food all over town. We hope Vieng Thai never compromises.
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.

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