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.
Gravitas
Gravitas earned its reputation as the hippest kitchen in the city by reinterpreting slow-food classics. Chefs Jason Gould and Scott Tycer put an Alpine spin on macaroni and cheese with an item the menu calls housemade German spaetzle baked with Gruyre. The dish brilliantly combines delicate little noodles with a big full-flavored stinky Swiss cheese. If you're willing to broaden your definition enough to allow spaetzle and Gruyre to fill in for the elbows and yellow cheese powder that come in the box, you will be richly, richly rewarded. Mac-and-cheese lovers have remarked that they just wanna curl up in a bathtub full of this stuff.
The Sabor version of a Caesar salad is a return to the dish's glorious past. Made on a cart at tableside in a big wooden bowl with a coddled egg, plenty of anchovies and a host of other ingredients, Sabor's Caesar dressing is closely patterned on the original, which was invented by Italian immigrant Caesar Cardini at his Tijuana restaurant in 1924. You get a huge mound of fresh, crisp romaine leaves with the signature dressing, but no tomatoes or other junk. The sublime salad, like the rest of Sabor's "Latin Lite" menu, is designed to appeal to spice-averse Mexican-food lovers. Jon Paul, former matre d' to the rich and famous at Tony's, is Sabor's owner and host, and the salad's secret ingredient is his bubbly bonhomie.
The fajitas and the fajitadillas (fajita-meat quesadillas) are made with sizzling, fresh-off-the-grill beef. The enchilada sauces are perfectly seasoned and never too thick or too watery. And giving away free chili con queso along with the chips and salsa at lunch hasn't hurt their popularity, either. The original Doneraki on Fulton had its fans, but the huge new location in the Gulfgate Center put Doneraki up there with the city's top Tex-Mex contenders. (A new Westheimer location is also coming on strong.) Tastefully decorated with saltillo-tile floors, Tabasco-colored walls and a huge copy of a Diego Rivera mural, it's one of the best-looking Tex-Mex restaurants in town. Like all classic Tex-Mex operations, Doneraki claims its chips and hot sauce, chile con queso, fajitas and cheese-stuffed jalapeos are "authentic Mexican." Bless their hearts.
Stanton's City Bites
Often overlooked as a burger mecca because of its lack of tables, this shabby convenience store serves the most impressive cheeseburger in town. The greatness starts with a half-pound, hand-formed patty mounted on an oversize, well-toasted sesame-seed bun. Go "all the way," and the adornments include lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, mustard, red onions, two strips of bacon and an ample amount of American cheese. Variations include the Rio jalapeo burger (add pickled peppers), the BBQ blues burger (with barbecue sauce) and the Tex-Mex burger (with salsa). The burgers here are "to go" only, so you'll need to plan ahead to find a place to eat them.
New Greek cuisine entres such as grilled sea bass or angel-hair pasta with sauted shrimp, scallops and calamari may be the most interesting things on the menu, but Alexander the Great Greek is doing an admirable job of being all things to all Greek-food lovers. There's Athens-style fast food like pita sandwiches with french fries and Americanized Greek salads with lots of lettuce topped with gyro meat, grilled salmon or grilled chicken breasts for dieters. And then there's a full complement of traditional Greek dishes, all done right. The restaurant's moussaka, made with a rich ground meat mixture seasoned with cinnamon and cumin, is the best in town. Greek wines, innovative and traditional, are featured on the wine list. There's also an impressive selection of ouzos. For the full experience, make reservations for Friday or Saturday night and take in the Greek floor show, complete with bouzouki player and belly dancer.
Hugo's
Hugo Ortega's upscale version of Mexican cuisine draws on his family's roots in Puebla, as well as on his training in the Houston restaurant business. The bar is loaded with premium tequilas, the guacamole is outstanding, and they make their own tortillas. Mexican-food enthusiasts will delight to find such exotica such as huitlacoche and squash blossoms on the seasonal specials list. The botanas platter, a huge appetizer assortment, is a good way to sample lots of offerings. But for a tour de force of Ortega's hit dishes, try the spectacular Sunday brunch: Nopalito salad, octopus ceviche, shrimp salad and cold ancho chiles stuffed with a meat-and-potato salpicon are among the amazing first courses. Seafood enchiladas, cabrito en salsa, handmade tamales and corn pudding are among the hot dishes. And Hugo's signature dessert, hot chocolate and the crispy Mexican doughnuts called churros, is especially appropriate on a weekend morning.
Uptown Sushi
The fish seems fresher and the sushi chefs seem sharper at Uptown Sushi than anywhere else in town. On weekends, expect to dine among dressed-to-the-teeth singles mingling to a throbbing techno soundtrack. The sashimi is top-notch, and the raw Kobe beef is extremely popular. But it's the edgy, innovative dishes -- such as the tuna tartare served in a martini glass with Parmesan shavings -- that tickle the fancy of Houston sushi lovers. Wild things include the "lickety split roll," a bizarre-looking but tasty concoction of tuna, crawfish, cucumber and sprouts, topped with spicy tuna, yellowtail, salmon and avocado; it looks like a mosaic inside and it has a satisfying crunch. Watch out for the spicy "red roll," which features shrimp and avocado with crunchy cucumber, fresh jalapeo and sprouts on the inside and a layer of bright red tuna slathered with a red pepper paste on the outside -- it's hot!
There aren't any ceramic roosters, Ricard pitchers or other bistro clichs here; Bistro Moderne's interior is appointed in dark chocolate-brown with cream trim, and the extensive banquettes are accented with brilliant blue cushions. The look is fashion-forward, and the feel is extremely comfortable. You won't believe you're in a hotel restaurant. But thanks to the location, you can order breakfast, lunch or dinner, and the Sunday brunch is among the best in town. Roanne-born chef Philippe Schmit apprenticed at several two-star restaurants in Paris before moving to New York in 1990 and taking a job at Le Bernardin, one of the world's best seafood restaurants. And as you might expect, Schmit's fish dishes are exceptional, and his bouillabaisse is fantastic. So what makes this a bistro? The casual lunch menu features downscale classics such as moules frites, and l'hamburger, both served with world-class french fries.

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