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.
Darband Shish Kabob
Photo by J.C. Reid
Darband Shish Kabob specializes in -- what else? -- kebabs. So it should come as no surprise that they offer a large selection, ranging from $5 to $7 per plate. Choose from among the kubdeh (ground beef), chengeh (lamb), shish (beef chunks), barg (beef sirloin strips) or chello (ground lamb). It's no coincidence that the chello, the national dish of Iran, is their best-seller. The well-seasoned lamb is formed around the skewer, then grilled over charcoal. When served, it looks like a foot-long sausage. An order consists of two skewers, along with basmati rice and two grilled tomatoes. The trick is to break the tomatoes over the rice to moisten it, then cut up the meat and enjoy the wonderful blending of flavors. A nice cup of tea is offered to all guests at the end of the meal.
Cafe Malay
In a sprawling city of international cuisines, Cafe Malay offers the best choice for Malayasian food. The roti canai (nan-like fried dough) with curry chicken dipping sauce is particularly good, as is the Malaysian eggplant. The satay, chicken Hainan and chicken sambal are flavorful, too, but the real strong suit of this place is the fish. Steamed or fried and served on the bone, on most nights the fish is on every table. For dessert, the fresh whole coconut is a popular and dexterously challenging choice. In fact, many dishes here are delivered via coconut -- and what's more fun than that?
Handmade, one-inch-wide ribbon pasta, handmade fennel-laced, spicy sausage (made by "Mr. C," Johnny Carrabba's father), sweet red peppers, onions, tomatoes, a big slice of goat cheese that slowly melts as you eat the dish, creamy sauce, lots of Parmesan cheese...Need we say more about the Pappardelle Campagnolo? This fettuccine's name comes from the Italian word pappare, which means "to gobble up." And that's precisely what you'll do with this entre. It comes in a huge bowl, with enough to share. Assuming, of course, that you'd consider such a thing.
Tasty tapas, an award-winning paella, an affordable wine list, the use of many homemade and imported ingredients and unparalleled European hospitality from the Spanish chef and owner make this the best in town. Homemade ingredients include a delicious, soft cow's-milk cheese, sweet quince jelly and a wonderful chorizo. From Spain they import the rice, white asparagus, Serrano ham, all their cheeses, anchovies, olives, oil and sardines, among other things. And if you like what you taste, load up: They sell 'em all by the pound. Live music on weekends and a nice outdoor dining area add to the delightful atmosphere. The gambas al ajillo and empanadas are among the best hot tapas, while the pate de salmon and queso de burgos are the best of the cold offerings. The restaurant's pera rioja, a pear soaked in Rioja wine, is legendary.

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