Khyber North Indian Grill
Jeff Balke
You can hear the slaps as soon as you walk in the door. The thuds emanate from behind the counter of Khyber North Indian Grill, where a chef painstakingly pounds dough into plate-size discs, which are then toasted in a tandoor oven. Out they come, steaming, delicately crisp on the surface and pillow-fluffy inside -- the perfect nan. By the time they arrive at your table wrapped in tissue and freshly buttered, they've completely stolen the show. Over the past decade, owner Mickey Kapoor's cuisine has been lauded for its "modern sensibility" and lambasted for being "Americanized." (In his defense, his restaurant is a favorite of British expats. And as any foodie can tell you, Brits know Indian food like we know Tex-Mex.) But the nan-- never greasy, soggy or too crispy -- has garnered universal praise. Whether stuffed with onions, pistachios or just served plain, Kapoor's breads -- like his kooky messages on Khyber's marquee ("Our karma will run over your dogma") -- are just plain addictive.
Tony's
Think you can't afford Tony's? Think again, for there's a bargain for the taking. Considering that the entres alone range from $12 to $32 for lunch, Tony's prix-fixe lunch (a.k.a. the Crescent Express) is quite the bargain. Just $17 gets you a three-course lunch with soup or salad (which change daily), a main course (which changes every two weeks or so) and dessert. A typical meal might include white bean and andouille sausage soup, Romano-crusted chicken breast over arugula and heirloom tomatoes, and a dessert of Valrhona chocolate ice cream and raspberry sorbet, which in itself is worth the price of admission.
Comfort food shouldn't be expensive. It should bring back fond memories of home, of Grandma and Aunt Sue. It should be plain and simple. Blue Plate Bistro fills the bill on all accounts. There you'll get a good meal at a reasonable price in comfortable surroundings. Maybe it's mac 'n' cheese you crave, or everyone's perennial favorite, meat loaf. Whatever dish says "comfort food" to you, chances are you'll find it at Blue Plate Bistro. But don't go expecting everyday cooking; this joint offers uptown food with upscale ingredients. The chicken potpie, for example, uses rosemary roasted chicken, portobello mushrooms and smoked corn. Get the drift?
The Davenport Lounge
Sure, it's cool to sip a $12 martini on a cushy chaise longue in a chic hotel bar. But sipping a cheap martini while sitting thigh-to-thigh with strangers on a cramped couch in front of a fireplace -- a televised fireplace? That's cool. That's the Davenport. The place is so cozy (casually claustrophobic) that there's no room for egos or snootiness. And with martinis such as A Nice Pair or the Peachy Keen going for so cheap, there's nothin' but love there. The Shepherd Plaza mainstay sports more than 500 bottles of liquor, including something like 50 vodkas. Let the barkeeps serve you up a Bombay Sapphire martini and enjoy the kick from a very generous pour. Leave the prissy cocktails and attitude to the downtown set. The Davenport is way ring-a-ding-ding, baby.
Nelore Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse
No, it isn't the first churrascaria in Houston, or the biggest. In fact, it's a pared-down version of a Brazilian steak house, designed to fit in a Montrose bungalow. But with its wood floors, stone fireplace and cozy porch, the atmosphere of Nelore Churrascaria is more pleasant and personal than other restaurants of its type. Nelore serves 11 varieties of meat every day, and No. 1 on the hit parade is the rib eye, its signature steak: The Certified Angus steaks are folded over into a curious "C" shape to fit on the swords that are brought to your table by waiters clad in gaucho pants.
Under The Volcano
Let's hope the new management of the Cotton Exchange Bar brings back their once-legendary mint julep. Offering premium spirits, elephant ear-sized mint leaves and a special silver tumbler, the club served the best in town. Until that happens, we'll stick with the mixmasters at Under the Volcano. Every barkeep at the hut-looking lounge in Rice Village is adept at perfectly muddling the mint leaves and blending the oh-so-right mix of Maker's Mark, ice, soda or water (if that's your thing) and a sift of sugar. All that's missing from this Southern experience is the expensive seersucker suit and a certain annual horse race.
Barnaby's Cafe
Photo by Houston Press Staff
Not many salads can last for three meals, but Barnaby's chicken Mediterranean salad does it consistently. The whole affair starts with a massive plate of shredded lettuce. Then come the thin, crunchy red onions, slices of roma tomatoes, some plump black olives and a mound of seasoned chicken, thinly shredded. The dome of salad is topped with a generous helping of feta and served with a side of zesty, zingy and creamy vinaigrette. The perfect dish for a heath-conscious diet, it's hearty, light and refreshing and makes for a great next-day lunch -- and dinner.
Taqueria El Charro
Dawn M Simmons
El Charro's flagship location on Harrisburg is seconds away from the center of downtown, making it a popular destination for those in need of breakfast tacos. But what puts this full-service taqueria head and shoulders above the rest is an extensive menu that also includes barbacoa, lengua, fajitas, carne guisada, pork al pastor and chicken -- all hot off the grill and not getting soggy in a steam table. Get your choice of fillings in soft tacos, burritos, gorditas or tortas (sandwiches). Take them to go, or sit down in a dining room decorated with cowboys and horses. (Charro means "cowboy" in Spanish.) A larger El Charro location at 6700 Harrisburg has eclipsed the old place in popularity at lunchtime, but there's new management at the original location and, judging by the fresh, sizzling taquitos they're now turning out, the new jefe is making good on his promise to return the old taco stand to its former glory.
Few portable breakfasts can rival the chorizo-and-egg breakfast taco. Problem is, you're likely to suffer a coronary after the second one, they're so drenched with oil and grease. Not so with the version at Brothers Taco House. The venerable little East End stand offers a version of this breakfast staple that's not weighed down with fat. The tortillas are massive, the eggs are fluffy, and you won't need heart meds after eating the sausage. Other offerings, such as the eggs with bacon or potato, also satisfy without constricting your valves. Owner Jesus Alejandro watches the lines form at his eatery just after it opens at 5 a.m. Downtown regulars from every social, ethnic and fiscal background chat while they line up to place their orders, sit at the outdoor patio and enjoy one of the best breakfasts in the city. We're proud to have these Brothers in the family.
Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen Restaurant
At Kenny and Ziggy's, it's not just about the sandwiches -- although a certain sense of accomplishment follows packing away a pound of corned beef. It's really about the comfort food. The chicken soup with kreplach is the best way to make it through flu season, and the chopped liver is classic. From blintzes to potato latkes with applesauce, all of the traditional deli fare appears on the menu. If you make it to dessert, cheesecake is the obvious choice. But if you're too full to move, grab a loaf of the chocolate babka or a dozen rugelach for the road.

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