New York Bagel & Coffee Shop

The location next door to New York Bagels, the best bagel bakery in town, gives this New York-style coffee shop a major advantage over other breakfast venues — if you like bagels. These bagels at New York Coffee Shop aren't just fresh, they're hot out of the oven. And they come in such favorite flavors as onion, sesame, poppy, salt and pumpernickel. Try a bialy! It's an onion bagel without a hole. The egg-and-bagel breakfast with home fries is a bargain at under $4. The scrambled eggs and caramelized onions with salty lox or milder Nova Scotia smoked salmon are a favorite for exiled New Yorkers. And the fish platter is sensational for those who like smoked salmon and raw onions for breakfast. The service is excellent. And the interior, with its dated wallpaper, worn Formica tables and cramped booths, is as authentically generic as a coffee shop in Manhattan.

El Ultimo Taco Truck

Look for a shiny taco truck parked in front of a do-it-yourself car wash. The big fat breakfast tacos are $1 a piece and you get your choice of scrambled eggs with bacon, ham, potatoes, nopalitos, machacado (shredded beef), chorizo or roasted peppers on a corn or flour tortilla. The flour tortillas are handmade, and the chorizo is truly exceptional. The thick green salsa is tart and hot. There's no coffee, but there are fresh-fruit aguas frescas available. Check out the advertising illustrations painted on the sides of the truck — they are among the most interesting examples of taco truck art in the city. And if you're worried about the sanitary standards, it might comfort you to know that everybody behind the counter wears hair nets.

Hugo's

Forget nachos, tacos and Tex-Mex in general. At Hugo's, the brunch features regional Mexican cuisine at its finest. Set the scene with Bloody Marias or a pomegranate mimosa and enjoy the live music coming from the upstairs balcony before venturing to the elaborately decorated buffet. It contains an incredible variety of delectable dishes not found in your average cantina. Start out with a soothing corn soup; then try the sweet corn pudding or the delicious ceviche or the ensalada de nopales (cactus salad) or the squash stuffed with huitlacoche (a corn fungus). Return for the best carnitas ever or the chilaquiles with fried eggs. At this point, you still have half the buffet to taste, but you may wish to go straight to the dessert station anchored by tres leches cake, which ranks among the best in the city, and a rich, traditional hot chocolate, which, along with churros, is not to be missed.

T-Bone Tom's is a Kemah meat market that morphed into a restaurant. The burgers are exceptional, thanks in large part to the quality of the hamburger meat, which is ground fresh daily on the premises. The meat is formed into a distinctive square patty in your choice of a quarter-pound or half-pound size. Both are cooked to order and served with the customary lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mayo and mustard on a toasted bun. Customized versions include a cheeseburger, a jalapeño burger, a mushroom-Swiss burger and a bacon-Swiss burger. There is also a heavenly ­hamburger-steak dinner with brown gravy and grilled onions. You can enjoy your burger inside the meat market or out on the deck, which is known as Tom's Backyard. There's live music seven nights a week outside. And there's nothing like a reggae tune, a sea breeze and a cold beer to make a burger taste better.

Goode Company Armadillo Palace
Photo courtesy of Goode Company

The walls are covered with buffalo heads, cowboy memorabilia and giant photos of Jim Goode's chuck-wagon cooking team. The live music comes from Texas singer/songwriters, and the ice-cold draft comes in frozen cannonball schooners. The bar stools are shaped like saddles, and the bartenders spin the longnecks around one finger before they open them, just like Buffalo Bill used to spin his six-shooter around one finger before blowing the smoke out of the barrel. And it's amazing what a massive dose of unabashed Texana does for the flavor of a classic Texas burger. Oddly, Armadillo Palace's burger utterly outclasses the one at Goode Company's burger joint across the street. It's a half-pound of fresh-ground USDA Choice sirloin, and it's extremely juicy if you request it medium-rare. Add cheese or guacamole for 75 cents, bacon or venison chili for 95 cents. READERS' CHOICE (tie): Beck's Prime, Christian's Tailgate Grill & Bar

Mi Luna

The menu at Mi Luna tapas restaurant in the Village has no shortage of things to choose from. It's helpful to have a glass of sangria in hand before even trying to make a decision. On this impressive list, there are two calamari dishes, one fried and one grilled. The fried calamari comes with a spicy tomato sauce that has a hint of cumin, and it's perfectly fine, but the grilled calamares a la plancha are outstanding. Served on a bed of greens and drizzled with roasted-garlic vinaigrette, generous pieces of warm calamari are perfectly seasoned and tender. It's hard to find grilled calamari that doesn't resemble a rubber band in both taste and texture, so the preparation alone is enough to recommend this dish.

The Amacones don't just look cute -- they're delicious.
Photo by Troy Fields
The Amacones don't just look cute -- they're delicious.

Take raw fish, in this case tilapia, and marinate it in lime juice until it is "cooked," add finely diced hot peppers, shrimp, avocado, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and pineapple. Toss it all together and pile it high on a bed of shredded red cabbage and carrots and you have ceviche, a simple, tasty and very colorful dish. The pineapple adds a hint of sweetness, which counteracts not only the lime juice but the peppers as well. The lime juice alters the texture of the fish, making it tender, yet firm. As with all dishes at Amazon Grill, the ceviche comes with endless salad and plantain chips, which are best for scooping up large quantities of the stuff.

Hoang Son Sandwich Shop

In the middle of the "food court" of the Kim Hung Mall is a Vietnamese sandwich shop that sells super­delicious sandwiches for $1.75. Sure, you can find a limp little burger at your local chain for 99 cents, but it won't have near the quality this sandwich does. First, Hoang uses a really kick-ass French baguette, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The ingredients vary from tofu, barbecue pork or meatballs, depending on your preference. They all come with fresh shredded veggies, and don't forget to add a little Sirachi (a.k.a the hot cock).

Captain Benny's Half Shell Oyster Bar
Jeff Balke

Want to vary your fare from hardtack and salmagundi but don't want to reach too deep into your chest of doubloons? Climb aboard this old-school Houston survivor. Housed in what looks like a shrimp boat broken from its moorings and marooned on South Main, Captain Benny's serves raw oysters that are always juicy and flavorful, and the cold boiled shrimp are always iced down right and second to none. Whipping up your own shrimp dipping sauce is always fun — squeeze some fresh lemon in some red sauce, spoon in the horseradish and drizzle in the Tabasco. Order up a draft beer in a frosty mug, and you'll have a feast even Captain Morgan would drool over, and you won't even have to sack Maracaibo to pay for it.

13 Celsius Wine Bar
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg

Cheese plates are popping up as fast as the wine bars that carry them, and the one at 13 Celsius is particularly delicious. Served with mostarda di prugne (plum mustard), apples and a piece of fig cake, the plate comes with a variety of local and foreign cheeses. The waitstaff is knowledgeable and happy to help if you're not well versed in wine and cheese pairing. Once the momentous decision has been made, you can check out all of the other hip loungers as they filter in from a hard day's work ­downtown.

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