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.

The city's best cheeseburger starts with a half pound of juicy ground Kobe cooked medium-rare. The cheese is nothing less than triple cream brie, troweled on extra thick. The bun is a ­custom-baked brioche fashioned by the artisan crew at Kraftsmen Bakery. Once the burger is mounted on the roll, it is topped with the chef's own house-pickled jalapeños. The tomatoes are beefsteak or other top-quality varieties depending on the season, and the lettuce is organic. The price is a mere $18. With it, you might try a wine like the Saracco pinot nero, an Italian pinot noir that Max's sommelier describes as "an Italian dropkick to the mouth." It has a bright cherry-like flavor with none of the over-oaked gravitas too often found in American pinot noirs — just the wine for a Kobe-triple cream brie-burger.

The Cheesecake Factory
Photo by Houston Press Staff

If you ate one slice of cheesecake every day, it would take you more than a month to make your way through the offerings here — not counting special holiday offerings, which might add a couple more days to your adventure. Of course, no one is suggesting you do that, unless you a) would like death by chocolate, b) plan to make a sequel to the movie Supersize Me or c) plan to start a diet after your cheesecake-eating binge. If there is a cheesecake heaven, then this is it. Why bother with something as simple as the Original or the Fresh Strawberry when you can combine two desserts in one — a cheesecake with Fresh Banana Cream or, better still, with dulce de leche or with tiramisu or with chocolate Oreos or with key lime or carrot cake. Plan "c" is looking better all the time.

Lankford Grocery and Market

Lankford Grocery and Market started out as a grocery store, but it became so famous for hamburgers that at some point, it morphed into a restaurant. Today, this funky country-style café in an inner-city neighborhood is a Houston civic treasure. The breakfasts are excellent, the hamburgers are stellar and they have the best chicken-fried steak in the city. Unfortunately, it's served as a lunch special on Thursdays only. They start with eye-of-round, which is tenderized with a meat mallet into small, thick steaks. The meat is dipped in a well-seasoned batter that forms a thick crust. What comes to the table looks just like a flattened piece of Southern fried chicken. A baked potato garnished with sour cream, cheddar and green onions is served on the side.

Fung's Kitchen

There's lots to choose from on the 400-item menu, but don't confuse this with your average Chinese take-out joint. Chef and owner Hoi Fung comes from a long line of Hong Kong chefs. He is also a pillar of the Houston Asian community. When visiting Asian royalty comes to Houston, they eat at Fung's. Live ling cod, live lobsters and live scallops — rushed from the aquarium to the kitchen and cooked simply with a little ginger and chive — are the restaurant's specialties. And they don't come cheap. If you are looking for a restaurant where you can entertain visiting Chinese dignitaries, this is the place. And if you are looking for one from column A and one from column B, try the Golden Panda Dragon Pagoda.

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