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.

Armandos
Photo by Troy Fields

The new Armandos is even better than the original. That's because it's been reincarnated in the former location of the River Oaks Grill. What a place to dunk tortilla chips in chili con queso! The walls are elegantly paneled, the doorways are set off by lavish carved arches and the main dining room is decorated with huge framed mirrors. The carpets on the floor are so plush that you want to take your shoes off. And after a few of the signature "Armandos Margaritas," you just might. In the 1980s, the original Armandos on Shepherd developed a reputation for its potent margaritas. The first question asked about the new Armandos is: "Are the margaritas as strong as they used to be?" The answer is an emphatic "yes." How strong are they? One society girl lamented, "After two margaritas at Armandos, you wake up naked in somebody's swimming pool."

Mama's Oven
Jeff Balke

Comfort food can be a lot of things to a lot of different people, depending on their childhood. However, if your idea of familiar fare is oxtail, rice, cornbread, macaroni and cheese with sweetened ice tea, then welcome to Mama's Oven. A hole-in-the-strip-mall kinda place, Mama's offers meat and two sides. Items include oxtail, meat loaf, smothered pork chops and turkey wings (suck it, vegetarians). If you actually have room for dessert, there's peach cobbler with a double portion option. You can get chitterlings with a side of broccoli-rice casserole on Sundays. Oh, man — after-church Sundays at this place...good luck with that!

Concert Pub -- Galleria
Photo by Houston Press Staff

Ask any native Louisianan and they'll tell you: Anyone can do crawfish, but not anyone can season and prepare them like a true Cajun. Fortunately, The Concert Pub manages to do both — and it doesn't skimp on the size. While others might cut corners with the seasoning or mix in some imported runts with the batch, the pub's mudbugs are huge and spicy, and they tend to leave you wanting more. Combine them with a Journey tribute band and some Bud Light, and you'll be speaking bastardized French and wearing camouflage overalls in no time. C'est bon!

Croissant Brioche French Bakery
Photo by Houston Press Staff

In the heart of Rice Village is a little French bakery that serves an almond-crusted monster of a croissant. These things are huge. Somebody had the ingenious idea of making an almond sandwich out of a croissant and almond paste. The croissant is big, buttery, flaky and a rich dark color. Almond paste is slathered on the top and on the inside of the sliced croissant and covered with perfectly toasted almond slices. It's a meal of a pastry. And who better to serve you a gigantic French pastry than a French model? Okay, there may not really be French models working behind the counter, but damn, they look like it.

If you're looking for atmosphere, don't go here. You will be disappointed in this hole in the wall, whose only wall decorations are pictures of Cuba. However, if you want simple, authentic, homemade Cuban food, and lots of it, you won't find any finer or any cheaper. Start out with mariquitas, crispy plantain chips smothered in garlic sauce, or try the empanadas or croquetas. Then on to heartier fare like ropa vieja (shredded beef) or palomilla (top sirloin) steak covered in onions. Or try two different kinds of pork: masitas fritas, fried pork chunks; or pernil, a wonderful roasted pork. All are served with glistening white rice and black beans, ripe plantains or yuca (cassava). Wash it down with a mango milkshake and finish with a flan and a cubanito, a pre-sugared espresso. Before you leave, get a Cuban sandwich to go, just in case hunger pangs strike in two or three days.

Kahn's Delicatessen - CLOSED

Kahn's Deli is a Houston institution, and as you sit and wait for your sandwich you'll soon figure out why. This old-school deli in the Village makes one hell of an amazing Reuben sandwich, and almost everyone in line will be ordering the original or some variation of it. The rye bread is homemade and remains soft on the inside even when toasted, and the corned beef is tender and plentiful. All of the other things that comprise a classic deli are here too, but once you bite into your Reuben, you might not notice anything else.

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