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
Dave Rosales

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.

Dacapo's Pastry Cafe
Jeff Balke

If you have even the slightest sweet tooth, you will find this place irresistible, not only for the sheer quantity of desserts, but the way they remind you of homemade cooking — you know, the kind that happened before the microwave. If you're yearning for an old-fashioned raspberry and blackberry pie, then the "wild berry blast pie" is for you. Think you've found the ultimate tres leches? Think again. The version served here is topped with a raspberry sauce that makes this unlike any other you've tried. Key lime? Unbelievable. Red velvet cake? Check. Italian cream cake? Mamma mia! Pecan pie? Choose from chocolate and cinnamon versions — yes, cinnamon. It's good! Carrot cake? Check. Dutch apple pie? To die for. And don't forget the banana split cake, the chocolate fudge cake, the chocolate mousse cake, chocolate covered strawberries, truffles — the list goes on.

Kim Son

The Hong Kong-trained chef at Kim Son's Southwest Freeway location in Stafford turns out more than 100 different dim sum dishes. His green-skinned xiu mai is gorgeous, and his shrimp-stuffed eggplant is divine. Ask for the photo-illustrated dim sum menu at the front desk; it will help you figure out what you are seeing rolling by on the carts, since the cart pushers seldom speak English. If there's something on the dim sum menu that you specifically want to try, you can send your waiter or waitress out on a scouting mission for you. If they can't find it on a cart, they'll put in a special order for you in the kitchen.

Shipley Do-nut Shops

As with Dunkin' Donuts fans in the Northeast, there's something about Shipley's that Texans can't get enough of. Started in 1936 in Houston, Shipley's is in just about every Texas town and throughout the South. The offerings here are always fresh and, if your timing is good, the hot glazed "do-nuts" will go straight from the cooling tray to your takeout box. There are more than 60 varieties here, but the maple-frosted and chocolate-filled are insanely good. Several types of kolaches are also available, but your best bet is the "do-nuts."

Concert Pub -- Galleria
Photo by Houston Press Staff

While the heyday of the Richmond Strip has gone the way of slap bracelets and grunge, The Concert Pub's Industry Night Mondays are the best way to get drinks that are typically expensive on the cheap. With their $2 Kamikazes and $4 Bull Blasters, you can pull an Elvis and combine uppers with downers all night long without worrying whether the tab's gone into triple-digit territory. Attractive, talkative bartenders add to the friendly atmosphere, and the spacious game rooms feature everything from air hockey to Golden Tee. Finish off the night on the outdoor patio with a $5 domestic pitchers and a half-price pizza, and you've saved yourself a bundle. While you're at it, go ahead and indulge in the '90s karaoke: Who knew you still knew the lyrics to Snow's "Informer" by heart? A licky boom boom down!

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