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."

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!

Baytown Seafood Restaurant
Jeff Balke

Can't wait for your seafood? Then order ahead and use the drive-thru at Baytown Seafood. Here you'll find glorious gumbo, sensational shrimp (both grilled and fried), fresh oysters, catfish and red snapper, to mention but a few of the items on the extensive menu. Need a quick lunch? Try the oyster or shrimp po' boy without leaving the confines of your car. Sides include the obligatory French fries but also dirty rice and grilled mixed veggies, which lighten the blow of the fried fish. One of the finest dishes is the spicy Mexican appetizer cocktel de pulpo y camarón, the octopus and shrimp cocktail in a tomato sauce. Although it can get a bit messy eating this dish while driving 80 mph on the freeway.

Dry Creek Cafe

Sure, you can't drink here — but beer and wine will only fill you up, and you want to have plenty of room for all the delicious menu items at Dry Creek. Try a flavored limeade instead of a mixed drink as you dip into their fried goodies, tasty ­burgers and a great salad (order it with the creamy serrano dressing). Right on Yale, the place has a great patio and a nice indoor atmosphere too, and it's great for lunch or a lazy dinner. It's just a few blocks away from its boozy counterpart, Onion Creek. Hey, you can go out for drinks afterward. But if you can't wait, the BYOB rule is in full effect.

Fu Fu Cafe

Fu Fu's awesome soup dumplings appear on the menu disguised as "A26 Steam Pork Bun (4) $2.50." The only way to appreciate the true genius of the soup dumpling is to burst the whole thing in your mouth. That way, the soup combines with the soft dough and the loose meatball to form a wonderfully slurpy bite of soup, meat and dough. By all means try them, but remember they come to the table extremely hot. Wait until they cool! Fu Fu's Beijing-style pan-fried pork dumplings are long rectangles with open ends that look like miniature hot dogs. Fresh out of the pan, when the thick dough is crispy on the bottom and noodle-soft on the top, these are sensational. But if you are looking for something else in a dough wrapper, Fu Fu Café has ten other varieties to choose from, including chicken dumplings, pan-fried pork buns and mushroom dumplings.

Houston is well-endowed in the empanada department. There are Colombian, Argentinean and Central American empanadas to choose from. But the richest, flakiest, tastiest in town are served at this Venezuelan pastry shop in Braes Heights. The half-moon-shaped meat pies come with a delicate yellow crust and your choice of a minced chicken or beef filling. They taste like a cross between South American empanadas and Jamaican patties. And they go great with Cuban coffee. While you're at Venetian, take a look at Venezuelan pastry chef Hugo Penaranda's fantastically colorful cakes, caramel-topped éclairs and Cuban-style breads. During the last decade, Penaranda has opened more than 30 Cuban-style bakeries in Florida. But when he decided to build a Latin-style bakery of his own, he headed for Space City.

La Guadalupana Bakery and Cafe

Ah, enchiladas, the cornerstone of all Tex-Mex combo plates. Most are good in the sidekick position, but there are a very few that can take center stage and demand the spotlight for themselves. The mole enchiladas at La Guadalupana are among them. A little different from the ordinary rolled tortilla topped with cheese and a chili sauce, these enchiladas are made with lightly sautéed corn tortillas rolled around a chicken filling, then topped with a rich mole sauce. Okay, so far, nothing unusual. But then comes the Guadalupana signature, a layer of shredded lettuce, onions, avocado slices and Mexican cheese. The fresh lettuce and avocado make a nice counterpoint to the heavy, thick mole sauce, creating a savory mix of flavors. READERS' CHOICE: Chuy's Restaurant

Tony's

Everything about Tony's exudes class, and if you're entertaining an important client, you'll want everything to be executed flawlessly from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave. That's precisely what you'll get here. If you're into "over the top" and have a limitless expense account, open with a magnum of 1995 Perrier Jouet for $550; nothing says celebration better than champagne. A bottle of 1945 Petrus at $30,000 should work for the meal (although the wine list warns that vintages more than 20 years old are opened at the buyer's risk), and a final flourish of a 1963 Taylor Fladgate port at $850 ought to impress even the most jaded of clients. As for the meal, expect nothing but the finest ingredients with service to match. A touch of foie gras to start, followed by double-cut lamb chops with portobello mushrooms and French whipped potatoes should do the trick. Finish off with a Grand Marnier soufflé and an artisan cheese plate, and the $100-plus tab for the food will seem insignificant compared with the booze. So eat away and don't worry about the bill — someone else is ­paying.

Cavatore Italian Restaurant
Photo by Leonel Nerio

Cavatore's has been serving Houston families for generations. A warm, friendly staff, excellent food, reasonable prices and Michaelangelo on piano make this one of the most popular Italian restaurants in town. (Folks drive in from the suburbs to dine on Cavatore's scrumptious spaghetti and handmade meatballs.) The restaurant is still owned and managed by the Cavatore family, who keep the food and service quality high, paying personal attention to everything that comes out of the kitchen. Cavatore's has a down-home setting, so you can bring the kids, but it also has a few romantic corners to hide in. Try it once and you'll be hooked.

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