"Chicken-fried shrimp" on the bar menu at Café Annie is one of the best fried-shrimp creations you will ever put in your mouth. Half a dozen big shrimp are butterflied and skewered together to form a "patty" which is then dipped in batter, deep-fried and served flat on a plate like a chicken-fried shrimp steak. The batter is light and crisp, and the shrimp come out incredibly juicy. Spicy tartar sauce and a mango-cucumber salad are served on the side, but it's not a bad idea to get an order of giant onion rings while you're there. The bar menu is a lot more casual than the dining-room menu. And, as you might expect, celebrity chef Robert Del Grande turns out some amazing hamburgers and fries, too.

Baba Yega
Jeff Balke

Many members of Houston's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities consider Baba Yega to be the heart of Montrose. Just a few feet away from hotspots JR's and The Mining Company, Baba Yega certainly sits in the middle of everything Montrose. But more than that, the restaurant has embraced its GLBT guests, offering them not only great food but a place where they can openly be themselves. For more than 30 years, Baba Yega has served up hearty, healthful dishes for events ranging from wedding showers with two grooms to sedate business lunches.

Poppa Burger
Jeff Balke

Late-night gangsters, early morning landscapers and afternoon hangovers have all come to depend on Poppa's grease. Grease can be like a starter for sourdough bread: A little is carried over from the previous batch to increase flavor. Poppa must have, like, heirloom grease or something. There's genuine flavor in every little greasy item they push through the little greasy security-barred window on Main Street. Try the burgers; the #9 is a double cheeseburger with bacon jala­peños, and a slice of Wonder bread in the middle separating the layers of hamburger and cheese. You can get a Little Pop burger for only $1.20 and chili cheese fries for $2.31. Poppa Burger serves breakfast around the clock, so when you get that craving for a grilled bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, look no further. Other menu items include grilled cheese, breakfast tacos, fried-fish baskets and hot dogs. Poppa Burger has been a greasy Houston institution for more than 50 years. And if you really like the place, you can be its MySpace friend.

Theo's

There's so much more to Biba's than the food — the retro-trash decor, for instance, and the fact that it's open 24 hours. Sometimes, when you're drunkenly stumbling across the street from Cecil's and you just have to have a delicious gyro, it's nice to know that someone's got your back. Other reasons to go to Biba's are the Greek pizza, piled high with gyro meat; the smooth and garlicky tara­mo­salata; and the generously portioned hot or cold appetizer plates served with fresh warm, pita that are perfect for sharing. If you're up for a fun and informative conversation, make sure you have a full Greek beer, mention My Big Fat Greek Wedding to the tall waiter with the mustache and let the good times roll.

There are no secret ingredients to Mucho Mexico's guacamole — it's just avocado, onion and tomato smashed into a creamy dip that sits on top of a mound of lettuce. It isn't made in a showy tableside performance or served on any special dish, but Mucho Mexico's back-to-basics approach delivers what is easily the tastiest guacamole in town. Made daily with the freshest ingredients available, Mucho Mexico's guacamole is a great starter (if you're feeling brave, ask for the special "hot" salsa to top it off). And once the mariachis get going and the margaritas start flowing, it tastes even better. READERS' CHOICE: Tacos a Go Go

Jersey Mike's Subs

You go up north, you can get in some pretty heated arguments about where to get the best hero. Hell, you can get into heated arguments about whether to call the thing a hero, a sub or a grinder. Here in Houston, though, the choice is pretty simple: Jersey Mike's. A national chain, it started out as a single store on the Jersey shore in 1956 and has kept its premise simple: quality meats, fresh bread, good ingredients. For the real experience, get the Number 13 ("The Original Italian") and have them make it "Mike's Way." Then turn it upside down so the juices can soak into the bread, drive home and imagine yourself at some Jersey sub shop. Or, if that doesn't appeal to you, just appreciate the sandwich.

Divino
Robert Z. Easley

The house-made Emily's goat cheese ravioli at Divino is heavenly. A fresh sage and brown-butter sauce with pine nuts and fresh parmesan nicely complements the sharp goat cheese and is well worth soaking up with a piece of bread after the ravioli is gone. Perfectly paired with a crisp white from Divino's enticing wine list, the dish comes in a half or full order — choose depending on how many hands you think you'll need to slap away once the ravioli gets to the table.

In many ice cream shops, the choices are so overwhelming that most people either take forever to order or just order vanilla, chocolate or strawberry so as not to hold up the line. At Hank's, the choices are not overwhelming — there's a manageable 16 flavors in all, which they rotate based on the availability of seasonal fruit, and every one is out-of-this-world delicious. What's nice about the ice cream here is not only the price (two scoops for $2.31) but also that there are big chunks of fruit or cookies in almost every flavor. Each is made with love at this one-of-a-kind, small, family-owned business. The blueberry cheesecake with whole blueberries and chunks of cheesecake, the butter pecan with huge pecans, and the banana pudding with large chunks of cake are all favorites. And for even more variety, they're happy to mix in your favorite add-ins or toppings.

Indika

Hidebound types sputter and fume, "That's not Indian food!" when confronted with Indika's innovative cooking. There's no chicken tikka masala here. But they do have foie gras with fig preserves and trout stuffed with nuts. If this isn't what you usually think of as Indian food, then it's time to broaden your horizons. Indika's owner, Indian-born Anita Jaisinghani, doesn't feel compelled to cater to American preconceptions. Formerly a pastry chef at Café Annie, Jaisinghani has come up with her own take on Indian cooking that is both elegant and unexpected. Eggplant stuffed with cashews, crabmeat samosas and venison kabobs are all on the menu. And if you're looking for something more unusual, try the goat brain masala — it's scrumptious! The Montrose location is brilliantly decorated with artwork and fabrics from the subcontinent. There's also some unusual cocktails including a litchi margarita and a guava mojito on the bar menu.

Damian's Cucina Italiana
Photos by Carla Soriano

This time-honored Tuscan-style restaurant has been purring along for decades, turning out classic Italian cuisine. The grilled seasonal vegetables are a favorite appetizer, and there's a wide variety of antipasti. The pasta with seafood in cream sauce is stellar, and the veal chops are legendary. But in the last few months, Damian's has gone from good to great, thanks to an extensive renovation. The carpeting, the windows and the lighting are all brand-new, and the look is more sophisticated. The art on the walls has gone from dated to classical. There's a new confidence in the kitchen, too, as chef Napolean Palacios seems to be raising the level of the cooking to fit the restaurant's new higher profile. The word is out: Damian's is back.

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