Tony's Mexican Restaurant

The margaritas at Tony's Mexican Restaurant always seem to stir up an endless series of questions, including, "What the hell is this secret ingredient?" and "Where the hell did you put my car keys, you asshat!?" This family establishment never seems to be anything less than packed, and for good reason: It's one of the Heights's best-kept and most-cherished Tex-Mex secrets. Featuring an intense but tastefully balanced combination of lime, tequila and buzz, these 'ritas go perfectly with a bowl of queso. If you're lucky enough to get a table at dinner, order a pitcher and start your own investigation.

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant

McCormick & Schmick's intriguing vibe and fantastic service don't begin and end with the restaurant portion of the building. One part Casablanca, one part fully stocked bar, this Uptown seafood restaurant enjoys paying homage to the history of the cocktail. Their "gin delicious" martini is a classic in itself, a modern twist on an old recipe that hints at a mojito but is unique enough to merit a taste or four. Try it with the lump crab and artichoke dip and you won't be disappointed.

Mexico's Deli

Mexico's Deli on Dairy Ashford is a humble little eatery with walk-up counter service and exceptional food. The tacos al pastor are made with marinated pork and bits of pineapple carved from a trompo (a cone of meat on a vertical roaster) on display beside the grill. The tangy pork is served on three small tortillas with a garnish of onions and cilantro and your choice of salsas. There are more than 20 variations of the Mexican sandwiches called tortas to choose from. Torta lomito Argentino, a steak-and-egg sandwich, is among the best. It features a thin slice of beef tenderloin, a fried egg, a thin slice of ham, mozzarella, avocado and tomato, all on a huge bun spread with refried black beans. Don't miss the flan — it's made with a pecan praline in the baking cup underneath the custard, for a simple, but delicious, twist on the old favorite.

Cafe Rita

If you've ever wanted to eat in a Middle Eastern home, now you can: at Rita's. This small, one-of-a-kind neighborhood spot is owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team known to all as George and Rita, an elderly Armenian couple who are eager to display their natural hospitality as well as their home cooking. There's nothing they enjoy more than letting you experience their made-from-scratch cooking or whipping up something off the menu. The BYOB place is tiny and fills up quickly. Don't be surprised if they have a pot of foul going (lima and garbanzo beans cooked with lots of olive oil and garlic) and offer you some just to try. Vegetarians will find lots to choose from, like a wonderful tabbouleh, hummus covered in olive oil, baba ganoush, lentils and lima beans. Carnivores will enjoy the shawarma, served with a garlic sauce, as well as the kabobs.

Cricket's Creamery & Cafe

Next time you're on 19th Street riding your bike and window-­shopping with your best friend, stop into Cricket's Creamery and have a strawberry shake. Cricket's makes its own ice cream and gelato, so that's a good start for a really good shake. Ask for it to be extra-thick and with whipped cream on top. The whipped cream is real — an old-fashioned mixture of homemade ice cream and milk. While you're waiting for the high schooler behind the counter to blend your frozen concoction, you can check out the assortment of kitsch crap clogging up the friendly little cafe. Oh, and say this when you get your shake, just for fun: "That's a $5 shake...just milk and ice cream. You don't put bourbon in it or or nothing."

The Flat

Don't let the dentist's office exterior fool you — The Flat is open for business, and contains one of the city's best-kept secrets: Their signature frozen mojito manages to improve upon perfection, taking a mojito and making it even more enticing through the miracle of osmosis. The delectable combination of crushed fresh mint, rum and a hint of lime is like that Icee you couldn't put down as a kid, even though it gave you a brain freeze. The bits of mint also serve as a breath freshener when you're discussing after-hours plans with that smoking hot brunette on your right.

Taqueria Tacambaro

Maria Rojas serves her mollejas (sweetbreads) on two griddle-heated corn tortillas with caramelized onion and chopped cilantro on top. She puts the sweetbread tacos and a half of a lime on a Styrofoam plate and sets out a little stone molcajete full of dark hot sauce beside it. The sweetbreads have a delightfully mild flavor and a lovely fluffy texture that might remind you of the filling of a German veal sausage, like bratwurst or weisswurst. The tartness of the lime juice and sweetness of the onion are beautiful complements. And that dark brown salsa will make you weak in the knees. The chocolate-colored salsa looks like it's going to be hellishly hot but, in fact, it's astonishingly rich and mellow. It's made of dried cascabels that have been soaked until soft, pureed and lightly seasoned with salt, pepper and a touch of garlic — just the thing on a sweetbread taco.

Cafe Montrose

'Twas a brave soul that first ate an oyster, and the same can be said of mussels. When it comes to mussels, or moules as they are called in French, no country does more with them than Belgium, where moules frites (mussels and fries), pronounced as one word, has become the national dish. At Café Montrose, you can enjoy mussels seven different ways. The traditional moules mariniere are steamed in white wine and arrive in a double boiler — the bottom containing the moules, the top used to discard the shells. Another version is made with escargot butter, heavily laden with garlic, that demands you use the accompanying French bread to sop up the delicious sauce. Yet other dishes are served with a rich tomato sauce or a heavy dose of Roquefort cheese, which adds creaminess and a sharp flavor. All are served with extra-crispy french fries, which come with mayo for dipping (yes, mayo, and don't even think of asking for ketchup). Wash any of the dishes down with a glorious Duvel or Chimay beer, close your eyes and you'll swear you can see the Mannequin Pisse.

Pico's Mex-Mex Restaurant

Pico's is known for many things, but Nachos Jorge should be near the top of the list. Piled high with savory cochinita pibil (Yucatan-style roasted pork), pickled onions, refried black beans, Chihuahua cheese, guacamole and jalapeños, these nachos are exceptional. More than enough for a meal, they're hard to stop eating until you have hunted down every last shred of cochinita on the plate. Order one of Pico's fishbowl-size margaritas to go with your nachos and you'll be a Pico's fan for life.

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Ask any downtown dweller where you can get a cold beer and a sandwich at any time of the day or week, and they will tell you The Flying Saucer. Said dweller may or may not mention the waitresses in short skirts, the wide selection of beer, the tasty bar food and the fact that it's open late on Sundays, which is pretty hard to come by downtown. The Saucer has become a place for people of all walks of life to step out of the busy downtown hustle and cool off while getting good service in a cozy atmosphere — plus free wi-fi.

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