Osaka Japanese Restaurant

Nestled into a small Montrose-area strip mall, this place has been a favorite of neighborhood patrons for some time. Osaka serves up some of the largest and freshest pieces of sashimi a person can find in the city. The salmon is always so magically fresh, you can't believe it's served at a sushi restaurant in Houston. But if you prefer rolls, they have you more than covered. The menu is filled with unique house items like the Osaka roll or the crunch roll, a spicy one that's covered with tempura bits. And it always helps that they regularly treat customers to the occasional freebie.

Tacos A Go-Go

Sure, they might not be the most authentic tacos in town — and heck, the entire establishment is puro bolillo — but we can't get enough of the tacos verde at Tacos a Go-Go, and we're not just talking about the times we stumble over there drunk from a night of carousing at the Mink or the Big Top. Filled with zucchini, yellow squash, red onion, carrots, mushrooms and black beans, these hunger busters are best topped off with the house sauce (a blend of red peppers, mayo and sour cream) and, if you're feeling ritzy, a dash of guac. This is bastard Tex-Mex at its best.

Jarro Cafe
Batli Joselevitz

The bistek taco and the cochinita pibil taco at the Jarro taco trailer are transcendental. After the cook in the Jarro uniform passes your taco through the window, the real fun begins. On the stainless-steel counter that runs along the front of the trailer, there are assorted salsas and condiments in decorative Mexican three-legged bowls. There's a green salsa of chopped jalapeños and cilantro, a bright orange sauce made with hellishly hot chile de arbols and a neon lime-colored tomatillo and serrano slurry that will rip your tonsils out. If you're having a steak taco, you might try the dark chocolate-colored salsa made with dried chilies in oil and a dash of orange juice for sweetness. If you're eating cochinita pibil, don't miss the "Mayan escabeche," electric-purple onion slices marinated in lime juice, flecked with Mexican oregano and chili powder. The combination of flavors you select will define the taste of the taco, so you have to choose wisely.

La Mexicana

Decent Tex-Mex may be as plentiful as traffic jams here in Houston, but when it comes to authentic Mexican tamales, one need look no further than 25-year-old La Mexicana. Their homemade tamales are nothing short of spectacular. They always taste fresh and have generous doses of pepper and chile powder. Calling these "kinda spicy" is like calling Beyoncé Knowles "kinda hot": It all depends on your taste, son. The casual atmosphere of the outdoor patio is also a nice change of pace from the eternally overcrowded new kids on the block. Be sure to order a full dozen: They're so addictive, you're going to want more than six.

Oporto Cafe

If you're looking for a swanky wine bar that'll impress a date, Oporto is your place. The tapas here aren't snacks; they're huge. There's nothing better to nibble on while quaffing a glass of wine than the "Oportobello." It's a marinated portobello mushroom topped with spinach and artichoke gratin and finished with white truffle oil. If you're still hungry after that Texas-size "tapa," go for the linguiça oporto com batatas, a Portuguese-style sausage sautéed with onion, roasted peppers, potatoes, garlic, port wine and piri-piri oil. Great wines and delicious tapas will surely impress your date, but looking at all the hot River Oaks MILFs walking into Dark Tan next door will not. Saúde!

El Tiempo Cantina
Jeff Balke

Matamoros Meat Market used to sell the best carnitas and barbacoa in the city, but you could only get them by the pound to go. Then they added the taqueria a few years ago, so now you can get your barbacoa or carnitas on a taco and then sit down and eat it. The dining area consists of six high tables furnished with barstools, and a long stainless steel counter that runs under the windows looking out on Washington Avenue. The carnitas taco comes on a hot flour tortilla smeared with refried beans and dotted with a little rice. The carnitas, which are pork chunks boiled in lard, are crispy on the edges and falling-apart tender in the middle. A taco costs $1.69, and the tortilla is so overstuffed, half of the filling falls out onto the aluminum foil. Luckily, plastic forks are provided. The barbacoa, or barbecued cow head, is sublime with green salsa, onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Ask for the cheek meat.

La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant

There's a Schlitz beer poster with a photo of a caballero in a huge sombrero astride his horse hanging above La Fiesta's front door. (When was the last time you saw a Schlitz ad?) And then there's a mural of a Mexican village on the back wall. The original La Fiesta at Katy Freeway and Bunker Hill Road is one of those Tex-Mex time capsules that are fast disappearing. The little 30-table joint opened in 1972, right around the time that Houstonians discovered a new drink sensation, frozen margaritas. A year later, sizzling fajitas became the rage. As a result, La Fiesta's menu straddles two eras. There are plenty of Tex-Mex combination plates, and old-fashioned favorites like chalupas and tostadas, and then there's the "modern style" menu items such as sizzling fajitas and frozen margaritas. After 35 years of practice, La Fiesta does it all incredibly well, and at unbelievably cheap prices.

Baba Yega
Jeff Balke

The menu may not be strictly vegetarian, but most of the second page of Baba Yega's menu is devoted to meat-free fare. It's not all soy protein, either, although the veggie club, stacked with provolone and fake bacon and turkey, is one of the best choices. If actual vegetables are what you're after, there's plenty of pastas, sandwiches and even a veggie loaf — all made with everything from asparagus to zucchini. The place also serves a nice array of salads that are so tasty you'll pay $1 to substitute them for your French fries, if you know what's good for you.

Rudyard's

Rudyard's has some of the best bar food in Houston, and their veggie burger with cheese is no exception. The patty is not of the homemade variety, but on a toasted bun with cheddar and honey mustard, it's really quite tasty. The fries have something about them, too, especially when accompanied by a side of honey mustard. Wait, there's a trend here; maybe it all comes down to the honey mustard, though it's probably the atmosphere that makes everything so good. Throw in ambient noise from an eclectic crowd, a great jukebox and plenty of beer and it almost seems like it's not a veggie burger at all.

Kim Son

If you turn your nose up at buffets, stop here. The newest Kim Son has over 150 feet of buffet space devoted to serious Asian food. It all centers on the "hot pot" concept, where a pan of steaming broth is placed on a personal hot plate situated on every table. To this broth you add any number of raw ingredients, like shrimp, calamari and fresh fish for the conservatives, or tripe, liver, kidney and fish balls for the more adventurous. Accompany this with noodles and fresh leafy veggies, and you'll have a full meal. But now you have a dilemma, because you still have the remaining 120 feet of the buffet to enjoy. And that's not counting the sushi station or the Peking duck and roasted pork station. No matter how you pace yourself, you won't come close to sampling every dish, so choose carefully.

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