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 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.

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.

Cova is one of many wine bars that have quickly populated the Houston bar scene over the last couple of years. What sets it apart is the food. Cova's menu is always fresh, inventive and delicious. In addition to the typical cheese-and-meat plates that other wine bars offer, Cova's seasonal menu has items that range from foie gras to braised oxtails. Everything here pairs beautifully with the unique wine list, and you can order wines by the glass or by the flight. And with many of the menu items available in both small and large portions, you can try several things and still have room for one more glass of wine.

The best thing about Catalan's wine list is the prices. They aren't much higher than what you pay at a retail store. But good luck finding most of these rare, highly allocated wines at the local bottle shop. Charles Clark and Grant Cooper from Ibiza, former Brennan's chef and sommelier Chris Shepherd and former Da Marco sommelier Antonio Gianola have assembled a list of spectacular bottles from all over the world. There's bargain Barberas and biodynamic super-Friulis courtesy of Gianola's contacts in the Italian wine world. There's witty categories like "sledgehammer wines: I am not afraid of the big bad wolf" from the iconoclastic Shepherd. And there's more great bottles in the $30-to-$60 range than any other list in town, thanks to Clark and Cooper's pricing strategy. Get a bunch of three-ounce or six-ounce pours if you want to taste a variety of wines. And there's lots of good stuff by the glass.

You might not expect to find a kick-ass Bloody Mary at a mini-mall, but Mugsy's, an Upper Kirby staple, offers just that. Sandwiched between a tanning salon and a drive-through bank, Mugsy's serves its Bloody Mary as a perfect blend of spicy and hot, with a kick that will leave you gasping for a glass of water and feeling like you just ate a meal. Their homemade mix doesn't go overboard on the tomato juice, and the hint of Worcester sauce gives it a taste that many mixes regretfully forego. The scene tends to lean more toward the yuppie/post-workday set, but no matter your preference, you'll want to fork over the $5 for their perfect version of the manliest of manly drinks.

Photo by Houston Press Staff

Chili's is the kind of place where you can take anyone — grandma, fussy kids, your golfing buddies, a date. Okay, maybe not a date, but the menu is so wide and varied, and the food so predictable, there's something for everyone to enjoy. Chili's is a casual restaurant with a great bar. Or, put another way, Chili's is a great bar that serves good food. At the bar or in the restaurant, you'll find two completely different atmospheres. They serve predominantly Southwestern-style cuisine and are equally at home with fajitas, tacos and quesadillas as they are with burgers, seafood and steaks. Down a pitcher of beer with wings, the famous "awesome blossom," the Terlingua chili or a mesquite-grilled ­chicken salad.

Let's start with the buns here. Katz's uses a rich, yellow, brioche-style bun to hold an all-beef wiener that snaps when you bite it. Cover that with a wad of caramelized onions and sauerkraut, and you have the makings of a damn good hot dog. If you're a purist, you can order the dog plain and squeeze mustard on it. Katz's is always open, so you can satisfy your hot dog craving whenever you want. And lucky for us, it's also a bar. You can wash down your pickles with an assortment of specialty drinks and cold beer. If you are in a particular mood, you can even take pictures in the photo booth with your awesome hot dog...but that can get messy.

Dawn McGee

Kanomwan has a cult following that speaks for itself. Sometimes the people who eat here communicate with each other using menu item numbers like a secret code. They also insist that the owner puts an addictive substance in the food that keeps them coming back at least once a week. There's a healthy dose of heat in just about everything, but the kitchen will happily make things spicier for you — at your own peril. The owner tends to have a wicked sense of humor when customers mess with the menu. Definitely check out the pork toasts (A3), tom yum goong (S1), tom ka gai (S3), pad panang (H5) and whole fried snapper with chile sauce (H11). Then you too will make the weekly trek out to Telephone Road with your bottle of wine or cooler of beer to quell your addiction for some sweet, sweet S3.

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