El Pueblito Place
Jeff Balke

Gotta be honest: Last time we went to El Pueblito, they only had one credit-card machine, which meant we had to wait a fortnight for them to run the cards for a large party who closed out ahead of us. Essentially, we were hostages. But what a damn fine patio to be a hostage on! When you're on that patio, you almost feel like you're in another country — some lush tropical environ where there's no construction or congestion. There are cabanas for intimate dinners, and the little lights strung around the palm trees make dining at night especially memorable. Just remember that you might want to consider paying in cash.

The Mink

"Performance space" feels a little highfalutin to describe the Mink's Backroom — it's a venue, plain and simple — except for a couple of points. First of all, there's no stage per se; bands just set up at one end of the rectangular upstairs room. Second, no other place in town programs such an even mixture of DJs and live performers, and the Backroom just happens to be an excellent listening room that can double as a great dance floor. Either way, its warm wood floors both cushion and burnish the sound, giving the impression of a much bigger room; service at the fully-stocked upstairs bar is friendly and efficient; and there are plenty of comfortable chairs in the back if you need to take a load off for a while. Add an adventurous mix of local and national indie-rock, experimental music and underground hip-hop, and maybe it does merit such lofty categorization. Just be warned: At shows like last winter's "Hootenanny" all-covers extravaganza, this "performance space" can get crowded. Extremely.

Taurian's employees don't poke around with any other body matters — they stick to piercing. This means customers can have their ears, eyebrows, nipples, bellybuttons and anything below the belt holed in an establishment where safety and knowledge of the procedure come first. (The place looks and smells like it's sanitized every hour.) The piercers are helpful before and after pokin' ya, offering advice for placement, jewelry and proper hygiene. If you follow their advice, it's unlikely you'll have any problems, but if that piercing starts to get a little sore or red, don't hesitate to call or head up to the shop. The staff will help you find a solution — too often, the other guys' best advice is "take it out" or "come see us next time you're jonesin' for a hole in your body."

Outside of Katz's Deli, taquerias with breakfast menus and Mary's, spots to get your a.m. drink on are few and far between. Those who want or need to get primed before that 10 o'clock sales meeting without the distraction of families eating migas or perhaps overly amorous patrons are S.O.L., unless they're fortunate enough to live near the Red Hog. Whether your approach to the office takes you down Long Point or Hempstead Road, this tavern in a former hot-sheet motel with Arkansas-themed decor has you covered. Six days a week, they open up at 8 a.m. for you red-eye imbibers. Let the rest of the world worry about spilling hot coffee in its collective lap — you just get your butt down to the Red Hog for a couple of cold ones. Bonus: They also serve booze-masking breakfast tacos — so your eye-openers can stay our little secret.

Valhalla

If there is a more serene pleasure to be had in this hustling, bustling megalopolis than lolling around on a blanket outside this Rice grad students' bar, watching the clouds rearrange into more and more fantastic shapes high overhead, a cup of some of the cheapest and coldest beer close at hand, we don't know of it. Listen to the wind rustle the nearby live oaks, watch the students stroll to and from their exams and study sessions, let those more full of energy and drive play their Frisbee and football. Just lie back, sip and soak it all in. And when we said the beer was cheap here, we mean it: Lone Star and Shiner Bock are still less than a buck a cup.

Despite the best efforts of VH-1, '90s nostalgia has yet to take hold of the national consciousness with the same force of '80s mania. In Houston, however, there is one hotbed of Clinton-era memories: the Richmond Strip, our forlorn "entertainment district of the future." What few nightspots remain from the Strip's glory days ply their patrons with a steady diet of grunge and Britpop. If you're one of those "slackers" who thinks tunes like that are "all that and a bag of chips," then "boo-yaa," you'll think the Richmond Strip is still hella tight. Let all those fart-knockers have Midtown and the Village — you're too sexy for them.

At Tommy's Seafood, some of the best local musicians perform four nights a week. Pianist Matt Lemmler, originally from New Orleans (sorry, Big Easy, he's ours now), anchors what is a stellar lineup of live music. Trumpet player Dennis Dotson, saxophonist Warren Sneed, drummers Joel Fulgham and Sebastian Whittaker, guitarist Mike Wheeler and vocalist Pamela York all regularly perform at Tommy's Westheimer location. (There is a second ­Tommy's in Clear Lake that serves the same great food, but with a much less ambitious music schedule.) Not only are these virtuoso musicians, at Tommy's they have the freedom to jazz things up a bit. Quite a bit, actually. Some of Houston's best jazz happens at Tommy's. Our own Robb Walsh calls it "a perfect synergy of food and music," and we agree.

Numbers

Based on all the hookups-in-progress on a typical Friday '80s night at Numbers, maybe we should have called this category Place to See About-to-Be Naked People. And the stories we've heard about the people who couldn't wait until they got home and get it on in the lower Westheimer synth-pop/goth redoubt's bathroom stalls...So, although full-on nudity is rare — unless you're a voyeur peeking into those stalls, perv — Numbers is about as close as you can get without going to an actual strip club. "You may see some hot pants up someone's arse at Grasshopper, but Numbers is going to have ladies wandering around in thongs and pasties," says an inside source. "And guys walking around in thongs and pasties. It's the only place I've seen a male-female couple show up in that sort of matching apparel."

La Carafe

Since the nicotine-loving set has been literally kicked to the curb, those who also enjoy a tipple with their tobacco have been on the lookout for prime public spots in which to indulge their twin vices. While many bars have simply roped off a couple of cheap picnic tables in their parking lot, venerable La Carafe fully cashes in on its prime location. The handful of tables out front offer a prime view of the skyline, and an outside speaker bathes patrons in sweet sounds of the bar's award-winning jukebox. You can scope out the action in Market Square across the street, or just ponder the street you are on — Congress, in late Houston Post columnist Sig Byrd's words, that "old, crowded, tired avenue once so proud, so bright with gaslight and hearty laughter. Sam Houston walked this avenue. So did Mirabeau Lamar, Gail Borden, Audubon, Dick Dowling, and other great ones."

Best Places to Score an Eight-Ball

Jeez, there are so many, and while we don't wanna just spell this one out for you, we will give it to you tabloid blind item style. So here we go — four of the best places to find bat food inside the Loop:

1. Puff Daddy would like to shepherd his buddies to this 24-7 joint.

2. Ray Davies just might like to sip a Coca-Cola here.

3. It ain't The Jungle Book, but it is close.

4. Lounge lizards now skulk where real lizards once dwelled.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of