Becks Prime
Daniel+Kramer

When it comes to local chains, no one does burgers and steaks faster or better that the folks at Becks Prime. Originally only on Kirby Drive more than 20 years ago, the chain now has eight locations peppered throughout the Houston area, five of which sport the all-important, convenient drive-thru windows Houstonians know and love. But just because the food is fast doesn't mean it's fast food that you have to eat on the run. Here you can enjoy the never-frozen, mesquite-grilled burgers made to order while relaxing under an umbrella on the patio with a cool glass of white wine or a beer. When you're done, polish it all off with a thick and delicious shake made with Hershey's chocolate or fresh strawberries, and you'll see why Becks Prime has been a local favorite for years.

Connie's Seafood
Jeff Balke

Across the street from the Heights farmers market, this kid-friendly seafood spot has a myriad of fresh offerings at very reasonable prices. The menu provides many choices in preparation and serving size, so even the pickiest eater will be satisfied. The calamari and campechana are fantastic, and the fried-seafood platter is definitely enough for two. Shrimp fried rice is a crowd favorite at Connie's — although eating shrimp-fried rice while being entertained by mariachis can be a bit disorienting. No worries; after a few micheladas and a trip to the seafood case, all will seem right with the world again.

The Hill Bar & Grill

J's Special at The Hill Bar & Grill in Waller is a cheeseburger served on Texas toast. Swapping out a bun for two double-thick slices of toasted white bread sounds like a pretty minor change. But the effect that ­aggressively griddled Texas toast has on this cheeseburger is quite r­emarkable. The burger comes wrapped in ­tissue paper and served in a paper-lined ­basket on a bed of fries. A thick square of melted American cheese bubbles invitingly over the side, sticking the burger, the three slices of tomato, the crinkle-cut pickles and the Texas toast together. The mayo is spread so thick on the bottom a little oozes out. There is a little yellow mustard on the top. The crunch of the slightly greasy Texas toast and the velvety smoothness of the melted ­American cheese contrast wildly with the drippy half pound of juicy ground beef and fixin's. It's like a big handmade Texas burger stuffed inside a giant grilled-cheese sandwich.

Ouisie's Table

The perfectly battered chicken-fried steak at Ouisie's has been rated the best in the state by more than one chicken-fried critic. The awesome meat patty is covered with an undulating crust and served with black pepper milk gravy in a metal gravy boat on the side so that you can dip each bite in gravy as you go, or pour a little on your plate. It comes with upscale Southern black-eyed peas, mustard greens and a rich corn pudding soufflé. There is also a chicken-fried venison steak on Ouisie's menu made of Axis venison backstrap pounded out, dipped in seasoned flour and pan-fried. The venison CFS comes with wild rice risotto, mushrooms and the corn pudding. Readers' Choice: Hickory Hollow

It's huge, it's inexpensive and it's fun. Located in a towering building on Bellaire between Synott and Dairy Ashford, Jackie Tan Restaurant looks like a fortress along the Great Wall of China. It seats over 300. The menu is huge, and there are lots of gloppy brown sauce dishes lying in wait for the unwary. If you pay attention, you can get some stellar food here. Don't miss the vaguely named "shrimp special salad" on the first page of the menu. It is the best shrimp and jellyfish salad in the city. Fresh snow pea shoots quickly sautéed with garlic are exceptional. And so is the crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-in-the-middle, deep-fried softshell crab served over a cold mixture of chopped scallions, herbs and hellaciously hot sliced green chilies. Call it an oversized Asian diner or a noodle house on steroids. Whatever you call it, Jackie Tan is defining the new frontier in Bellaire Chinatown.

Cafe Montrose

We suspect a young boy owns the establishment that makes this city's best chocolate mousse — not because mousse is akin to pudding, and that's what's often packed in Lunchables. You'll see why, once you visit this hideaway featuring Belgian cuisine. Festooning the cafe's walls are dozens of pictures and other likenesses of boys and cherubs holding their penises. Some are peeing. Must be a Belgian thing. We shrug as we wolf down the creamy concoction so strong and rich it's like eating Scharffen Berger with a spoon. If you can stomach the art, stay for dinner. The mussel dishes are divine, and they come with French fries (which just may have been invented in Belgium).

Cleburne Cafeteria - CLOSED

If Houston traffic leaves you needing some serious TLC, Cleburne Cafeteria is your place. Everything about this Houston staple whispers comfort. Drift through the line and pick up heaping bowls of mayo-filled salads, thick-sliced meatloaf, gooey chicken and dumplings and layer upon layer of luscious cake slices before sliding into a chair and relaxing with your meal. You'll feel right at home, assuming you live on a waterbed doped up on Vicodin. Be careful not to zone out so much that you start to hum along to instrumental versions of Lite FM favorites that slowly creep into your brain. The remarkable selection of homemade goods brings in lots of salivating customers, so get there early to stake your claim.

Swampy's Cajun Shack

If you like your mudbugs out on a patio with lots of beer and a Hawaiian Tex-Mex cover band, then Swampy's is your kind of place. The rest of the Cajun menu is hit or miss. But the bar is always hopping, and the crawfish are a relative bargain. Last spring, while the average price in Houston was between $4.50 and $5.50 a pound, Swampy's was charging only $3.50 a pound. But beware: The highly spiced, boiled crawfish at Swampy's will turn your fingers orange. That's because they're coated with peppery powder after they come out of the spicy boil. Absentmindedly licking your sticky fingers puts a fresh coat of cayenne on your palate. Which is why you will need more beer than usual to quench the fire.

Mojito
Theo Santos
Mojito

Looking for a feast? Try Flor de Cuba's parrillada cubana, a cornucopia of island delicacies including chuletas (pork chops), macitas (fried pork chunks), pechuga de pollo (grilled chicken breast), camarones al ajillo (shrimp in garlic) and vaca frita (fried beef). With all entrées, you get healthy servings of beans, rice, yucca and two types of plantains. It's more than enough for four, all for around $45. Not that hungry? Then try one of Flor de Cuba's weekly specials, such as roasted pork on Saturday afternoons or arroz con pollo on Sundays. Since Flor de Cuba has an in-house bakery, the flan, arroz con leche and papaya con crema are always fresh and light. They even have long loaves of Cuban bread, in case you want to make a Cuban sandwich at home.

Star Pizza

Don't feel like going out? Microwave seem too complicated? The staff at Star Pizza will help. You won't hear any groans if you want to switch around your toppings one last time, or cover only half the pie in olives. Then again, you can always kick it old school with one of the classic options that Star has been serving Houston since 1976. Delivery people will happily bring change to your door, so you won't have to fish around for the exact amount. And once you open that box and the aroma of fresh pizza fills your place, you'll be glad you tipped the delivery guy an extra buck. To ensure freshness, Star delivers to a limited area, so if you're out of bounds, you may want to consider relocating.

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