Lucky Burger

From the outside, Lucky Burger looks more like a greasy bucket than a greasy spoon. You may even think that the food inside this dumpy little corner eatery isn't safe, but inside are some really simple and tasty burgers. The short menu gets to the point with burgers and cheeseburgers, with variations of toppings like jalapeños, bacon, extra meat, blue cheese (­really?) and mushrooms, as well as sides of tots and onion rings. There's also fried fish burgers, nuggets, fried rice, chicken-fried steak burger and the teriyaki chicken burger. And don't worry, Lucky Burger has a chili burger — it wouldn't be a greasy spoon if it didn't.

Theo's

The beat-up decor of this all-night establishment might be a little off-putting at first, but as with most things Greek, personality is key. While working through plates of light and flaky spanakopita, dense moussaka and classic Greek salad, the in-your-face staff will make you feel cozy enough to sink into the comfy booths and even stick around once you've finished eating. The sampler will easily feed a family of four while giving a good idea of what Greece has to offer, and the classic gyros, crisp calamari and delectable pizzas are popular choices day and night.

El Tiempo Cantina

There's nothing quite like the flavor of freshly made guacamole. Once you've tasted it, it's almost impossible to eat the stuff that was made earlier or, worse still, the pre-packaged stuff many places try to pass for guacamole, which has either a nasty, preservative taste or a stale taste that overpowers the avocado. Here, you add accoutrements to personalize the guacamole just the way you like it. The mashed avocado still has some large chunks in it, which add texture. Finely-diced tomatoes, onions, jalapeño, garlic and lime wedges make this a dish that can stand alone or be eaten with any of their entrées.

Gelato Blu

The 75 varieties of gelato available here are all made by hand, and they should keep even the worst ice-cream-aholic satisfied for quite a while. All of the gelatos are extremely dense with intense flavors. There's also sorbetto, made with virtually nothing but fruit. It's hard to pick just one flavor, so the kind folks here are ready with a sample spoon. Perhaps you'll flip for the amaretto or the Almond Joy, or maybe the Baileys, tiramisu, blueberry cheesecake, chocolate macadamia or coconut peppermint.

Shri Balaji Bhavan Pure Vegetarian Restaurant
Jeff Balke

Shri Balaji Bhavan serves up some excellent Southern Indian comfort food that has not been dumbed down for the masses. The staff is friendly and willing to help navigate the menu, if you're not familiar with Indian food. Thali, or sampler platters of sorts, are a great way to try a number of things if you can't commit. There is also an impressive list of chaat — the bhel puri is addictive — and rice flour or lentil dosas that will make you return regularly to this unassuming vegetarian gold mine. Almost everything has a healthy amount of spice to it, so you'll want to get a lassi or some chai to go along with the meal.

Shanghai Cuisine

Houston ethnic food doesn't get much more exotic than this. But even if you aren't up to trying street foods like otak otak (tubular "fish cakes" grilled inside banana leaves and dipped in spicy peanut sauce), gado gado (watercress, long beans, cabbage, and fried tofu tossed in chili-spiked peanut sauce with crispy shrimp chips) or nasi goreng with sator (fried rice with "stink beans"), you will still find much to love at this little Indonesian diner. Try the chicken satay. You will think you've never eaten satay before. Covered in sweet soy-and-peanut sauce and dotted with chopped peanuts and garlic bits, the luscious Indonesian version of chicken satay is nothing like the dried-out chicken on a stick you get at Thai restaurants. Truth is, satay, much like the rest of Thai cuisine, comes from the much older culture of Indonesia.

Ristorante Cavour

Flawless is the only word to describe the service at this exclusive place with only seven tables in the Hotel Granduca. However, it's not just the traditional European-style service and unmistakable attention to detail that make Ristorante Cavour what it is; it's the fabulous, authentic, traditional Italian food that puts it over the top. You're encouraged to have three courses here, in the typical Italian manner, excluding dessert. For your antipasto, start with the wild mushroom soup, one of the best-tasting soups you'll ever encounter, or perhaps the beef carpaccio. For your primo, try the homemade gnocchi in a sage-veal juice, the soft polenta with parmesan or the risotto Milanese. For your secondo, have the osso buco or the chicken scaloppini, either of which will give you a taste of real Italian.

Do yourself a favor and try the tilapia in brown sauce.
Photo by Daniel Kramer
Do yourself a favor and try the tilapia in brown sauce.

In a city with summers hot enough to cook an egg on your forehead, a place like Caribbean Jerk Cuisine is a cabana in the sun. No fusion crap at this spicy hole in the wall, just good down-home tropical specialties like curried goat, hot meat pies and jerk snapper. How do you jerk a snapper? Lots of aromatic spices and hot chiles like habaneros, that's how. Don't forget the jerk chicken, pork chops and salad. This place knows how to treat fish and people: Just keep the latter full of ice-cold Red Stripe and delicious fresh food.

Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen Restaurant

Would it kill you to eat a little something, or do you enjoy breaking your mother's heart? If that sounds familiar, you'll be right at home at Kenny & Ziggy's, where authentic New York deli food is done up right. Dig into a gargantuan Reuben or corned beef sandwich. Get a bagel topped with any of the stunning smoked fish, with perhaps a side of matzoh ball soup. The enormous desserts are a must-try, especially the golf ball-size macaroons, colossal layer cakes, or an éclair that outweighs that barking Dachshund that keeps you up at night.

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Troy+Fields
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As the name promises, Tofu Village has all kinds of tofu (most of which are not vegetarian) and a village of two-dimensional Korean glitterati whose eyes follow your every move. It also has all kinds of pancakes, and they are quite delicious. What sets Tofu Village apart is that its pancakes — whether zucchini, seafood, oyster or kimchi/shiitake/beef — come out sizzling hot on cast iron platters, which makes them crispy and less doughy than at other places. On our last visit, we got the gringo treatment and received uninspired iceberg lettuce salads instead of the delicious banchan (side dishes) that usually accompany the meals; so you might have to request the colorful native lagniappe if you're offended by iceberg.

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