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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.

House of Pies
Jeff Balke

Low-key doesn't begin to describe this Upper Kirby institution, where the wait staff has seen it all and won't bat an eyelash if you come in from your job still in uniform or from that costume party still dressed as Catwoman. Although the pies are certainly the pièce de résistance of this 24-hour hangout, don't shy away from other menu items. With a constant stream of characters straight out of central casting, people-watching is as fun at 4 p.m. as it is at 4 a.m., and with menu items like the Hangover Omelet, late-nighters are a welcome addition to the eclectic scene. Best of all, since breakfast is served 'round the clock, it's never too early or too late to hit up the reliable eggs, buttery sandwiches or daily specials.

Pico's Mex-Mex Restaurant

Few things can bring you sheer joy like a ­margarita the size of your head — just as ­nothing can bring about sheer agony like two margaritas the size of your head. Pico's momentous 48-ounce margarita is a good balance of sweet and tart and an excellent deal. If you're in the mood for something more adventurous, Pico's also has a healthy list of top-shelf margaritas, like the San Miguel with hibiscus liquor. But it's hard to beat the original. Readers' Choice: Café Adobe

Anybody can make a martini: Shake the booze and ice till it's so cold you can't taste it or feel it going down your throat, making it easy to drink three in an hour and get so shit-canned you're wearing your necktie like a headband and telling your boss at happy hour what you "really think about your bonus." But can they serve it with three olives stuffed with ­prosciutto, blue cheese and caviar? Who is the glutton that thought of this? How rich and bored do you have to be to stuff three decadent ingredients into one of God's fruits and then soak it in a top-shelf vodka? What's next, a lobster mojito? If you don't mind supporting a corporate restaurant, then you probably won't mind spending $15 on a drink. Check it. Readers' Choice: Davenport

Hugo's

The restaurant roasts its own cocoa beans and grinds them by hand in an old-fashioned stone mill that chef-owner Hugo Ortega brought back from Oaxaca. The fresh-ground cocoa paste is used to make its signature mole poblano, as well as the cup of hot chocolate that comes with some of the desserts. Seasonal dishes at Hugo's, like the chiles en nogada, are better than the supposedly definitive versions found in Mexico City. Hugo's serves chiles en nogada through the fall or as long they can get fresh pomegranates. In the summer, the menu switches over to dishes made with squash blossoms. Ortega's cousin Martha Ortega makes the mole poblano. She learned from her mother in Puebla, who learned from her mother and so on back four generations. Martha's mole recipe contains ingredients like plantains that you won't find in published recipes. Cookbooks only skim the surface. The Ortega family has mole in their blood. American foodies make the mistake of thinking that reading Diana Kennedy or Rick Bayless's cookbooks is all it takes to master Mexican cuisine. Mexican immigrants like Hugo Ortega and his family remind us of how deep Mexico's culinary traditions really go.

Zabak's Mediterranean Cafe

This place is modern, clean and unpretentious. Order at the counter, and minutes later you'll be enjoying some terrific homemade Middle Eastern food from favorite family recipes. The hummus is as smooth as can be, and the baba ghanoush has a really smoky flavor, typical of this dish. The falafel is legendary, and the tabbouleh as authentic as you can get. Also try the kifta or shish kebobs or any of the shawarma sandwiches, and none will disappoint. End your meal with any of the sweet pastries that are representative of the region.

Sparkle's Hamburger Spot

For burger aficionados and inhabitants of the Third Ward, Sparkles Hamburger Spot is a true haven. If you don't mind waiting, the gals at Sparkles will mix you up one tasty shake. They're the best because they use full-flavor ice cream and milk, mixing it the old-fashioned way, by hand. No complicated machines or premade mixes here. The only real question is, chocolate or vanilla? On hot days there's nothing as satisfying and cooling as one of these concoctions.

 

3rd Bar

Mash a bunch of mint in the bottom of a glass, pour rum over it and you have a mojito; do it right and you have magic. Reef's 3rd Bar is doing it right. Making it the traditional way, the bartenders at 3rd Bar muddle the freshest mint with just enough sugar to make the Bacardi rum's flavors come out. Keeping it simple is key to this drink, and that's exactly what they do. And the awesome decor that surrounds the perfectly made drinks is so hip, slick and cool, it just might freeze to death.

Mockingbird Bistro

The multicultural mussel appetizer at the Mockingbird Bistro in Montrose starts with perfectly cleaned, gritless Mediterranean mussels. The black-shelled, white-fleshed shellfish are stewed in a stout Asian-fusion coconut milk broth seasoned with garlic, lemongrass and spicy red curry. Then they're presented in a big white bowl of the hearty red sauce, with the shells arranged around the outside and a pile of stewed tomato and spinach greens sitting in the center. Matched with one of Mockingbird's excellent Rieslings or a bottle of cold beer, this is a spectacular appetizer. But eaten with a basket of bread and olive oil dip, this fabulous bowl of mussels makes for a pretty substantial meal all by itself.

Feast

They call the food at Feast "rustic European fare," and there's nothing else like it in Houston. Situated in a charming old house with a very relaxed and homey atmosphere, Brits Richard Knight (the chef) and James Silk (the butcher) are taking Houston tastebuds on a journey back in time, when people used to eat everything that a pig (and other animals) had to offer, from the snout to the tail to the blood, as in a typical black pudding — a carnivore's orgasm. The adventurous menu at Feast changes daily, so just when you find the perfect dish, it vanishes. How about pork cheeks or bone marrow soup, or maybe chicken hearts on toast? No? Well, if you're holding out for the good stuff, you'll love the braised neck of lamb, the beef tongue or lamb tongues or the tongue and testicles in green sauce (not available every day). Both Richard and James have worked for some prestigious, Michelin-rated places and people, most notably under Fergus Henderson of St. Johns, in London, where James acquired the "whole hog" approach to his cuisine.

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