Vieng Thai's dynamic dishes are a welcome change or addition to the ordinary just-home-from-work quick dinner out. As you enter the modest dining area, remind yourself that it's the food at Vieng Thai that's bringing you here. Random karaoke videos in the background may or may not add to the ambience, depending on your camp-tolerance that day. The impressive menu guides you through lime, peanut, eggplant, coconut and curry, and if you're looking for hot, you've come to the right place. Vieng Thai's spicy dishes make no concessions to the American palate, but there are also plenty of mild options listed for those who want to go home with some taste buds intact. Or meet in the middle with the kee mao noodles. While some heat is present, these are sure to appease those who are looking to take a brief stroll on the wild side. Vegetarians will appreciate an entire page of dishes geared especially to them.

For those who want to live meat-free but still can't shake that craving for the forbidden, Quan Yin Vegetarian is the place. The soy substitutes come in just about every shape, color and type of animal that you'll find on a farm, and are as close to the real thing as you can get without drawing blood. One highlight of the extensive all-vegetarian menu is the soy-chicken and onions dish. Served with perfectly cooked broccoli florets, the tender chicken and sweet onions are brought to your table with a scoop of white rice. Thinly sliced ginger adds a nice kick. Bite after bite, your mouth will swear it's chicken while your mind will rest easy knowing it's not. The textures, colors and flavors in other dishes here get it right every time, and items like egg-less egg rolls make vegans happy as well.

Robert Z. Easley

Field of Greens's mostly meat-free menu has a wide range of dishes, including a raw vegetable rainbow plate, green bean hummus wrap and six different kinds of veggie burgers. Feeling overwhelmed? The knowledgeable staff makes ordering easy and will happily explain the difference between tempeh and tofu or make substitutions to accommodate vegan customers and those with additional dietary restrictions. Carnivorous companions will be pleasantly surprised by the meatless BBQ chicken salad or hearty eggplant parmesan. With weekday breakfast as a new addition, Houston's vegetarians no longer have reason to whine about where to go for their morning meal.

Vietnamese Americans visiting Houston from the East and West coasts tell us there is nothing like Que Huong (pronounced WAY HONG) where they come from. They are blown away by the quality of the food and the cheap prices. Don't miss the hot Vietnamese egg rolls with cold lettuce leaf wrappers and fish sauce dip (#004), and the pan-fried squid (#273). The Vietnamese calamari comes with salt and preserved plum powder for dipping. (You squeeze lime juice onto the fried jumbo squid sticks before you dip them so that the salt sticks.) You can't miss with any of the pho soup bowls. And you probably won't like the bitter melon. Try the tempura softshell crab (#272). It comes to the table on a pile of romaine lettuce leaves with a plate of garnishes and a sweet and hot dipping sauce on the side. To eat it, you wrap a hot crunchy crab section in a cold lettuce leaf with some fresh herbs and cucumber, spritz it with lime juice and then dunk it in some sauce.

Go for the wine; keep going back for the food. Max's Wine Dive has a first-rate wine list, but it's this joint's food that separates it from the growing number of wine bars stretched along Washington. From the Texas-size Kobe-beef burger topped with creamy brie to the fried-egg sandwich with three eggs covered in truffle oil, smoked bacon and Gruyère cheese, Max's elevates dive-bar food to the level of straight-up cuisine. Often cramped with "pretty people," this place sometimes feels like a busy Manhattan bar. But sinful treats like the "Big Ass Brownie" and the "Guinness Float" are more than enough to put the soul at ease.

Antonio Gianola is the sommelier at Catalan, and his passion for wine is scary. Gianola demonstrated his encyclopedic knowledge of Italian wines while he served as the wine steward at Da Marco. While composing the wine list at Catalan, he began reaching out to the world's most forward-thinking winemakers. When Gianola starts talking about these folks — eco-sensitive French winemakers who baby every organic grape into the bottle and eccentric Italian producers who are burying their wines in amphoras to re-create the flavors of ancient Rome — you start to wonder if the sommelier has gone off the deep end. But the proof is in the drinking. It's easy to put together a bunch of ridiculously priced Bordeaux and Burgundies and call it a great wine list. But Gianola has assembled a list of stunning, innovative wines in the $30-to-$60 range that puts most of the wine lists in Houston to shame.

There's a sign near the register that says, "10 minutes to cook, 1 minute to shake on the sauce, 1 minute to serve, hot & fresh." This is their way of letting you know that all their wings are made to order, so be patient. The wait is definitely worthwhile. What makes these wings special is the sauce. The "Original Hot" is the starting point here, with the unmistakable flavor of Tabasco. From here you move to "Cajun Mojo," which adds a good heat level courtesy of cayenne pepper, and then to "Insanely Hot," which is sure to be a challenge to those who routinely enter jalapeño-eating contests. If spicy is not your bag, Coozan's also has a smooth Honey BBQ sauce and a Lemon Pepper that provide excellent alternatives.

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