El Bolillo Bakery
Jeff Balke

El Bolillo, the Mexican bakery across the street from Canino's on Airline, has got a lot of things going for it. Elaborately decorated cakes, sheet pans of tres leches, and coffee and hot churros for starters. Then there are the crunchy mini-baguettes called bolillos in two sizes, and the soft, dense telera bread — perfect for torta sandwiches — that you can also cut in half and use for hamburger (or torta burger) buns. Fresh tortillas made the old-fashioned way out of stone-ground nixtamal are sold out of a steamer case near the cash register, and they are exceptional. Try these and the enchiladas at your house will never be the same. And before you complain about the dry pastries, try the little cookies sold in the clear plastic clamshell packages in a display near the front door. They're made with a touch of lard, and they are anything but dry — but be careful, they are also addictive.

Sabine River Cafe

Known for its Cajun creations, the Sabine River Cafe might not be one of the first places you think of for breakfast. But it should be. Inside this sleek, modern-looking restaurant with wraparound outdoor seating, the kitchen is pumping out simple, flavorful food every morning from 7 to 11. From breakfast burritos to biscuits and jalapeño cream gravy to pecan waffles shaped like Texas, Sabine has it all. And for those who need a little Cajun first thing in the morning, order up the all-Cajun breakfast, complete with andouille smoked sausage and a beignet covered with powdered sugar and honey.

Laredo Taqueria

It all kicks off early in the morning when the women behind the counter start hand-rolling the softest tortillas in town. You could stuff anything in these velvety creations and it would taste good. Luckily, though, there are more than enough simple yet delicious breakfast creations to sate even the pickiest of eaters. Try the egg, potato and green chile, the egg and spicy chorizo or the egg and green bean tacos, topped with a tasty red salsa that lets the cilantro and onion really shine through. At $1.75 a pop, they're a deal too.

Dharma Cafe
Jeff Balke

Dharma Cafe is a homey oasis smack-dab in the rundown industrial area along Houston Avenue that makes up the nexus of Downtown and the Heights. Get away from the hectic noise and the stiletto-heels scene that dominate many high-end Sunday brunch spots and pull up a chair in this unassuming cafe with photos of Beat poets such as Jack Kerouac and his sidekick Neal Cassady scattered on the walls. The buffet is all-you-can-eat and includes traditional items such as waffles made in an antique waffle iron, blueberry or banana pancakes, sausage gravy and eggs made to order. But like the joint itself, this buffet marches to its own beat, also offering homemade fettuccini, moist and tender salmon and pork loin served with a sweet Sunday morning apple glaze. The fresh blueberry scones are arguably the best on the planet. And at only $17, this brunch buffet will cure any barely legal hangover.

The 105 Grocery & Deli is located about eight miles southwest of Navasota on Highway 105. Former names include "DK Gen Store, Café, Meat Market, Feed Store" and "B&J." Whatever it was called, the convenience store has been making burgers for decades. The grill is closed on Monday and Tuesday and when the grill cook doesn't show up. So call before you make the trek (about an hour from Houston). The burgers are mountainous — each patty appears to be around two-thirds of a pound. (You'll want a double-meat, double-cheese.) A crunchy wedge of iceberg and two tomato slices come under the burger in the "upside down" configuration with a modest sprinkling of chopped onions and a couple of pickle slices. The white-bread bun is toasted and spread with yellow mustard and Miracle Whip salad dressing. Some burger lovers I know bring their own Hellmann's mayonnaise to replace the offending MW. But it's a tiny blemish in the otherwise perfect burger.

Lankford Grocery and Market

When Guy Fieri and his Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives visited Eydie Prior on his trip to Houston, he confirmed what many Houstonians already knew — Lankford Grocery is a treasure. Eydie's parents started the place as a convenience store in 1939, but it was the hamburgers that brought in the crowds. And so they took out the store shelves and put in some tables. The smoking section is on a former driveway where two picnic tables are adorned with orange marigolds growing out of coffee cans. The garage door is still there. Today, Lankford Grocery's rural vibe is one of the last remnants of the historic Freedmen's Town neighborhood. The row houses have mostly been leveled and replaced with towering town houses. Every couple of months, Eydie goes on a decorating binge and decks the place out with a seasonal theme.

Mockingbird Bistro

It looks so simple and elegant: several long leaves of romaine lettuce laid across the plate, coated, not slathered, with a tangy Caesar dressing made fresh just moments earlier. Grated cheese, potato croutons and black pepper round out this traditional dish. On top of it all, just to add some color and a bit of punch, rests a thin slice or two of roasted red pepper. It's a true classic with just a hint of daring that makes this salad a must for any palate.

El Tiempo Cantina
Jeff Balke

It's all about the ambience, fajitas and margaritas at this famous Houston Tex-Mex institution. The restaurants are dark and homey, with inviting bars that exude that relaxing cantina feel. Start off with a serving of queso and chorizo and then order up a heaping plate of fajitas, piled high with strips of filet and lobster, with a decadent butter sauce on the side to go along with El Tiempo's famous red and green salsas. Then wash it all down with a potent margarita that'll make any drinker thankful he's 21 or older.

Okay, so the price of the banh mi thit, or Vietnamese sandwich, at Alpha Bakery in the Hong Kong City Mall has gone up drastically. Sandwiches were $1.85 each a couple of years ago with a "buy five, get one free" kicker. Now they are $2.50 each, and there's no more sixth-sandwich free deal. But you still have to admit that $2.50 is awfully cheap for a sandwich this good. Think about it — Subway and Quiznos are advertising $5 sandwiches like that's some unbelievably cheap price, while at Alpha Bakery you get the same size sandwich on a crunchy Vietnamese French bread roll that's baked on the premises, spread with butter and pâté and stuffed with roasted pork, shredded carrots, cukes, cilantro and jalapeño for half of the price of the sandwich chain product. You can't get a sweetened coconut rice dessert at Subway, either.

Cova Hand Selected Wines (Washington)

At Cova, if you order the tapas portion of the artisanal cheese plate, you get to pick four cheeses from a list of 12. If you order the raciones portion, you get four cheeses along with slices of cured meats. The cheeses, listed on the menu as either firm, semi-firm or soft, include such memorable entries as the French baby belletoile triple cream brie, the Venetian piave vecchio and the Minorcan mahon reserva, all of which go well with any of the rich and fruity wines available here. They're served with slices of French bread and honey, the perfect counterpoint to some of the sharper cheeses. The cured meats include German speck, Spanish jamon serrano and Italian salami.

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