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.

Stanton's City Bites

Often overlooked as a burger mecca due to the lack of tables, this shabby convenience store serves the most impressive cheeseburger in town. It starts with a half-pound, hand-formed patty mounted on an oversized and well-toasted sesame seed bun. Go "all the way" and the adornments include lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, mustard, red onions, two strips of bacon and an ample amount of American cheese. Variations include the Rio jalapeño burger (add pickled peppers), the BBQ blues burger (with barbecue sauce) and the Tex-Mex burger (with salsa). Since the burgers are to-go only, you need to have a plan for where you are going to eat them.

Chinese Sichuan Cuisine

Chinese Uyghurs in the far western Xinjiang province were much in the news this year. So we are venturing beyond the usual Hong Kong, Hunan and Sichuan recommendations in favor of Chinese Halal Cuisine on Bellaire. Uyghur fare, with its strong cumin aromas and extensive use of lamb, borrows from the Muslim recipes of neighboring Mongolia, Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The halal version of Chinese food has become enormously popular on the Indian subcontinent. In fact, the Indian and Pakistani version of halal Chinese food is better known in most of the world than the Chinese original. Chinese Halal Cuisine on Bellaire is the first authentically Chinese halal restaurant in Houston. Try the black fungus salad and the Xin Jiang Special Lamb. Try the lamb hearts, livers and kidneys, if you dare — the Chinese version of halal food is a little wilder than the version from Bombay we are used to getting in Houston.

Daily Review Cafe

It may not be the healthiest salad out there, but it's certainly one of the tastiest and most famous. As legend has it, the Cobb salad was created in 1937 at the Brown Derby in Hollywood when its owner Bob Cobb was hungry one night and tossed a pile of leftovers into a bowl. It was a combo of ingredients that soon swept the nation. And the folks at the Daily Review Cafe do Mr. Cobb proud. A huge platter is stacked high with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, chicken and luscious hunks of avocado, all topped with a creamy dressing. Served as an entrée, it's an excellent version of the American classic.

Barbecue Inn
Photo by Robb Walsh

Barbecue Inn has been a Houston favorite since the 1940s, and most of the waitresses appear to have been there just as long. The food itself is long on comfort — the same hearty and delicious chicken-fried steaks and fried shrimp platters that have sustained families eating there after church or Little League games are still on offer — but so is the restaurant itself, from the clucking waitresses to the rotary phone hanging from the dark, wood-paneled wall near the front door. Despite the name, barbecue is not the thing to order here. Stick with the old-school salads and their homemade dressings, loaded baked potatoes and fantastically creamy cheesecake, and you'll feel like you're right back at Grandma's kitchen table.

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