Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

Although any one of the four Barnaby's locations will offer you unrivaled service, the original location — tucked away in a residential area in Montrose off Fairview — still sets the bar. Despite long waits on weekends and occasionally cramped quarters inside (especially when you're dining at Baby Barnaby's next door), the waitstaff are never anything short of charming and gracious. Between complimenting your hairstyle, telling your grandmother how glorious she looks today, recommending their favorite dishes and always getting your order perfect, the staff always offer excellent service. And employees appear to love the place just as much: Anecdotes have flown for years of high-end maître d's attempting to lure Barnaby's crew members to "greener pastures" and failing every time.

The late Sam Segari was nuts about shrimp. His restaurant, Segari's, is run by his daughter now. But the shrimp dishes are still made with U-10s, the largest Gulf shrimp available. The cryptic code means "under ten to a pound" — the actual average size is close to a fifth of a pound each. They come fried, grilled or boiled. The boiled are served in a shrimp cocktail with some huge crab "lollipop" claws. The fried shrimp are so big, they are flattened out before being battered. They taste like chicken-fried shrimp steaks. If you are a demanding customer who can't excuse slow service, eccentric attitudes and made-up-on-the-fly prices, don't even bother setting foot in Segari's. But if you can pretend that you are eating at an eccentric friend's house and go with the high-spirited flow at this little speakeasy, you can have a helluva good time.

This place is a dump, but the cooking is stellar. The wise move is to get your food packed up to go and enjoy it at home. The steam table features melt-in-your-mouth oxtails in brown gravy, fork-tender smothered pork chops, a falling-apart pepper steak in spicy sauce, and Creole meatloaf, all served with two vegetables and cornbread. In the one-bowl-meal category, there's chicken gumbo, ham hocks with butter beans, and a bowl of stewed chicken and fluffy homemade dumplings in a peppery gravy with a huge hunk of sweet cornbread on the side. The prices are ridiculously cheap — chicken and dumplings is $6.50, meat and vegetables are $8 to $10. The Kitchen Soul Food does lots of catering, and it's easy to see why. You can feed a big crowd some awesome home cooking for peanuts.

Pradaria is a little different from the other churrascarias in town. There's sushi on the salad bar and a wider variety of rodízio meats. The servers in gaucho costumes come around with the usual rib eye and picanha, the juicy top sirloin that's doubled over into a C shape on the skewer. But they might also show up at your table with an entire 18-pound rib roast, or a rack of dainty pink lamb chops. They are also likely to offer you offal like sweetbreads and such seldom-seen specialties as cupim. Cupim is highly prized in Brazil. It comes from the hump of Brahma crossbred cattle, and it's as marbled as the best Kobe beef. As for the raw fish, it seems that nearly every churrascaria in Brazil serves sushi on the salad bar. There's a huge Japanese population in Brazil, and it's become a part of the churrascaria culture.

Oporto has a great selection of tapas at very reasonable prices, even when happy hour isn't in effect. And though the name implies Portugal, the menu reflects the spirit of Spain. Spanish and Portuguese wines pair nicely with a diverse list of meats and cheeses. The small plates here are well apportioned, and the sangria is always a solid choice. Salada do mar, an interesting twist on ceviche, is fresh and generous, and daily specials are usually fantastic if you get there before they're sold out. Flavorful pizzette and panini are filling and the perfect snack before heading to a movie at Edwards Cinema across the street. Although you won't find paella here most days — Sunday is paella night — you'll walk away happy nonetheless.

From the day construction began, Del Frisco's set out to be the top steak house in Houston. The 13,000-square-foot Galleria location is a copy of the 17,000-square-foot Del Frisco's in Manhattan. The walls are mahogany, the floors are Brazilian slate and the grand light fixtures are made from Spanish alabaster and cost $75,000 apiece. The total bill for the finish-out was reported to be more than $11 million. The food isn't cheap, either. The dry-aged Australian Kobe rib eye, at $90, is the most expensive steak on Del Frisco's menu and the best steak in town. The rest of the wet-aged USDA Prime steaks and USDA Choice filet mignon are on a par with a bevy of luxury steak houses located within minutes of Del Frisco's location, including Palm, Morton's of Chicago and Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. But it's not the quality of the steaks that puts Del Frisco's above its competitors. It's the service — there are three tables per waiter — an astonishing ratio. And the "customer first" attitude is a stark contrast to the run-up-the-bill scams encountered at some other steak houses.

A beautifully chic restaurant filled with equally beautiful, chic people, Soma serves up some of the best and most interesting sushi in town. Located along the Washington Avenue corridor, Soma helped make the area "cool" again and inspired an ever-growing number of trendy eatery owners to set up shop there. Sure, you can get your basic California roll or spicy tuna, and it'll be delicious, but why not try something more adventurous? There's New Zealand red snapper, yellow tail belly, sea urchin and flying fish roe, to name just a few. And don't forget the specialty rolls, like the Crazy Irish-Man, with salmon, tuna and avocado topped with spicy mayo, or the Relaxation roll, a mix of crab stick, avocado, fish egg and salmon on top of shrimp and grilled asparagus. The list goes on and on.

When you pull up to "Taqueria Hecho En Mexico 2," a carhop in a uniform approaches the driver's window of your car with an order pad at the ready. Taquitos here are 99 cents and are guaranteed to be 100 percent chilango. (That's slang for a native of Mexico City D.F.) Try the pastor (pork), suadero (brisket), or campechana (chorizo) tacos. Each taco comes on two corn tortillas, and while they have only a couple tablespoons of savory meat, the condiments are amazing. Along with the usual chopped onions and cilantro and free red and green salsas in little plastic cups, there are radish slices, a roasted spring onion and a lime wedge — a nicely garnished plate, considering the amazingly cheap price. The red salsa is the hot one; the green salsa is nice and tart. Drinks include tamarindo agua fresca — it's a little too sweet, but they give you so much of it you can pour one drink over ice and serve two.

The mushroom tamales at Hugo's are mind-blowing. Mushroom tamales may sound like an upscale spin on Mexican food, but they're actually very traditional. Hugo Ortega serves mushroom tamales as a side dish with lamb and makes another kind of mushroom tamal called a zacahuil for an appetizer. The zacahuil is made by layering banana leaves in a clay pot and then baking the tamales inside. Ortega explains that mushrooms are part of the traditional cuisine of Veracruz, Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala, and that people in these regions have been making mushroom soup, mushroom quesadillas and mushroom tamales for centuries. For a tour de force of Ortega's hit dishes, try the spectacular Sunday brunch. And don't miss Hugo's signature dessert, hot chocolate and the crispy Mexican doughnuts called churros.

The oldest Tex-Mex chain in Houston is Molina's, now in its third generation. When the restaurant was founded in 1941, the entire Molina family lived on the upper floor above its first restaurant on West Gray. Mom did the cooking, Dad was the waiter and the kids bussed tables and washed dishes. In those days, what they really did was short-order cooking with lots of chili con carne. There was chili and scrambled eggs, chili over spaghetti, chili and crackers, chili and tamales and chili with enchiladas — but chili was at the heart of everything. Go to Molina's Cantina and order "enchiladas de Tejas," three cheese enchiladas smothered with chili con carne and topped with a pool of yellow cheddar. Don't forget to put raw onions on top and get some warm corn tortillas on the side. When the enchiladas are gone, mop up the chili and cheese with the tortillas. That's what old-fashioned Tex-Mex tastes like.

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