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.

Tortas are hot, and Mexico's Deli on Dairy Ashford has the best tortas in Houston. That's because the proprietor once owned a popular chain of torta stands in Mexico City — he relocated to Houston when the peso bit the dust. Mexico's Deli offers more than 20 variations on the Mexican sandwich, plus some blackboard specials. The torta lomito Argentino, a steak and egg sandwich, is among the best. It features a thin slice of beef tenderloin, a fried egg, a thin slice of ham, mozzarella, avocado and tomato, all on a huge bun spread with refried black beans. The torta al pastor is made with marinated pork and bits of pineapple carved from a trompo (a cone of meat on a vertical roaster) on display beside the grill. Don't miss the flan for dessert — it's made with a pecan praline in the baking cup underneath the custard, for a simple but delicious twist on the old favorite.

Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

There was a time when the only thing fit for consumption at Brasil was the coffee. Thankfully, that time has passed. And while the service still has light-years to go before it's considered passable, the food, at least, is amazing. It's rare in Houston to find a menu that skillfully and subtly includes excellent vegetarian and vegan dishes amongst a standard array of carnivorous cafe fare. Although it has ample competition from the likes of a warm breakfast salad with egg whites, quinoa and cactus-pear vinaigrette and a savory eggplant and tapenade sandwich served on a crusty baguette, the vegetarian dish that really shines at Brasil is the roasted beet, goat cheese and walnut sandwich on freshly baked ciabatta bread. The dishes at Brasil celebrate and enhance the vegetables instead of vainly pretending they're meat, and the earthy and tangy beet and goat cheese sandwich is no exception.

Jeff Balke

There was a time when we couldn't imagine the Hobbit Hole existing anywhere other than the ramshackle, shire-like house on Shepherd, and we doubted its ability to survive in its new incarnation — The Hobbit Cafe — and new location, on Richmond. Defying expectations, the cozy little restaurant is just as popular now as it always was, and the vegetarian-oriented food is no exception. With filled-to-bursting veggie sandwiches like Smaug's Delight, Thorin Oakenshield and Dwalin or the simple beans, veggie and rice plate — the Valinor — you're sure to get healthy doses of both your daily beta carotene as well as Tolkien geekdom. Prices are easy on the wallet, and the sprawling patio is gorgeous on cool nights, plus there are plenty of items on the menu for your carnivorous friends, making The Hobbit Cafe an all-around winner.

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