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.

Hugo's

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.

Molina's Cantina

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.

Mexico's Deli

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.

Brasil
Photo by Houston Press Staff

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.

Hobbit Cafe
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.

Que Huong

The last time we ordered jellyfish salad, or "Summer Delight," the incredibly refreshing summer salad of mixed seafood served with crispy shrimp chips, our waiter at Que Huong (pronounced WAY HONG) told us to try something different. Beef and shrimp watercress salad is better, he said. But it comes with a strong fish sauce that Anglos find hard to tolerate, he warned. That's the thing about Que Huong — the menu is not designed with mainstream tastes in mind. Vietnamese Americans from the East and West coasts tell us that you can't find food of this quality at such low prices where they come from. You probably won't like the bitter melon or the greasy shrimp toasts, but try the tempura soft-shell crab. And don't miss that favorite cliché — the hot Vietnamese egg rolls that come to the table with a pile of cold romaine lettuce leaves and a plate of garnishes. Wrap the hot rolls and some herbs in the cold lettuce leaves and dunk them in the dipping sauce.

Poison Girl

There's something about ordering whiskey inside of Poison Girl that just feels right. It goes with the blood-red walls and the foreboding metal sheet that rolls down and covers the door and one window during the day, completely obscuring the place along the busy Westheimer thoroughfare. And they do it well. Order a slightly sweet and refreshing Whiskey Daisy from the bar — which looks to have been transported from the Overlook Hotel after a brief layover in the Sex Pistols' basement — sit back and enjoy the view. People-watching (and pinball-playing) here is among the best in town, and even better when you've got a highball glass in one hand.

Tasting Room -- Uptown

Even though executive chef Steve Super left The Tasting Room at Uptown Park this year to helm the newest sister restaurant, Max's Wine Dive in Austin, the food remains as good as ever. When the Tasting Room expanded a few years back, it opened up space for not only a professional kitchen but also plenty of room to enjoy the food that came out of it. This is not your typical bar food: French fries are coated with divinely pungent white truffle oil, and artisanal charcuterie and cheese plates aim to complement your choice of wine. Sunday brunches with a distinctly Southern twist are hugely popular events, as are the occasional crawfish boils thrown on the patio in the summer. And while you normally wouldn't consider a weekday lunch at a wine bar, the menu of gourmet sandwiches and dishes, like goat cheese ravioli in a brown butter sauce, is so alluring that you'll even forget they serve wine.

Catalan Food & Wine Bar

In Houston, a great wine list used to mean pages and pages of old French wines that started at a hundred dollars a bottle and went up to the stratosphere. Today, thanks to the popularity of wine bars, overpriced and overrated labels are out and unknown regions and obscure varietals are in. Catalan is the best example of the new wine awareness. The restaurant combines cutting-edge food by chef Chris Shepherd (formerly of Brennan's) with the kind of exciting wine discoveries and wine education you expect in a top wine bar. Antonio Gianola (formerly of Da Marco) is the best sommelier in the city. He can wax eloquent on a list of stunning, innovative wines from around the world in the $30-to-$60 range that will surprise and delight the most jaded wine snob.

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