New York Bagels is a Houston institution and a hot spot for Meyerland locals. It's a place where both college kids and bubbes can nosh and sip coffee. Perhaps it doesn't have the glitz of other local delis, but it makes up for that in quality. The cafe serves traditional food like salads (chicken, whitefish, egg), liver, pickled herring and kippered salmon, as well as New York-style overstuffed sandwiches. Drop in for great pancakes and latkes in the morning, and come back for the sandwiches in the afternoon. After your meal, stop at the bakery side (don't forget to try the heavenly bialys).

Jeff Balke

Alexander the Great Greek has certain dishes that people come back for again and again. It has the best whole charbroiled snapper in town, reason enough to stop here. Only if you took a boat out in Galveston Bay, caught a snapper and grilled it on the beach yourself could you get a fresher option. The calamari and the spanakopita are amazing, too.

There is no more authentic Argentinean restaurant in Houston than Manena's, despite the presence of other empanada purveyors or churrascarias scattered about the city. To experience a culinary mini-vacation, simply set aside an afternoon to drive out to the west side, order some humita and jamón y queso empanadas to start, a few sandwiches de miga if you're in the mood for something light or a perfectly breaded milanesa if you're going whole hog. And remember to save plenty of room for dessert. Manena's pastry case is transporting: cañoncitos filled with indulgent caramel, flaky vigilantes rellenos filled with quince jam, and the best tiramisu anywhere in the city. You can even pick up yerba mate and other Argentinean specialties in the tiny pantry section to take home with you as souvenirs of your tiny trip.

Tucked away in a decrepit-looking strip center south of the Medical Center, Godo is not the sort of place that has what could be called "curb appeal." But it keeps the small Filipino bakery and cafe blissfully authentic and down to earth. The lunch buffet is the restaurant's greatest draw, groaning under the weight of at least 20 different items each day and all-you-can-eat pork belly. Yes, some of the best pork belly in town can be had for less than $10 at a Filipino lunch buffet. Save room for dessert, though, since that's what Godo does best. From traditional favorites like Brazos de Mercedes and leche flan to wedding and birthday cakes, Godo sells it all from the bakery in the rear of the restaurant.

Sinh Sinh is the go-to seafood restaurant in Chinatown. Open till 2 a.m., it offers a list of traditional favorites that reaches into the hundreds, offering hot pots full of crab or lobster, softshell crabs with pepper, congee with mixed seafood, Dungeness crabs with beer, lobster baked with cheese and even blue crabs baked in butter. The list goes on. It's fast, fresh and always open. The prices are reasonable for seafood, and if that doesn't keep you coming back, the people-watching will. Sinh Sinh is always a good time.

The days of oil company executives spending a grand on lunch are over. Thanks to big auto execs taking private jets to big-bank bailout meetings and the whole Enron fiasco, downtown offices are spending more time at Café Express than places like The Coronado. To step inside this place is like stepping back into another era. Started in '56, The Coronado Club is still serving bacon-wrapped filet mignons and cobb salads. If the dress code doesn't keep you out, then not being a member will. But if you're an invited guest for, say, a Christmas party, then bask in the extravagant dining room. You'll be reminded that there was a day when the boss could take you out to lunch, drink three martinis and drop a bill just for a tip with — that's right — an expense account.

Photo by Houston Press Staff

When it's three o'clock in the morning and you have somehow managed to talk your designated driver into taking you to get something to eat to save your life, Chapultepec is your Tex-Mex ace in the hole, offering the cheapest breakfast in town. You can get huevos rancheros that may be some of the best in town and a cup of coffee for under three bucks. The bean and cheese enchiladas will do you right, too. Chapultepec is the real deal. You know you're going to get authentic Tex-Mex when you walk into a place at two in the morning and Latino disco is coming out of the jukebox.

As much as Houston loves barbecue, it's hard to find a consistently great spot for it. After all, it's fairly easy to mess it up. It's gotta be moist and tender with a smoky flavor, nice smoke ring and solid fat cap. Lose any of those components, and your smoker is sunk. Fortunately, Gatlin's BBQ is off the charts in every category. Housed in a tiny converted house on 19th Street in the Heights, Gatlin's is a Houston Proud kind of place. Owner Greg Gatlin is a graduate of St. Thomas High School, and he played football at Rice University. Now he mans the pits at Gatlin's, turning out incredible barbecue with gracious flair. The smoky brisket exudes flavor, gently pulling apart with the prodding of a plastic fork. It is meaty and moist, with a gorgeous smoke ring and obvious fat cap. But the ribs...Lord, the ribs. A lightly charred outside encases a tender, meaty interior. Sausage, too, is praiseworthy. Coleslaw and beans are standard fare, but the dirty rice is outstanding. And just to reinforce that homey feeling, be sure to get a hug from Mama Gatlin after your meal on your way out the door.

The 35 years that Sam's Deli Diner has been in business have only served to make this neighborhood burger joint more authentic and more beloved as time goes by. Since moving from its old location across the Katy Freeway a few years back, Sam's has spiffed up a bit but hasn't lost that scruffy charm that has always encouraged kids in wet bathing suits to ride their bikes over during the daily noon closure at the local swimming pools to get a scoop of ice cream, construction workers to take their lunch breaks in its booths or businessmen to tuck their tie into their shirts before digging into a greasy jalapeño cheeseburger. Grab a shake made from Blue Bell ice cream and crispy onion rings or marvelously crunchy seasoned fries to go with your burger. You can count calories at some other joint.

Not only does Zabak's serve some of the best Middle Eastern in town, the little Galleria-area restaurant also has some of the best service in the entire city. Run by the Zabak family, which originally hails from Lebanon, the restaurant specializes in the kind of light, crispy, savory falafel that will turn you from a falafel neophyte into a falafel snob in about six seconds flat. Also not to be missed is the brightly flavored spinach pie, the smoky baba ghanoush and the outstanding baklava. And if you can't decide what to order, don't worry: The helpful staff at the counter are always more than happy to suggest dishes they think you'd like...and they're usually right.

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