Taqueria De Jalisco

Nestled in the Spring Branch area of Houston lies gleaming-clean Taqueria Jalisco. Pick your meat and how you want it — in a torta, taco, etc. — from the posted menu on the side and wait to be wowed. The cooks do not skimp on your servings, and each plate comes with thin-sliced radishes to help kill the heat and clear your palate in between bites. Sip on a jumbo horchata or apple soda to put out the fire of the salsa, which sits in a bowl on the countertop. The waitress described it as "very pico." She wasn't kidding.

Auntie Chang's Dumpling House
Photo by Joanna O'Leary

Sometimes a night in is better than a night out. When reheating frozen foods just isn't cutting it, call on Auntie Chang's Dumpling House to kick those hunger pangs. The place will deliver its awesome steamed dumplings, lo mein, veggie and other classics straight to your door. Don't have a menu and can't remember what you want? The wait staff will patiently help you pick out a dish to your liking. Even if you're out on the town, Auntie Chang's will cart your order over to your favorite bar without a hassle (it's listed on cards for delivery options in some bars). Lo mein plus beer? Yes, please.

Sonoma Retail Wine Bar & Restaurant

Sonoma could beat out its competition in selection size alone, but it doesn't stop there. For the traditionalist, there are elegant cheese and Italian meat platters with fruit and nuts. For the more adventurous, there's lobster risotto with asparagus or the chicken satay skewers. The Sonoma Pizza is another great option, with its thin, crispy crust topped with toasted gruyère, artichoke hearts, roma tomatoes, smoked bresaola and roasted garlic pesto. Select a few small plates, crack open a bottle of wine and prepare yourself for a deliciously relaxing meal.

Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse

With a space that epitomizes Texas-size luxury and a Sinatra soundtrack to boot, Vic & Anthony's would be easy to write off as nothing more than a downtown power lunch/expense account destination. But here's the thing: The steaks are really, really good. Like the 22-ounce bone-in rib eye, which you can get with a side of bone marrow bordelaise. Or the obscenely tender filet, in a nine- or 12-ounce portion, charred perfectly and sitting atop some very fine mashed potatoes. Toss in the city's best crab cake, knowledgeable wait staff and a dizzyingly long wine list and you've got yourself a dinner that's well worth the splurge.

New York Bagel & Coffee Shop

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).

Alexander the Great
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.

Manena's Pastry Shop and Deli

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.

Godo's Bakery & Restaurant

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

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 Coronado Club

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.

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