Hubcap Grill
Tucked away in a tiny compartment in the middle of downtown, Hubcap Grill is maybe the easiest place in the world to drive by without even seeing. Yet vast and ample rewards await therein. The burgers, oh Lord, the burgers: The patties are hand-formed, never-frozen beef, and the buns are homemade artisan bread. The meat is thick and juicy, with just enough spice to enhance the flavor without masking it. Among the best is the Philly Cheese Steak Burger, which comes with both a beef patty and shredded, Philly-style beef. The Frito Pie Burger is amazing and deliciously crunchy. Hubcap's aptitude for excess — they feature both the Triple and the Quadruple Heart Clogger, the latter with chili and a grilled wiener — stops just short of becoming a total train wreck. All the ingredients mingle well, and have been assembled with more deliberation than the kind of "I dare you!" mentality that plagues some specialty burgers at inferior burgerias. They're ballsy, but they're knowledgeable too; where else could you find a Mediterranean-style Muffaletta Burger with homemade olive mix and Swiss cheese? Hubcap is a true Houston jewel.
Tacos A Go-Go
It's difficult to think of a better meal for a bleary-eyed Saturday morning than a slew of Tacos-A-Go-Go breakfast tacos. You start with egg, and then you choose two of 12 ingredients (or more for a quarter per item). Choices include black beans, bacon, potato, spinach and our favorite, Tacos-A-Go-Go's delicious chorizo. It's not that they're fancy; quite the opposite. They're just damn tasty is all, with good-quality ingredients. You'll probably order more than you can really eat just trying out all the combinations. Slather on the hot sauce and get your day started.
Heights Asian Cafe
This unassuming little restaurant in the shell of an old Long John Silver's has brought excellent pan-Asian food to a neighborhood that was sorely missing it. And the best item on its extensive menu is one of the simplest: steamed pork and vegetable dumplings, hand-filled and hand-crimped in the kitchen by a tiny old lady who seems to do nothing else. As you'd imagine, the resulting dumplings are nothing short of wonderful, easily competing with other favorites at FuFu and QQ Cafe.
Gatlin's BBQ
At Gatlin's, low and slow are the keywords in this family's burgeoning barbecue empire. There's barely any seating inside, and only a small attached patio, but that doesn't stop the lines from forming outside the front door every single day, demanding Greg Gatlin's brisket and ribs. Unusual for a barbecue joint, the sides are just as craveable as the meat: Try the dirty rice and you'll leave an avowed liver lover, and get some creamy coleslaw for a little crunch alongside your meat. And when they say, "Love is the secret ingredient" here, they mean it: You'll always get service with a smile and a gentle reminder not to leave without dessert.
Natachee's Supper 'n Punch
A great Bloody Mary is tricky to pull off. It's not enough to put it together from a mix, and even if you use all the correct ingredients, it can still get watered down by too much ice or overdone by too much hot sauce. The Bloody Mary at Natachee's is a great example of the art. Spicy but also refreshing, and boldly, intensely flavorful without overdoing it, the Natachee's Bloody Mary is perfect — perfect — for nursing a hangover. The fact that Natachee's puts it on special right when it's needed most — Sunday mornings — is a godsend. The fact that, while you're there, you can also wolf down the other World's Greatest Hangover Cure — a big, sloppy, country-fried breakfast — doesn't hurt, either.

Best Place for a Vegetarian to Take Their Meat-Loving Friends

Hoggs 'n' Chicks

Hoggs n' Chicks
For a meat-heavy restaurant that comes from a Frenchman with an extensive butchery background, Hoggs 'n' Chicks makes a mean veggie burger — possibly the best in the area. Quinoa is the base here, along with plenty of vegetables: carrots, spinach, bell peppers and more mingle in this delightful patty. Two different all-veggies salads, a veggie soup of the day and even a goat cheese-topped veggie sandwich round out a menu that's otherwise laden with porky creations like the Pig's Delight with fried pork loin, ham, bacon, Hatch chile sauce and a fried egg. Let your carnivores delight in the Delight while you enjoy your veggie burger.
Samba Grille
Now that it's removed the churrascaria portion of its menu, Samba is a more streamlined South American steakhouse, and Chef Cesar Rodriguez is really allowed to shine. From Peruvian-style steak tartare with peppadew peppers and plantain chips to an amazing dry-aged New York strip, this place knows its way around a cut of beef. A 20-ounce bone-in rib eye is its crowning glory, especially with sides of spicy Spanish potatoes or yucca frites. The adventurous will also love the anticuchos, skewered beef hearts served with a bright huacatay cream sauce.
The Original Marini's Empanada House
Tucked into a strip mall on Westheimer near the beltway, Marini's is a family-run empanada delicatessen offering sweet and savory varieties of the fried pies. The Gaucho is the standard variety, with onions, spices and olives that accentuate the finely ground beef without overpowering it. Vegetarians and omnivores alike will enjoy the Humita — traditional creamed corn and cheese. Add an apple, banana or dulce de leche dessert empanada to your plate for a "balanced" meal. Don't forget to break off a corner and vent the pies before dining to avoid cooking your tongue.
Saigon Pagolac
Vietnamese food is so much more than pho and banh mi. Located in the heart of Chinatown in the back side of Dynasty Mall, Saigon Pagolac specializes in beef cooked seven different ways. There is a beef salad, beef fondue (thin slices of beef cooked in a vinegar broth), grilled beef (thinly sliced beef marinated with lemongrass and cooked over a griddle), beef wrapped in betel leaves, skewered beef meatballs, steamed ground beef pâté with shrimp chips, and beef alphabet soup. Any of these can be wrapped in rice paper along with fresh and pickled vegetables, then dipped in a delicious fermented anchovy and pineapple sauce. (This sauce is extremely pungent, but once the taste is acquired, becomes addictive.) Get all seven beef courses, or order a single dish à la carte. Not in the mood for beef? Saigon Pagolac serves whole grilled catfish — crispy skin and all — also to be wrapped and dipped.
Nguyen Ngo French Cafe
Ask most Vietnamese in town where to go for the best banh mi, and more likely than not, they will point you to Nguyen Ngo French Cafe. It's a favorite destination for out-of-towners, who come here for sandwiches made with the famous family-recipe shredded chicken that the owners brought over from Vietnam. Sweet and slightly addictive, their shredded chicken comes by itself or in combo with French imported pâté and ham and house-made mayo. The baby-size banh mi are a great hit with kids, and for a different sandwich, substitute the banh mi bread with a croissant, and order the house specialty dac biet to taste one of the best sandwiches in Houston for less than $3.50. Cash only.

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