As Texan as The Alamo or Friday night football, finding and devouring a great chicken-fried steak is a tradition. A big, fat, artery-clogging tradition. And once you find your favorite, forget about ordering it anyplace else. Such is the case with the chicken-fried steak at Hickory Hollow. This hand-battered monstrosity of a steak is so perfectly seasoned and cooked, there should be a holiday to celebrate its amazingness. Smothered in the appropriately named Texas River-bottom gravy, the steaks are served in a variety of sizes, from the six-ounce "small cowgirl" sandwich portion to the gargantuan "large rancher," which is, fittingly, served on a pizza pan.

MKT Bar may be a wormhole into an alternate reality — a reality where downtown Houston actually achieved and maintained its full potential as an entertainment and shopping district. A long marble bar fronts an Italian espresso machine, well-stocked wine refrigerators and a long bank of draft beer taps that range from local craft brews to unusual imports. The hard-surfaced interior of concrete and subway tiles holds unexpected warmth thanks to inviting lighting, exposed brick walls and a large bank of windows overlooking Austin Street. The red-curtained stage has played host to popular local acts like The Tontons and Deep Cuts as well as national stars like Passion Pit. The space is both urban and bohemian, and thanks to its location adjoining Phoenicia — its big-sister grocery store, which also provides the bar food — it's a commonsense marriage of grocery store, bar and neighborhood cafe that has been present in so many other major metro areas but not Houston. Not until MKT Bar.

Nachos can be so complicated these days. By the time the toppings are piled onto the tortilla chips, they look less like nachos and more like a crazy salad with an explosion of Tex-Mex on top. Take a trip down memory lane with the simple yet delicious nachos at Tampico in the East End. This snack shop across the street from Eastwood Park offers the best in the city, with a generous offering of melted nacho cheese and a smattering of jalapeños that will make your mouth water (and your eyes tear up). Wash them down with a cool raspa, or order a cup of steamy elote to complete the refresquería trifecta. Oh, and that one last soggy tortilla chip at the bottom of the plastic tray: outstanding!

Radical Eats is not your typical Mexican restaurant. In fact, up until this year, the restaurant, complete with a backyard garden and a killer Sunday brunch, served only vegan and vegetarian food. But with a move to Montrose and a bigger kitchen, Radical Eats did something, well, radical, and decided to increase its menu to include free-range and locally raised meat. No worries, though. True to its vegan spirit, this taqueria still focuses heavily on vegan and vegetarian-friendly fare. Come savor a crunchy fried-avocado taco topped with a red cabbage slaw and creamy, spicy rooster sauce or the drool-worthy, mole-smothered local squash ­enchiladas. It's vegetarian done right. Radical ­indeed.

Chinatown is awash in restaurants, but there are those you go to sometimes and those you can go to just about anytime, any day. House of Bowls fits into the second category. The unassuming restaurant, located in a strip mall off the main Bellaire drag in Chinatown, serves delicious, no-nonsense Hong Kong-style food that's great for takeout, dine-in, a quick stop, a family outing and everything in between. The menu is simple and clear-cut, composed primarily of rice plates or noodle dishes in the sub-$10 range. Their dry-style beef chow fun, with its smoky wok flavor and fresh, flat noodles, is a must-order every time. Simple rice plates, topped with everything from spicy mapo tofu to beef with broccoli or salted spicy pork chops, come steaming hot right off the wok and to your table. Soup bowls filled with noodles are also excellent, and the peanut butter-stuffed Hong Kong French toast is a dessert that adults and kids will fight over.

A little bit of Mexico and a lotta bit of Texas, the national food of the state is represented at its best inside the restored Tower Theater in the heart of Houston's Montrose neighborhood. El Real offers all the hits: cheesy enchiladas, fat puffy tacos, sizzling fajitas and thirst-quenching margaritas, all of which rival the best offered by any restaurant this side of the Rio Grande. The beans are made with real manteca, or lard, which gives them a distinct taste that when combined with the freshly made tortillas makes for an exquisite complement to any meal. Try the delicious bacon enchiladas for brunch, and if you like them, then you better put an egg on them!

Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Bartender Sherrel Lemon-Williams

Here's the thing about expense accounts: They are meant to allow you to entertain, and at Eddie V's in West Ave, from the moment you step in the doors, it's like entering a world where money is no object, where the whole point of being there is to wine and dine. Guests and colleagues will want to start their indulgences at the lively bar area before proceeding to the warm and understated, elegant dining room. Once you're seated and a bottle of wine has been ordered, begin with a slew of appetizers: a decadent shellfish tower of Maine lobster, shrimp, oysters and lump crab; the Maine lobster tacos; the truffled steak tartare; and the hand-formed, panko-crusted jumbo lump crab cake. For the entrée, the seafood is just as enticing as the steak, with dishes like the Hong Kong-style steamed Chilean sea bass in light soy broth or an off-menu premium Black Angus tomahawk bone-in rib eye. Accompaniments like the truffled mac and cheese or the lobster fried rice are also a must before the meal winds down with dessert or a glass of port. Any experience at Eddie V's is worth it, but when it's on your expense account, the enjoyment of it is all that much sweeter.

The bread service at Provisions is must-try, each freshly baked loaf mindfully paired with a mouthwatering spread and fine-quality cheese. Our suggestion? Dine with friends so you can try each and every one. After all, you wouldn't want to miss the pretzel bread with black garlic mostarda and nutty cow's-milk Gruyère, or the bone-marrow brioche alongside tomato jam and goat's-milk Gouda, would you? Even the crusty, warm baguette with simple salted butter is a little piece of heaven.

While CorkScrew BBQ has been making waves with locals up north and among barbecue enthusiasts for some time now, we like to consider this year's inaugural Houston BBQ Fest to be CorkScrew's coming-out party. The relatively new outfit from husband-and-wife team Will and Nichole Buckman is in the process of making the move to a permanent brick-and-mortar setup. In the meantime, the Buckmans are churning out award-winning barbecue from a bright pink trailer with a small, picnic-style seating area. If you want this brisket, plan your day around it; CorkScrew sells out each and every day.

Photo by Houston Press Staff

The margarita seems like such a simple drink, it's a wonder so many places get it wrong. Whether it's too sweet or too sour or too light on the tequila, we have all experienced a margarita gone south. But at Bodegas, you'll find an almost perfect concoction of the Tex-Mex favorite, whether frozen or on the rocks. The taste, temperature and tequila levels of the margaritas found at this Museum District gem will have you ordering a round or two as an escape from the Houston heat. Plus they're only $3 on Sunday Funday. Enjoy the wonderful tacos, wings and pizza while you're there for the full experience of Bodegas.

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