Capital Grille is the perfect place for you, if: a) you are male, b) you like a clubby atmosphere, c) you like your meat well hung, and d) you're spending $100 of someone else's money. Start out with the Grille's steak tartare ($9.95), which is the best there is. Skip the soup or salad and head straight for the dry-aged, 24-ounce, bone-in porterhouse ($32.95). Dry-aged means that the steak was cut from a loin that was hung in a climate-controlled room for a minimum of 21 days -- that's what gives the meat its unmistakable taste and high price tag. The must-have sides are cottage fries and onion strings ($5.25), creamed spinach ($5.25) and roasted mushrooms ($7.95). The sides are meant to be shared, but no one will mind if they tend to gather on your side of the table. Wash it all down with any of the wines on the outstanding list, which boasts close to 400 choices. Follow this up with the Berries Capital Grille infused with a dash of your favorite liqueur ($9.95), and an espresso. A C-note is easy to drop.

Larry's Original Mexican Restaurant Larry's cheese enchiladas actually have a lot in common with their spaghetti mexicano. They're both relics. The difference is, Larry's cheese enchiladas taste as good, or better, than modern Tex-Mex cheese enchiladas. The viscous yellow cheese swirls around the dark brown chili gravy, creating an abstract masterpiece that's half melted cheese, half enchilada sauce. Even after 30 minutes of beer drinking, the cheese doesn't harden on the plate. How does this stuff stay liquid? Maybe Larry's has perfected a secret process whereby cheese is melted into permanent submission. Maybe they're importing magic cheese from Mexico. They say if you love hot dogs, you're better off not taking a tour of the wiener factory. I think it's the same with Larry's cheese enchiladas. Let's leave a little mystery in those swirls of cheese and chili gravy. And please pass the tortillas.

Recently reopened under new "old" management, Bangkok Place continues to churn out top notch Thai food. At $6.95, for both the lunch and dinner buffets, it's one of the best values in town. Starters include two different soups (tom yam or sweet-and-sour), pad kee mao or clear noodle salad, fresh and fried spring rolls and that ubiquitous Asian buffet staple, the crab puff. Snow-white jasmine rice and the absolute best fried rice is always available as a base for the main courses, which include such standbys as pad thai with shrimp, basil chicken, pork with beans, and a green curry chicken with coconut, whose smoothness is astonishing. Two other specialties also will surprise you: There's the gaeng galee, a thick omelette chock-full of vegetables and chiles, and then there's the meatballs. Both are a delight. If you're concerned about spiciness, just stay away from anything red.
Backstreet Cafe The recipe for a successful brunch should include the following: excellent food (particularly egg dishes), great drinks, great atmosphere, live jazz and stellar service. Backstreet Cafe delivers on all of these. Plus, you have a choice of where you'd like to enjoy the best meal of the week: indoors in a transitional covered patio area, or outdoors on a gorgeous patio shaded by lots of old trees. Wherever you sit, the cares and pressures of the last few days will disappear as quickly as the mimosas. Freshly baked scones and muffins arrive the minute you're seated. Specialty brunch cocktails like apple-rum tea and smooth brandy-milk punch help to set the mood for the food, which includes such spectacular dishes as lump crab cakes with eggs, brioche French toast, gingerbread waffles and red pepper polenta with andouille sausage, spinach and poached eggs. Pity Sunday comes but once a week.

François Rabelais's writings were known for combining earthy humor and sophisticated themes. And this tiny French cafe honors its namesake with delicious irony. Though located in a sophisticated urban shopping center in Rice Village, Café Rabelais features rustic peasant dishes from the French countryside. Try the astonishing mussels in cream sauce, the merguez et frites (lamb sausage and french fries) or a goat cheese and olive tart. The blackboard menu might also include steak salad, bavette frites (flank steak and french fries) or an old-fashioned vegetable potage. The mottled cream-colored walls look like old plaster, and somehow the French rural look is absolutely charming despite the parking lot outside the window. Maybe the French rustic thing works so well because the employees are actually French.
We know what you meat lovers are thinking: It's not "naturally mine" unless it's made with flesh! Well, you can dine on hormone-free cattle products here, too, but the shining stars on the menu are Naturally Yours's vegan dishes: smothered Stakelets, the juicy Garvey burger (loaded with fresh veggies, soy cheese and soy mayo) and the VLT (veggie strips, lettuce and tomato). Plus, they offer daily off-the-menu vegan soups and entrées. This homey, eight-table soul-food cafe is an outgrowth of the pharmacy next door, where you can buy all manner of supplements and other health goodies.

Grilled mustard shrimp with tomato chutney and a sensational seafood mulligatawny are just a couple of the new Bombay-on-the-Gulf of Mexico seafood dishes you'll find here. All of the food is remarkably innovative. Owner and head chef Anita Jaisinghani once worked as a pastry chef at Cafe Annie, and the sensibility shows. This isn't a typical Indian restaurant with a couple of special dishes, this is a complete departure from the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet concept of Indian cuisine. Try the crab samosas with papaya ginger chutney, and the Maple Leaf Farm duck grilled tandoori-style and served in a toasted almond curry with fluffy white basamati rice. And don't miss the exquisite nan bread and the unassuming yellow lentil dahl, which is flavored with garlic, ginger and cumin. Renowned sommelier Paul Roberts, now of the French Laundry in Napa, put together the short but intriguing wine list.
Star Pizza Star Pizza has been turning out perfect pies since 1976, and they do it every way possible: Chicago-style thick crust or New York-style thin crust; whole wheat or regular; vegetarian or meat lover's; single topping or the kitchen sink. Because they sell so much of the stuff, the ingredients never have time to sit, and the pizza always comes to the table piping-hot and fresh. Among the most famous pies are Joe's -- a mixture of sautéed spinach and enough garlic to scare off a gang of vampires -- and the rosemary-and-garlic grilled chicken pizza, slathered with a creamy white sauce made from hunks of molten Gorgonzola. Star is a Houston original with a gourmet kick.

It's such fun to take people who think of ethnic restaurants as tacky little dumps to the palatial Ba Ky and watch their eyes pop out of their heads. French colonial furniture, columns of giant bamboo stalks and tropical flowers greet you at the front door. Clay pot dishes, Vietnamese fajitas and broiled steak served over salad are all outstanding here. But the dish not to miss is ca chien nuoc cot dira, a whole catfish fried in a light tempura batter served swimming in a rich and spicy coconut red curry.
Among the smiling faces on the cover of July's Food & Wine magazine is Scott Tycer, the chef and co-owner of Aries restaurant. Tycer and nine other young chefs were chosen by the magazine as "America's Best New Chefs 2003." According to the magazine, Tycer's work at Aries fits in with a movement going strong in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere: chef-run restaurants with a dedication to fine ingredients and craftsmanship. Perhaps his awards and national reputation will help quiet local fussbudgets who fault Tycer for refusing customer requests for tomatoes out of season, sauce on the side and vegetarian remakes of existing dishes. Let the chef do what he does best.

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