The folks at CharBar take martini-making seriously, precisely measuring their cocktails as if they were fitting a new suit. And that makes sense, since this bar shares space and ownership with the Duke of Hollywood tailor shop. In fact, about the only thing missing from the fabulous chocolate Tuxedo Martini is owner Mike Shapiro's favorite prop, the tape measure. The greatest thing about drinking at CharBar is that you can get outfitted with stylish duds -- and even get your shoes polished -- while the bartender whips up another cocktail. It's the ultimate demonstration of living large.
We're willing to bet that Oysters Gilhooley are the best barbecued oysters on the entire Gulf Coast. The fresh-shucked oysters are topped with cheese and sauce and then smoked over a pecan-and-oak fire. The shells get partially blackened and the oysters pick up a strong smoky flavor while remaining juicy. And the wonderful flavor is only accentuated by Gilhooley's charming atmosphere. The outdoor seating area, with its ramshackle patio furniture, is overgrown with vegetation. The interior is all worn woodwork and old furniture. The rafters seem to be held together by the license plates that cover them. Children are forbidden here, no doubt in part because of all the show-us-your-tits photos. Gilhooley's Raw Bar may also be the last place in the United States where you can get a dozen raw oysters and a rare hamburger for lunch.
Hurricanes come and hurricanes go, but the question is which one did the most damage? Floyd's takes no prisoners with its off-the-cuff version, and it pleases us to no end that the drinks are not served in regulation Pat O'Brien hurricane glasses. Grab yourself a seat at the bar, order up a couple dozen oysters and some spicy Cajun fare, and wash it all down the right way. When the Tabasco has the smoke coming out of your ears, there's simply no better feeling than to bury that straw in your drink and suck down three to four ounces of spiked fruit juice. Floyd's also has a sense of tradition, and when Mardi Gras rolls around, no place does it better than this bayou boozery.
And on the eighth day, God created Istanbul Grill's stuffed mushrooms. Yes, they really are that good. The popular Turkish restaurant in the Rice Village is known for a lot of great dishes, but it's the stuffed mushroom appetizer that is an absolute must-have. The dish comes with four medium-sized mushrooms filled with mozzarella cheese, parsley and black pepper. The shrooms are then topped off with a special sauce made from fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, oregano and, according to a restaurant employee, "some special Turkish herbs."
The menu at Marine's lists 46 different empanadas. The rest of the menu items play second fiddle to these little pockets, filled with delicious delicacies. On the savory side of the menu, the Chuck Wagon ($2) is the way to go. It consists of chopped sirloin steak with mushrooms in a red wine sauce, all neatly packed in a pastry pocket. The best example, however, is on the sweet side of the menu. The banana with dulce de leche empanada ($2.25) is an incredibly rich concoction combining tiny pieces of banana with a hot, thick caramel sauce. One bite and you'd swear you were eating a liquid version of a caramel banana split.

With an outdoor walk-up bar, you don't even have to go inside to quench your thirst at our new favorite pub in the Village. You can sit on a stool outside and have a pint and watch passersby. Even inside, the place has an outdoor feel -- the place doesn't really have a front wall. You can sit on the leather couches indoors (if you can find an open spot) and feel like your mom opened the living room's sliding glass doors. Bottoms up.
"Tierno! Jugoso! Crujiente!" reads the slogan on the outside of the chicken box. And "Tender! Juicy! Crunchy!" is a pretty fair description of the chicken at Pollo Campero, the fast food fried chicken chain that recently invaded Houston from Guatemala. The crust, formed by a simple flour dip, is very crisp. And the meat is marinated before it's cooked, so it stays extremely moist. But the most astonishing thing about Pollo Campero's fried chicken is how little grease clings to it. The fried chicken here is served with tortillas and salsas. The day that this location opened, television news teams were on hand to report that Guatemalans, Salvadorans and other Latin Americans were standing in line for up to five hours to get some Pollo Campero.
The eggplant is a fine-looking fruit (yes, technically it's a fruit). It's big and round and dressed up in royal purple. But let's admit it, most of us are at a loss as to what to do with it in the kitchen. So why not leave that task up to the cooks at Brasil? They've certainly proved themselves worthy enough with their delicious baked eggplant sandwich. Big yummy hunks of the nutritious food (low in calories, but high in fiber) are nestled between fresh spinach, tomatoes, feta and a delicious black-olive tapenade -- pure delight with every bite. The sandwich is served on warm French or focaccia bread with a side of bagel chips. While we're busy honoring the lovely eggplant, here's another fun fact: Although technically a fruit, the eggplant is botanically categorized as a berry. But who cares when it tastes this good?
With 57 draft beers and 52 in bottles, The Ginger Man has something to please even the most discerning drinker. It also has the best selection of ciders in Houston. Draft selections include our locally brewed cask-conditioned St. Arnold's Amber, as well as a wonderfully refreshing Paulaner Hefeweizen (Germany) wheat beer. Then there's the highly complex Young's Double Chocolate (Great Britain) and the Lindemans Framboise (Belgium), with more than a hint of raspberries. Bottled beers include an organic brew called Wolaver's Brown Ale (United States) and the wonderfully named Delirium Tremens (Belgium), which is what you may end up with if you attempt to try all the brews available here.

Drinking bourbon at the Twelve Spot is a celebration of both the new and the old. The bar is one of Houston's newest hip spots, but its sexy decor is made up of wood as old as the casks that distill this sweetest of whiskeys. The Bourbon Challenger is a fancy name for Wild Turkey with a splash of orange juice and Rose's Lime. According to the bartender, the original drink was made with three different shots of bourbon, but that hiked up the price so high they quit making them. Mind you, the kinder, gentler version can still be something of a challenge to activities like walking, talking and taking down phone numbers. So go easy if you're interested in socializing with the Twelve Spot's exotic crowd.

Best Of Houston®