The Russian Bear is actually two dining establishments in one. The front room is a charming little cafe with excellent Russian food -- a wonderful place to take the kids. But on the other side of the room divider, there's an exotic-looking nightclub with red velvet curtains, huge mirrors and crystal chandeliers that serves up dinner and Russian entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. If you're a collector of bizarre dining experiences, don't miss the Russian Bear nightclub dinner. Make a reservation, gather six or eight of your strangest friends, and come prepared to party. When the folk dancers, the belly dancer and the singers are finished, the crowd takes over the dance floor for some swinging Slavic disco.

With close to 200 items on the menu, if you can't find something to eat here, there's something seriously wrong with you. It's the largest menu in town. Fortunately, they've organized the menu into logical sections; nevertheless, it will probably take you longer to decide what to eat than to eat it. There is so much to choose from that picking just a few items to highlight is almost a futile task. Favorite appetizers include the avocado egg rolls, Thai lettuce wraps and California guacamole and Brie melt. There are 11 different pizzas and 13 different pastas, the standouts being barbecue chicken pizza and Louisiana chicken pasta. The house specialities include a grilled tuna burger, orange chicken and chicken marsala, and the entrées range from seafood to steak to pork, in varieties too numerous to mention. With 34 different cheesecakes, it might take some parties a long time just to do dessert. The portions are big as well.
La Griglia No longer a Vallone enterprise (it's now part of Fertitta Land), La Griglia is still the extended-power-luncheon hot spot. Its funky decor never distracts from the patrons -- this is, after all, Houston's prime see-and-be-seen locale -- but the food ain't half bad, either. The bread basket, with those yummy pizza slices, and a glass of Merlot alone will see you into the first hour of your long lunch. The restaurant has excellent pasta dishes, margarita pizza and veal chops. But a long lunch doesn't have to be a heavy one: La Griglia does a great cobb salad, and the tomato tower, with wedges of fresh, luscious tomatoes layered with cheese and crab, is perfect for that expense-account lunch. On a chilly day, the shrimp bisque with a bit of sherry poured in will keep you from going back to the office at all.

Jim Goode is a fisherman. If you don't believe it, check out the photos on the wall. Goode is the intense-looking character in the flowing ZZ Top beard and the chef's pants decorated with skulls. And he seems to have been photographed holding up a string of nearly every variety of fish that swims in the Gulf of Mexico. Goode Co.'s cooking is pure Texas. There's catfish, redfish, Gulf red snapper, flounder and shrimp, all of it simply fried or grilled over mesquite and served with a minimum of accompaniments. For appetizers there's boiled shrimp, crabs, raw oysters or ceviche campechana. The Mexican seafood cocktail comes with lots of shrimp, crab and big chunks of avocado in a spicy salsa with tortilla chips. The daily fishing report for Galveston Bay is blown up and posted on an easel in the dining room, just in case you want to take the rest of the day off.

Best Diner with Waitresses to Give You Wholesome Dreams

59 Diner

People put a lot of faith in the cooks, servers and busboys who work at their favorite diner. Patrons want to know that when they place their order and get their meal, they're in good hands. They wanna look in that waitress's eyes and know they have nothing to worry about -- not just with their dining experience, but with everything in general: the state of the world, the weather, their financial woes…And the decent, all-American waitresses at the 59 Diner are in your corner. They make you feel like life is worth living, dammit! "Everything's gonna be all right, honey," they seem to be saying through each smile and Coke refill. These are the gals who men were fighting for back in WWII ("Johnny, please come home safely!"). These are the gals your mother constantly pressures you to hook up with so she can have the grandkids she needs. These are the gals who can complete you. To paraphrase Prince, "complete me, baby, 'cause I just can't take no more!"
Brenner's was well loved by several generations of Houstonians, and there were a lot of moans and groans when it closed its doors last year. But the place has reopened after a complete renovation by its new owner. Landry's Restaurants Inc. CEO Tilman Fertitta had fond memories of eating here when he was growing up, and he gave the place a sentimental restoration. Sitting in the newly redone main dining room, you feel like you're visiting an antique inn out in the country. The impressive gardens and waterfalls have been further expanded. The steaks are wet-aged, USDA Prime, and they're served on an oval plate in a puddle of au jus. It's a smart idea. The meat juice soaks in as you cut each bite, so there's never a chance for the meat to get dry. The Gulf red snapper with crabmeat is also outstanding.
Bombay Sweets & Pure Vegetarian Restaurant The $4.50 all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet here also includes crispy papadum and bubbly hot nan bread. You can use the straight-out-of-the-oven nan to shovel the luxuriously buttery saag paneer straight into your mouth. The lentil stews called dahls on the buffet line are extraordinary; there's one made with green lentils and tomatoes and another with yellow lentils and lots of spices. Try them both over the Punjabi rice, which is spiked with herbs, spices and green peas. And don't miss the velvety miniature stuffed eggplant fried in chick-pea batter and served in a spicy tomato-ginger sauce. Kadhi pakora, crusty graham flour dumplings that look like chunks of meat floating in a yogurt-based yellow curry, is another standout. And the black-eyed pea masala is incredibly spicy. In truth, you can hardly go wrong with any of the featured dishes. Sure, it's a vegetarian restaurant, but the food is so good, you won't even notice there isn't any meat.

Best Diner with Waitresses to Give You Perverted Dreams

House of Pies

This may sound like we're bad-mouthing the fine, upstanding ladies who work their butts off at the House of Pies, but trust us, we're just giving 'em their props. Because, fellas, the 59 Diner may have waitresses you could take home to your parents, but the gals over at the House of Pies are the bad girls your parents told you to steer away from. But you can't, can you? You're drawn to their enigmatic bad-assedness. The tattoos. The dyed hair. The occasional sneer that makes you wonder if they've ever done time. They are your biker-mama Hustler-honey wet dream. These are the kind of girls you can easily picture riding into town on a Hog covered in leather; the kind who whisks you away from your jail cell of an office cubicle and pays some sweaty, fat dude to give you a fresh tattoo while she gets a new piercing somewhere, um, unmentionable; the kind who wahoos an economy-sized bottle of vodka from a liquor store and takes you to a motel room in the middle of nowhere; the kind who turns your ass out and makes you say thank you. Oh, take us away from this bland hell, House of Pies waitresses. Please take us away! Oh, yeah, could we have another slice of strawberry-rhubarb?
Denis' Seafood House There are lots of seafood restaurants in Houston, but most are part of some chain or another. Hence we are served the same salmon, mahimahi and tilapia here on the Gulf Coast that they get in Sheboygan. But Denis' Seafood House is different. Like some of our better fine-dining restaurants, this big New Orleans-style seafood joint gets seasonal varieties of Gulf fish such as ling, amberjack, tilefish and yellowfin tuna. But only Denis' Seafood House serves these fish at very reasonable prices. They also turn out awesome shrimp poor boys, steamed oysters with garlic butter, deep, dark crawfish gumbo and excellent fried platters. And their meaty stuffed crabs are among the best we've ever tasted. Founder Denis Wilson was part of the original Landry's group and is related by marriage to the owners of the Babin's chain of restaurants. But somehow he's managed to stay independent.

An intense-looking man with very short dark hair and a Bela Lugosi accent, Charivari chef and co-owner John Schuster grew up in the Transylvanian region of Romania. He worked as a chef in Vienna and Budapest before opening his first restaurant in the Black Forest of Germany. So as you might expect, Schuster's shredded veal "Zurich-style," as well as all the rest of the Austrian, Russian and German cooking at Charivari, is stunning. Particularly spectacular is the Alsatian seafood choucroute, a platter of sauerkraut in Riesling wine sauce topped with lobster and fish. And don't miss Schuster's white asparagus festival every spring, when he cooks four or five white asparagus dishes each night.

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