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.

"Under $25" is the title of a column Eric Asimov writes about inexpensive restaurants for The New York Times. They think that's cheap? At Darband Shish Kabob on Hillcroft, you can feed your whole family for $25 and have enough change left over to take them to Dairy Queen for dessert. Darband's chengeh kabob, which includes two skewers of grilled lamb chunks with onion, charbroiled tomato, fresh basil and parsley, scallions, radishes and hot-out-of-the-oven Iranian flatbread, sells for $4.95. The Darband Special, which includes one skewer of the lamb chunks and another of tender shish kebab (beef cubes), with the same vegetables, herbs and flatbread, is priced ten cents cheaper at $4.85. Cornish game hen kabob, seasoned with lemon and saffron then nicely charred and served with lime wedges, is $5.45. Yogurt and cucumber dip or hummus is 95 cents extra, and a pot of tea is $1.25. Eat your heart out, New York.
Ragin' Cajun It's only right that our best Cajun restaurant has a giant fiberglass crawdad on its roof. The Ragin' Cajun revels in its Southern shtick -- from the newspaper place mats, to the heaping buckets of spicy mudbugs, to the just-crispy hush puppies and corn bread in red plastic baskets, right down to the bibs and cafeteria-style line. And although the line is sometimes pretty darned long, there are always the sprawling walls of kitsch to keep you entertained; they're hung with snapshots of happy folks chowing down, license plates, jokey posters and old beer ads. It's comfy and a little backwoods too, with brisk zydeco in the air and a rickety bar out back. For a real Southern-style experience, chow down on some crawfish pie, barbecued crabs or stick-to-yer-bones red beans and rice, and then wash it all down with a Dixie beer.

If you're bored with the minimalistic architecture and uncluttered decor of Japanese restaurants, you'll find Sasaki refreshingly bizarre. The place goes overboard on goofy serving contraptions and Japanese tchotchkes. But Sasaki is on the opposite end of the hipness spectrum from popular sushi restaurants like Coco's and The Fish. There aren't many guys with piercings or babes in little black dresses eating here. Nor are there any Godzilla rolls, jazz rolls or crazy rolls on the menu. But if you're looking for a Japanese sushi guru, someone who takes the time to talk to you and who really cares about your individual tastes, chef Toda is your man. His sweet and salty eel and rice rolls (unagi) are best saved for dessert. They're so addictive that, otherwise, you wouldn't be able to stop eating them.

Best Place to Turn Back the Hands of Time

James Coney Island

People say we're elitist. Oh, sure, we only eat our steaks Pittsburgh-style and drink our Russian vodka chilled. But dammit, we also go to James Coney Island, just like everyone else in Houston. Why? Because it's a slice of Americana. It's a captured childhood moment. Remember those summer days of grilling hot dogs in the backyard? Remember eating Frito pies right out of the bag at Friday-night high school football games? Since 1923, James Coney Island has been serving up smilin' wienies and sides. Now that JCI has 24 locations all over town, you're only a hop, skip and a jump from feeling like a kid again. Go ahead. Get the chili dog smothered in onions (still just $1.29). Those cheese fries 'n' tater tots taste just like the ones Mom used to buy. Oh, memories…Sigh.
Felix An easel and a poster board have been set up in the lobby of Felix Mexican Restaurant at Westheimer and Montrose. Polaroids of loyal customers and their families are tacked up on the board, and each is accompanied by a caption that tells how many years they have been coming to the restaurant, which opened in 1948. Quite a few Felix regulars have been eating there for 55 years. Some are fourth-generation fans. And while the price of the Mexican Dinner has gone up a bit from the 50 cents they charged in 1948, the flavors are the same. The chile con queso still tastes fabulous -- until it cools off and clots up. The awful spaghetti with chili gravy is still on the menu. And the combination plates, the enchiladas, and the chicken taco salad are just as wonderful as ever. So is the incredible 1940s Tex-Mex ambience.

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