This is no tourist joint, so don't expect anybody to explain things in English for you. But if you're looking for exotic Vietnamese specialties, you can't beat A Dong. Muc rang muoi, hot fried cuttlefish over a cold watercress salad, is the No. 1 thing to order here. "Summer delight," a tossed salad of pork, shrimp and jellyfish over salad, is another standout. The rock and roll beef (bo luc lac) is pretty good, and so is the curried goat (ca ri de). If you go for the goat, get the one listed under house specialties: This presentation features the tasty goat curry in a small bowl, served with rice and a baguette on the side. Who knew French bread would taste so good dunked in goat curry?

Best Pre- or Post-Theater Restaurant

Artista The best complement to a fine performance is a fine meal. Lucky for theatergoers, the perfect eatery is right in the thick of downtown. At Artista, on the second floor of the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, every dish is a skilled production. From the ethereally light soft-shell crawfish taquitos to the crispy duck scallopini to the flourless chocolate cake with orange-chocolate bisque sauce, Artista's sometimes surprising taste combinations are an art form unto themselves. With an elegant atmosphere and a view overlooking Tranquility Park's trees and fountains, the stage is set for the perfect evening.

Oh, come on. You knew it was still Tony's, right? The Post Oak institution is the white-glove, cork-waving place to dine if you want to really be waited on. And it's not just about being surrounded by help -- it's the feeling that you're somebody. If Cheers is the place where everybody knows your name, then Tony's is the place where everyone is someone special. It doesn't matter if you're a bricklayer or a captain of industry -- you always get superb treatment. It's the philosophy that made Texas famous: If you can afford the prices, you deserve the service.

Come for the cheap and excellent food, but come back for the bizarre mix of Heights yuppies, ethnic groups, gay couples and long-haul trucker types that populate this second location, the first one being the much smaller version on Irvington. With the Aztec mural on the wall, the Mexican soaps on the bar TV and the piped-in music (often in competition with the jukebox), it's possible to get overstimulated while dining here. If that happens, you can just get your tacos to go. There's no better food or people-watching for the price.

According to the sign in the window of this no-frills grill on Hillcroft, Kabul serves such traditional Afghani foods as tekka kebab, shami kebab and the ever-popular qaduiy pulow. But don't worry about the weird names: Everything ends up being highly spiced ground lamb or ground beef shaped onto kebabs and grilled. The green chutney is made with jalapeños and tastes just like Tabasco's green sauce. Another relish made with tomatoes, onions and cilantro might as well be called pico de gallo. You get rice mixed with carrots and currants and a velvety eggplant stew on the side, along with hot crusty Afghani "slipper bread" -- all for incredibly low prices.

Whatever its name, The Fish (formerly known as Blowfish) is exceptionally titillating. It's identified on the outside solely by the abstract image of a spiny puffer fish. And on the inside, the color scheme is repeated in everything from the waitstaff's red ties and black shirts to the black napkins and red banquettes. And the after-hours scene here is as intriguing as the original name suggested. Blowfish, or fugu in Japanese, is the most dangerous and exciting of sushi experiences. Treated improperly, the delicacy will kill you. They may not serve any fugu here, but the food is as wild as the interior design. Try a science-fiction sushi creation like the fiery Godzilla roll or the wacky but delicious cookie-crusted shrimp. The off-the-wall menu and eye-popping decor have made this Midtown sushi salon one of the hottest hangouts in the city, the place to make a bold fashion statement and do a little late-night grazing.
The Breakfast Klub Marcus Davis, owner of The Breakfast Klub, is a God-fearing man. And his food is divine. For two years, this breakfast, lunch and social haven in Midtown has served up consistently fantastic Southern-fried catfish, wings 'n' waffles, pancakes, grits and, oh yeah, lunch items. Even on the busiest days (and with the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. hours, it's busy) the eggs are fluffy, the sausage peppy and the coffee reliable. For those who haven't experienced a Southern-fried breakfast -- like the green eggs and ham (eggs with spinach, paired with a generous ham steak), potatoes or divinely buttery grits -- the Klub is a must. The signature breakfast sandwich features ham, bacon, eggs, cheese and tomatoes on gloriously fresh, crisp sourdough bread. As the diverse mix of regulars can attest, Davis, who closes the Klub on Sundays, may keep the faith, but his breakfast is downright sinful.

Most Americans seem to think that Brazilians are all cowboys, like the gaucho waiters at Fogo de Chão. But if you want to experience the African-inspired home cooking that represents Brazil's true cuisine, you have to go a little farther down Westheimer. Emporio Brazilian Café is a homey affair. The modest, 18-table restaurant is equipped with folding chairs and a minimum of decorations. This is where Houston's Brazilian community gathers to eat comida caseira, or Brazilian home cooking. The food manages to taste homemade partly because the Emporio kitchen concentrates on just a few regional classics each day. Feijoada is served on Saturday; Friday is the day for bacalhau, a dried cod dish. And the rich shrimp stew called bobó de camarão is the Wednesday special. You can feed an entire family here for the $50 you pay per person at Fogo de Chão, and the food is much more interesting.

Best Neighborhood Spot in Midtown

Julia's Bistro At Julia's, bistro cooking has gone international. The restaurant's brand-new menu features both down-to-earth Mexican and funky Asian fusion dishes -- creations of Artista's former executive chef. Duck taquitos and lobster quesadillas fire up the appetite for some sensational entrées, like roasted rack of lamb with mango chutney or sea bass topped with a papaya-chipotle sauce that practically tingles on its way down the throat. This area of Main Street is filling up fast with hot eateries, but with delectably inventive dishes like these, Julia's will definitely keep its fans coming back.

Thelma's might best be described as a joint. It's a joint, however, that serves terrific barbecue. When brisket is cooked to perfection, the outside is black and a little charred. Underneath the char should be a thin layer of pinkish-red meat. The meat should have a deep, smoky flavor, but it should not overpower. It should be slightly moist, never dry. You should be able to pull it apart easily with a fork, and yet it should hold together when you pick up a piece and eat it with your fingers. That's how it is at Thelma's. Then there's the sauce. Every barbecue cook has his -- or in this case, her -- own special recipe. The best ones, like Thelma, never tell you exactly what's in it.

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