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Tex-mex food
updated 7/3/2006 1:30:49 PM ET 2006-07-03T17:30:49

The Houston restaurant scene, like the city itself, is cosmopolitan. The primary influences come from Louisiana, Mexico, and Southeast Asia, but you can find restaurants serving just about any cuisine you can think of. What constitutes Houston's native cooking would be steaks, chili, barbecue, soul food, and Tex-Mex. For locals the proper accompaniment for any of these would be beer or iced tea. The extra-large glass of iced tea is a cultural fixture in this town, as it is in the rest of the state. It is the perfect palate cleanser after a bite of something dense and spicy like enchiladas in chili gravy.

FAST FOOD A LA HOUSTON

When you need to find a meal that can be had quickly and cheaply, you don't have to suffer at the hands of the national fast food chains, where the fare tastes the same whether you're in Houston or Honolulu. A number of local chains do a good job of cooking up fast food with character. Here are four worth considering:

James Coney Island Hot Dogs started up in Houston in the 1930s. It's famous for its Texas-style chili dogs. (Most Houstonians consider hot dogs without chili as either unfulfilled potential or foreign novelty.) You can also order the chili with or without beans or as a chili pie. For hot dogs I recommend the original Coney or the Texas chili dog without cheese. There are 23 locations around Houston, including downtown (815 Dallas St.), in the Kirby District (3607 Shepherd at the corner of Richmond), in the Galleria area (1600 S. Post Oak), and out along the Gulf Freeway (6955 Gulf Fwy. and 10600 Gulf Fwy.).

In 1962 the Antone family, originally from Lebanon, opened an exotic import grocery store on Taft Street near Allen Parkway called Antone's. There they introduced Houston to their now famous po' boy (sub) sandwiches, which caught on in a big way. For lunch, you can't go wrong with one of these, which come already prepared. Get the original green label or the super red label, both of which are a combination of ham, salami, cheese, pickles, and special chow-chow on fresh baked bread. Antone's locations include 807 Taft (close to downtown), 2424 Dunstan (in the Village), 8110 Kirby (near Reliant Stadium), 1440 S. Voss (at San Felipe, about a mile from the Galleria), and 3823 Bellaire (at Stella Link, just west of the Medical Center).

Beck's Prime is a local chain of upscale burger joints that are known for big juicy burgers and great shakes. Locations include 2902 Kirby Dr. (at Westheimer), inside the Galleria, and at 910 Travis (in the downtown tunnel system below Bank One Center).

Café Express operates under the guiding principle that fast food can be nutritious, fresh, and cooked with at least some artistry. The owner of the chain is the chef at Cafe Annie's. Specialties at Café Express include a variety of salads, lively pasta dishes, juicy roast chicken, and various sandwiches. There are several items for children, including small burgers, which are sure to please. One location is in the basement of the Fine Arts Museum (the new building); other locations include 3200 Kirby Dr. (near the Village), 1422 W. Gray (in the River Oaks Shopping Center), and 1101 Uptown Park (just off Post Oak in the Galleria area).

FAMILY-FRIENDLY RESTAURANTS

James Coney Island Hot Dogs - What hot dog place isn't popular with kids? But most of these restaurants are decorated in bright colors that make them especially attractive to the young, and they offer kid specials.

Lupe Tortilla - This is a great place to go when the kids don't feel like sitting still, and the parents want something more in the way of real food than what kiddy places can offer. The fajitas are excellent. When the weather is cooperating, the patio is perfect for a relaxing meal.

Pig Stand #7 - Children enjoy all the various and sundry representations of pigs here, as well as the menu of burgers and shakes. The jukebox, with its repertoire of country-and-western classics, also grabs their attention.

For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed restaurants, visit our Houston dining index.

Frommer’s is America’s bestselling travel guide series. Visit Frommers.com to find great deals, get information on over 3,500 destinations, and book your trip. © 2006 Wiley Publishing, Inc. Republication or redistribution of Frommer's content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Wiley.

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