Segal's One Stop & Oasis Grill
Big Mac? Ha, that wouldn't even begin to put a dent in our appetites. No, when we want the beef, we want the beef.

Segal's stops us in our tracks, with sandwiches that stretch even the biggest stomachs. The quarter-pound and half-pound burgers are simply warm-ups. The battle burger, a half-pound of meat topped with hot pastrami, starts the competition. But the full one-pound burger has us waving our white flag. It's all juicy, cooked to order, topped with whatever we choose and served with French fries and coleslaw.

We've found the beef, and it's at Segal's.

C-Fu Gourmet
We love meals on wheels. As long as the meals are prepared by C-Fu, and the wheels belong to the dim sum carts careening around the warehouse-size dining room seven days a week. Just sit tight and wait for a cart to bring you more than 60 choices to tempt your taste buds. Chow fun noodles, Chinese broccoli, pork siu mai and baked barbecue pork buns are must-eats. Delectable dumplings stuffed with meat or seafood, fried shrimp balls, sticky rice in lotus leaf, stuffed eggplant and turnip cakes are winners, too. Weekends are particularly delightful, offering sum-thing special with contemporary plates starring seafood.

El Conquistador
Beguiling beans. That's the only way to describe the luscious legumes at El Conquistador. It's easy to miss this place, which is hidden from the street, but to find it is to be rewarded. Here, the basic bean is elevated to a fine dish, multi-textured with the perfect balance of a creamy base and tiny bits of chunk. There's no lard in the recipe, and we don't need it, content with the most assertively beany flavor we've found in the Valley. A light gilding of Cheddar, some crispy chips and hot sauce on the side, and we're as happy as can bean.
George & Son's Asian Cuisine
Asian dining is hot these days. The cuisine is now available even at Valley eateries that feature pizza and hamburgers. So how's a China girl to get a second look anymore? George and Son's knows the answer: superior quality, and ample choice. Primarily Chinese, the menu also borrows from Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma and Singapore, and spruces things up with an ambitious wine list. Consider the Asian mussels appetizer, steamed and served open-shell in a broth braced with ginger root and lemongrass. Or George's seafood pocket, an ultra-crisp, folded-over pancake studded with scallions and stuffed with finely chopped shrimp, crab, scallops, onion and green pepper. And where else can you get Mandalay Nungyi alongside your egg roll? Udon-style noodles are tumbled with white onion curls, cilantro leaves, and shredded chicken in a mild, charmingly gritty Burmese curry seasoning zipped with lemon, a light sauce and little chunks of roasted garlic. And for value with taste, steamed salmon is voluptuous, easily two pounds of fish in a supercharged black bean sauce. For our money, George and Son's is a chop shop worth hopping to right away.

Tucked away in the back of an antique mall, Serendipity Tea Room offers the perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of the real world. The British tradition of midday tea is honored here Monday through Saturday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., with a prix fixe menu for $16.95 and more varieties of caffeinated beverages than you thought existed. Start out with a pot of your favorite loose tea (the decaffeinated currant tea is delicious with milk and sugar) and a freshly baked scone spread with sweet Devonshire cream and homemade lemon curd. Plentiful varieties of finger sandwiches can satisfy less dainty appetites, but save room for the other courses -- like cheesy quiche and one of several homemade desserts. A visit to Serendipity Tea Room is like a culinary spa treatment -- one that's become so popular, you'll have to make reservations at least a day in advance.

Joe's Real BBQ
Courtesy of Joe's Real BBQ
What's more way-out West than barbecue beans? No self-respecting cowboy, after all, could make a meal without his trusty sidekick of beans. But they've got to be real beans -- not that canned, bright-orange stuff ladled out at tourist traps. They've got to be treated with respect, as they are at Joe's. Here, the side dish salutes kidney, lima and navy beans, thickened with shards of cooked-on-site sausage, chicken and beef. Insist on sopping up every last bit with Joe's terrific caraway Cheddar bread. Forget those tired old has-beans; Joe's are must have beans.

Silver Dragon looks like a typical Chinese chop suey house from the outside, from the inside, and from a glance at its primary menu. But ask for the real thing, the menu written in Chinese with just the briefest of English descriptions, and you'll be led to a private dining room, set with family-style tables. For anyone who's ever had authentic Chinese cuisine, there's nothing more soul-satisfying, and you'll find it here. Chuck the chow mein and skip the sweet-and-sour. Go for sumptuous winter melon soup, fat with crab meat. Follow it up with Three Delight, swimming with succulent scallops, shrimp and squid anchored by crisp vegetables and fried milk puffs, or the salt and pepper shrimp, served shell-on for crunchy satisfaction. Whole duck, crispy Hong Kong chicken dipped in salt, calamari steak and any of almost a dozen hot pot dishes are fabulous, too.
Dillon's Restaurant
What's there to an onion ring? A little vegetable, a little batter, a whole lot of oil, and there you have it. Unless you're at Dillon's. Then you've got an onion ring that's outrageous, over the top, and oh-so-wonderful.

These are absolutely some of the most delightful crispy critters we've ever chewed on. It amazes us how decadent a stark pairing of vegetable and batter can be; the sweet onion rounds practically float off our polka-dot tablecloth under their joyously greaseless coating. We can dip them in the ancho chile sauce (think spicy Thousand Island dressing) that's served alongside, but these rings don't need gilding of any kind.

We simply can't get our fill of pho. This little joint may be short on ambiance, but maxing out at just $4.50 for an enormous bowl of the savory broth, it's a place where we can afford to eat every meal. Our favorite pho is the tai gau, swimming with brisket, rare eye of round (the meat cooks in its steaming, highly herbed broth) and skinny noodles. When other dishes seduce, bun cha gio thit nuong often wins, tumbling rice vermicelli over greens and cucumber, topped with crisp sliced spring rolls and seasoned grilled pork. Canh chua ca is tempting, too, with lots of moist catfish, pineapple and vegetables in a spicy lemon broth.

With 80 appetizers and entrees to select from, we'll never get bored. Which is good, because suddenly, we have an irresistible urge to visit Pho Bang again.

"Home of the Windy City Slider," the Chicago Hamburger Company's sign reads, and yes, the shop makes a mighty good burger. But it's worth a trip all the way to Chi-town just for this company's French fries. If you think fries are all the same, you've been sleepwalking through fast-food joints. Wake up and sample these spuds. Magnificent models of potato, these are piping hot, skinless, generously salted and crisp-edged. Like any proud potato, though, they've got to be eaten fresh from the kitchen -- to transport the delicate sticks too far would be tater torture. A generous sackful sets you back a mere $1.29, and for just 50 cents more, you can gild the fries with cheese or chili. Save your two bits, though. Fries this good don't even need ketchup.

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