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Rest of the Best 2013

The top 10 late-night dining restaurants in Houston.

3. Pho Binh by Night

Three words: Bone. Marrow. Pho. Yes, there are other restaurants that rank higher than Pho Binh on this list, but that single dish makes it one of my favorites, and a favorite among many other night owls in Houston. Pho Binh by Night in Alief is open until 3 a.m. on the weekends, and it's well worth the drive out of the Loop for some of that heavenly pho. It's rich and sumptuous and not at all the austere beef broth you might get at a shop in Midtown (though that pho is good, too). This is the king of pho, brought to you by an unassuming little spot in a strip center primed and ready for some late-night eats and people-watching.

2. Mai's Restaurant

Mai's edges out Pho Binh for one reason, and one reason only: It's open later. This Vietnamese Midtown staple is open until 3 a.m. weeknights and 4 a.m. on the weekends. The pho at Mai's may not quite live up to the pho at Pho Binh, but everything else on the extensive menu is a safe bet — be you tipsy or otherwise. Mai is great for lunch, dinner or trying-to-avoid-a-hangover meals, and the bo luc lac — Mai's signature garlic beef, made with filet mignon — is a hit regardless of your blood alcohol level. On weekends, you'll find yourself dining among folks in dinner jackets, jeans and tattoos, and just about everything in between.

1. Pi Pizza Truck

Good news! You don't have to make it to your car for outstanding late-night grub; Pi Pizza Truck has got you covered. The truck, available for delivery till 3:30 a.m., is slinging some serious pies, from the wild-game-topped Outdoorsman — with venison sausage and port-wine syrup-coated cherries — to the massive bacon-mac-and-cheese-topped Who's the Mac. Of course, it's not just available for delivery. If you can make your way to the truck itself after a night out, the massive slices may aid in soaking up that booze. At least it's a start. And if you're one of the lucky few who shelled out for a Pi Pizza Truck tattoo recently, then congrats: Your slice is on the house.
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Local Spotlight

The Melting Pot's Four Course Experience
It just might bring fondue back into your life.

Minh T. Truong

I'm calling it now: Fondue, the dinner-party craze of the 1960s and 1970s, is making a comeback. When a girlfriend of mine suggested The Melting Pot for dinner and for us to catch up, I was surprised, but was game for it. It had been years since I'd been there. My most recent previous experience was back in high school, when my first boyfriend saved for months to take us out to a "grown-up" dinner. Because of that, and the fact that fondue is a food trend known mostly for its kitschy past, The Melting Pot is not a place I'd think to go. I imagined we'd dip some stuff in cheese and I'd leave hungry, then hit up a drive-through window. On the contrary: I left The Melting Pot happily full and with a newfound appreciation for fondue.

Our group of four opted for the Four-Course Experience, which included one cheese fondue choice, an individual salad, an individual entrée and one chocolate fondue choice. The various options in the entrée category make this an ideal dinner idea for large groups with varying tastes. The price of the entrée choice is the price of the Four-Course Experience and ranges from $36.95 for the vegetarian to $47.95 for the surf and turf.

We went with the Spinach Artichoke cheese fondue — Fontina and Butterkäse cheeses, spinach, artichoke hearts and garlic, a lot of garlic. The server set up the fondue starting with a bouillon base and added each component one at a time, and once the cheese had melted into a beautiful gooey mess, we dipped cubes of bread, vegetables and tortilla chips into the hot cheese. The cheese disappeared in minutes, and thankfully our salads arrived. The spinach and mushroom was simple and fresh — spinach, baby portobello, red onion, chopped bacon and tomatoes were drizzled with a shallot vinaigrette.

I chose the Land and Sea entrée option ($38.95), which included cubes of filet mignon, herb-crusted chicken and white shrimp. We stuck with the basic vegetable bouillon as a cooking style for the meat. We speared the meat with our designated colored fondue forks and dunked them into the broth, chatting as we waited for the meat to cook to our desired doneness. Mushrooms, broccoli and red potatoes accompanied the meat.

For dessert, we went the purist route: melted milk chocolate. Strawberries, bananas, marshmallows, pound cake, brownies and cheesecake bits were sacrificed to the hot melted chocolate.

Fondue isn't gourmet; it's more about the experience than it is about the meal. It's the idea of sitting around a hot pot, sharing a meal, and it's about the hands-on element. And let's face it, it's never wrong to eat cheese- or chocolate-covered anything. It may be time to take down that fondue set you long ago forgot about. 
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