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Houston's 10 Best Vegan-Friendly Restaurants

These spots keep "faceless food" interesting.

As I stared at the menu, looking for another drink to try, my eyes fell on the chai tea latte, and thank goodness they did. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this was the best chai latte I have ever had. Normally, I stick to cappuccinos and Americanos for my morning caffeine, but now I'm a chai tea latte convert. I was unsure if I should add sugar to the drink until I took off the lid; I breathed in the sweet smells of cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, sugar and possibly nutmeg and was convinced that it was perfectly fine as it was. It smelled and tasted like Christmas.

Go ahead and purchase a cinnamon roll to go with your coffee, be it a cappuccino, chai tea latte or any other drink. The sweet pastry isn't obnoxiously large and each one is covered with enough icing to coat the top and slide down the sides. Choose the one you want from the case — get there early to have a nice selection — then heat it up in the microwave for a comforting and scrumptious breakfast.

There's no doubt in my mind I will return to Paper Co. Coffee, even if the only thing I order is the chai tea latte.
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Who knew vegan food could taste so good? Check this dish out at our No. 2 pick!
Courtesy Radical Eats
Who knew vegan food could taste so good? Check this dish out at our No. 2 pick!
Cinnamon rolls and cappuccinos are like two peas in a pod.
Molly Dunn
Cinnamon rolls and cappuccinos are like two peas in a pod.

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Local Spotlight

Exploring Hillcroft
The five best hidden restaurant gems.

Kaitlin Steinberg

Recently, I highlighted some of my favorite relatively unknown restaurants in Chinatown for your eating pleasure. There are so many spots there, it was hard to narrow it down to just five, but before I revisit even more delicious and authentic hole-in-the-wall eateries on Bellaire Boulevard, I thought I'd detour and scope out some hidden favorites in theHillcroft neighborhood, sometimes referred to asSharpstown.

I've also heard the area referred to as the Mahatma Gandhi District or Little India due to the large Indian population there. As such, the neighborhood — whatever you want to call it — abounds in Indian and Pakistani restaurants.

When I approached local ethnic food guru Chris Frankel, formerly the beverage director of RDG + Bar Annie but currently eating his way across the United States, about checking out some lesser-known spots around Hillcroft, he presented me with a single criterion: They can't all be Indian places. In spite of its reputation as an Indian neighborhood, the strip centers up and down Hillcroft are full of other ethnic cuisines that don't get enough media attention for being cheap, unique and, most important, totally tasty.

Here are some of the best.

5. Darband ShishKabob

Open since 1986, Darband claims to be the oldest Persian restaurant in Houston. Regardless of whether it's actually the oldest, it is one of the best. For just $6.95, you can get a hearty plate of ground beef kebabs with bread, grilled tomatoes and herbs. From what I've heard, the prices have hardly changed since the place first opened, and the food has continually gotten better and better. Even more impressive than the kebabs is the lamb shank, marinated in turmeric and garlic, and so tender it falls off the bone with little prodding. Oh, and the whole lamb shank is only $8.95. Try finding that value inside the Loop.

4. Bijan Persian Grill

Like Darband, Bijan serves Iranian food — mostly kebabs — but the dishes here are a little more upscale and the menu a little more extensive. You'll find a number of yuppie-looking Inner Loopers dining at Bijan (yours truly included) in addition to customers who appear to be regulars, back for the "Bijan Special" for the umpteenth time. The Bijan Special is a combination of grilled beef and chicken kebab meat served with cranberry and almond rice, some grilled veggies and herbs. All meals at Bijan come with house-made flatbread that tastes like the best, doughiest pizza crust you've ever encountered. That comes out before the meal, though, so be careful not to fill up on it. It's addictive.

3. Guatemala Restaurant

Tucked into a small strip center (but isn't everything on Hillcroft?) next to another awesome food destination, Jerusalem Halal Meats, Guatemala Restaurant is a treat for people who want food from south of the border but are interested in trying something other than Tex-Mex. You might be surprised to find that Guatemalan food isn't inherently spicy like much Tex-Mex, but it is bursting with flavor. I can't personally speak to the authenticity of the Guatemalan food, but all you need do is ask someone at a table near you. The other people in the restaurant are almost all regulars who stop by for a taste of home. Try the chicken pepian, a traditional chicken dish in a mole-like gravy served with buttery rice and stewed vegetables.

2. Bismillah Restaurant

More people know about (and patronize) Bismillah Cafe than Bismillah Restaurant, and that's probably because the cafe menu includes a number of Pakistani-American fusion dishes like wings and pizza. The restaurant is all about tradition, though, and one of the best dishes is the Beef Nihari, a slow-cooked stew of tender beef in a sauce of spicy brown curry thickened with bone marrow. It's super-rich, and you'll want to order extra paratha bread on the side to cut the heat a little. Tawa qeema — ground beef with onions, tomatoes and spices formed into a sort of cake — is another dish that really packs the heat, but if you're less inclined to crave the spicy stuff, stick to the kebabs or the Americanized items at Bismillah Cafe, a few doors down.

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