Best Of :: Food & Drink
There is no better nor more consistently excellent Chinese restaurant in town right now than Mala Sichuan, thanks to the peerless stewardship of owner Cori Xiong and her team of highly trained Sichuan chefs. The flavors in Mala's water-boiled fish or mapo tofu are clean, vibrant and piercing, while less heat-heavy dishes such as the Funky Stick Chicken, Arctic surf clams or Four Joy Lion's Head show off the less spicy — but no less invigorating — side of Sichuan cuisine.
Tacos are one of those foods best enjoyed outdoors — yes, even on a sweltering day. It's the Houston way. That's why the all-outdoors Karanchos is such a destination for taco hounds. That, and the rotating pork-on-a-spit called trompo, which marinates in pineapple juice while it cooks. Like barbecue, trompo is best cooked outside. And as with good barbecue, people flock to good trompo from miles away. Get yours on fresh corn tortillas topped with cilantro, onions and some of Karanchos' screamingly hot salsa verde while you belly up to a picnic table in the shade. It's like inviting yourself to a family picnic, only better — you don't have to make small talk with your relatives, just stuff your face with tacos and Topo Chico.
Located inside the old Antone's Deli spot in Rice Village, Local Foods does its former tenant a great honor by continuing to turn out spectacular sandwiches that are wholly Houston. Made with as many local ingredients as possible, whether it be produce, meat or cheese, Local Foods' sandwiches are chock full of good stuff. Try the roast beef with kale, curried cauliflower and horseradish aioli or the truffled egg salad for something more traditional. Feeling adventurous? Check out the Korean barbecue pork sandwich with house-made kimchi or Gulf shrimp and blue crab salad with green goddess dressing on a fresh-baked ciabatta roll.
It's hard to believe that food coming off a truck can be as inventive, or can taste as good as, what you get at H-town Streats. But then again, it's not every food truck that has trained chefs working at the helm. On any given day, you'll find Jason Hill and/or Matt Opaleski manning the truck, which means that crawfish taco with Tabasco aioli is gonna taste like a lot more than the $3 you're paying to eat it. In fact, whether it's their infamous boudin balls with creole mustard, their fried avocado taco with cilantro slaw, their burger with sautéed mushrooms and cheese, or their watermelon agua fresca, pretty much everything that you try at this truly gourmet food truck is going to be a winner. The menu changes often, too, so no need to worry about eating the same old, same old. Even if you followed the truck around like a die-hard disciple, the menu is extensive enough that you'd still be able to enjoy a different meal every day. Food sells out quickly, so try to visit them at the beginning of service.
If you need proof that quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive, look no further than The Davenport martini. Non-purists will appreciate all of the well-crafted martini "varieties" (more than 30!), but the original classic (a frosty balance of gin, dry vermouth and a splash of olive juice) is truly potable art. More than one might even knock James Bond flat, but sip slowly and you'll be able to get off your bar stool without falling. Eventually.
Just as the sign-less Plonk is a secret treasure here in Garden Oaks, so does its wine list feature hidden gems from the peerless mind of owner Scott Miller. Miller, the former wine director at Pappas Steakhouse, is smart enough to know his clientele on both ends of the wine spectrum and caters to them with aplomb. This means you'll find highly accessible $6 and $8 glasses of Merlot mingling on his menu alongside glasses like a $16 Weingut Bründlmayer Riesling Kamptaler Terrassen from Austria or a $20 Grilli del Testamatta that would have wine geeks swooning in their seats.