Photo by Troy Fields

When Cureight by Hubbell & Hudson opened last summer in The Woodlands, many questioned whether there would be enough demand to fill its 25 seats. One year later, the restaurant is sold out on most nights, and requires a minimum of a week's advance booking for patrons to secure a spot at what has become one of the most coveted tables in the greater Houston area. A restaurant within a restaurant, Cureight is tucked away inside the larger Hubbell & Hudson Bistro. To get there, you are led by a hostess down a hallway to a small, intimate dining room where the backdrop is executive chef Austin Simmons's kitchen, located just feet away and clearly visible through a glass partition. When you dine there, it's as if you're a personal guest of the chef. An amuse-bouche of Hokkaido scallop and torched uni (sea urchin) is sublime. A milky soup course of geoduck is spectacularly presented. A meat course of A5 Wagyu from Japan is taken to another level with the addition of dumplings stuffed with kimchi. On paper, you are supposed to get eight courses, but the reality — when you factor in the amuse bouche, the mignardise and the take-home gift from the pastry chef — is so much more.

Photo by Troy Fields

An institution in the East Downtown area since its days in the '80s as just a banh mi shop, Cafe TH, now owned by the friendly and outgoing Minh Nguyen, is like Eado's version of Cheers reincarnated as a restaurant. Regulars come here for a fix of everything from Nguyen's Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches to his vegan curry and his pho. There are also killer egg rolls and one of the best versions of grilled pork and rice vermicelli you will find anywhere in the city. What's more, several combos — Abby's Uncommon Combo, Trifecta Sanjay and Ironman Jay — are named after patrons who visited so often that they were inducted into Cafe TH's family.

If you're going to spend someone else's money, you may as well do so with beef. At Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, you'll be treating yourself to what is easily one of the best steaks in the city. The barely year-old location in the heart of downtown is impeccably classy, with an open dining room showcasing handsome wood paneling and a gorgeous marbled-topped bar with seating facing an open kitchen. The steakhouse continues to wow with beautiful cuts of prime beef (many of which are dry-aged onsite), luxurious seafood towers, and incredibly satisfying sides and desserts, like the über-sweet gooey pecan pie, which you most definitely want to tack onto the tab. Order some bottles — you're not paying, after all — from the standout collection of 2,000 wines overseen by advanced sommelier Bill Elsey, or have an incredible cocktail from Matt Tanner, formerly of Anvil Bar & Refuge. (Don't miss a selection from his cherry-picked whiskey cart.)

READERS' CHOICE: Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

Jeff Balke

We've crowed over chef-owner Kaiser Lashkari's chicken curry. We've praised his dense, sweet take on flan. His housemade pastrami, in both fried and cold-sliced form, was one of our favorite dishes of 2015. This year, however, he blew everyone away with his Pakistani take on fried chicken, which includes brining the chicken ahead of time with ginger and garam masala. It's Lashkari's continual culinary exploration that keeps Himalaya on top — not just as a Pakistani restaurant but as one of Houston's best restaurants, period.

Photo by Troy Fields

No matter when you visit Oporto Fooding House & Wine, there's something about the vibe that feels oh so right. Meant to channel a coastal Portuguese cafe, the restaurant's design is chic and stylish yet approachable. Octagonal-shaped terra cotta tiles imbue the space with warmth. Hanging woven chandeliers and copper accents give it character. Come nighttime, these same chandeliers cast a dreamy, golden glow over the entire space. Meanwhile, bossa nova and samba beats intermingle with the thrum of dinner conversation, setting the perfect tone for the evening. Add fantastic food, an excellent cocktail list and a very reasonably priced wine list for a wonderful experience all around.

You can visit just about any crawfish restaurant to get a simple Cajun boil. But when you want an added burst of flavor, go to Cajun Kitchen, which specializes in Viet-Cajun crawfish. This award-winning spot leaves its competitors in the dust with a trio of unique flavors that will have you literally licking your fingers. The hardest part is deciding between garlic butter, Thai basil or the Kitchen Special. Take some friends and order all three.

Stepping into Korea Garden is a bit like entering another world. It starts with the heavy wooden door with iron accents, straight out of a period Asian movie. Inside, tables and booths are arranged around a lush green garden, making you feel like you're eating on a Korean patio somewhere far away. The main event here is the Korean barbecue, which always satisfies. You have the option of ordering barbecue to cook at the table, or having the kitchen cook it for you. Either way, your bulgogi (marinated beef), kalbi (marinated short rib) and dwe ji gui (spicy marinated pork) will be accompanied by a huge assortment of some of the best banchan (side dishes) in the city. Other traditional Korean dishes, such as the hot stone pot rice and the seafood pancake, are also excellent, so come hungry.

READERS' CHOICE: Korean Noodle House

You can get soft, succulent meatballs three ways at this urban Italiano joint in Uptown's BLVD Place. A cool ten-spot will get you braised meatballs swimming in classic red sauce with a side of grilled bread to sop it all up, a rich and flawless shared plate that you have every right to keep all to yourself if you so choose. At lunch, the braised meatballs come in sandwich form, stuffed inside a crisp roll along with a healthy dab of scarmoza (a milky Italian cow's-milk cheese similar to mozzarella). For a full-on meal, stick your fork in the al dente, scratchmade spaghetti and meatballs, tossed with a just-sweet tomato sugo and finished with earthy olive oil and nutty pecorino cheese.

For 26 years, Fung's Kitchen has been serving Hong Kong-style Cantonese cuisine to generations of discerning Asians. In fact, it's quadrupled in size since Hoi and Nancy Fung first set up shop on the Southwest Freeway. Through the years, the Fungs have rarely been away from their beloved restaurant, and it shows in the quality of the food they offer. Their Peking duck is a prime example, beautifully arranged on a large platter. The color of the duck skin is a honeyed brown with hints of orange. Glistening yet crispy, the fat is fully rendered. You get to choose whether you want pancakes to go with your duck or steamed buns. And the best part about it? The duck is available every day for lunch and dinner.

Unpretentious and family-friendly, Lupita's has been serving up fine Tex-Mex to Sugar Land for more than a decade. In the kitchen, mama Lupe and her crew prep ingredients in the morning and in the afternoon so that everything is fresh for both lunch and dinner service. In the front of the house, papa Jaime or son Rigo oversees the main dining room, which is festively decorated with hanging piñatas and colorful tablecloths. The prices are lower than at chain restaurants in the area, and the food is consistently delicious: Sizzling beef fajitas are second to none; the house chips and salsa, served with a side of smoky charro beans, are addictive; and the margaritas are large and strong.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of