There's so much more to Biba's than the food — the retro-trash decor, for instance, and the fact that it's open 24 hours. Sometimes, when you're drunkenly stumbling across the street from Cecil's and you just have to have a delicious gyro, it's nice to know that someone's got your back. Other reasons to go to Biba's are the Greek pizza, piled high with gyro meat; the smooth and garlicky tara­mo­salata; and the generously portioned hot or cold appetizer plates served with fresh warm, pita that are perfect for sharing. If you're up for a fun and informative conversation, make sure you have a full Greek beer, mention My Big Fat Greek Wedding to the tall waiter with the mustache and let the good times roll.

There are no secret ingredients to Mucho Mexico's guacamole — it's just avocado, onion and tomato smashed into a creamy dip that sits on top of a mound of lettuce. It isn't made in a showy tableside performance or served on any special dish, but Mucho Mexico's back-to-basics approach delivers what is easily the tastiest guacamole in town. Made daily with the freshest ingredients available, Mucho Mexico's guacamole is a great starter (if you're feeling brave, ask for the special "hot" salsa to top it off). And once the mariachis get going and the margaritas start flowing, it tastes even better. READERS' CHOICE: Tacos a Go Go

You go up north, you can get in some pretty heated arguments about where to get the best hero. Hell, you can get into heated arguments about whether to call the thing a hero, a sub or a grinder. Here in Houston, though, the choice is pretty simple: Jersey Mike's. A national chain, it started out as a single store on the Jersey shore in 1956 and has kept its premise simple: quality meats, fresh bread, good ingredients. For the real experience, get the Number 13 ("The Original Italian") and have them make it "Mike's Way." Then turn it upside down so the juices can soak into the bread, drive home and imagine yourself at some Jersey sub shop. Or, if that doesn't appeal to you, just appreciate the sandwich.

The house-made Emily's goat cheese ravioli at Divino is heavenly. A fresh sage and brown-butter sauce with pine nuts and fresh parmesan nicely complements the sharp goat cheese and is well worth soaking up with a piece of bread after the ravioli is gone. Perfectly paired with a crisp white from Divino's enticing wine list, the dish comes in a half or full order — choose depending on how many hands you think you'll need to slap away once the ravioli gets to the table.

In many ice cream shops, the choices are so overwhelming that most people either take forever to order or just order vanilla, chocolate or strawberry so as not to hold up the line. At Hank's, the choices are not overwhelming — there's a manageable 16 flavors in all, which they rotate based on the availability of seasonal fruit, and every one is out-of-this-world delicious. What's nice about the ice cream here is not only the price (two scoops for $2.31) but also that there are big chunks of fruit or cookies in almost every flavor. Each is made with love at this one-of-a-kind, small, family-owned business. The blueberry cheesecake with whole blueberries and chunks of cheesecake, the butter pecan with huge pecans, and the banana pudding with large chunks of cake are all favorites. And for even more variety, they're happy to mix in your favorite add-ins or toppings.

Hidebound types sputter and fume, "That's not Indian food!" when confronted with Indika's innovative cooking. There's no chicken tikka masala here. But they do have foie gras with fig preserves and trout stuffed with nuts. If this isn't what you usually think of as Indian food, then it's time to broaden your horizons. Indika's owner, Indian-born Anita Jaisinghani, doesn't feel compelled to cater to American preconceptions. Formerly a pastry chef at Café Annie, Jaisinghani has come up with her own take on Indian cooking that is both elegant and unexpected. Eggplant stuffed with cashews, crabmeat samosas and venison kabobs are all on the menu. And if you're looking for something more unusual, try the goat brain masala — it's scrumptious! The Montrose location is brilliantly decorated with artwork and fabrics from the subcontinent. There's also some unusual cocktails including a litchi margarita and a guava mojito on the bar menu.

Photos by Carla Soriano

This time-honored Tuscan-style restaurant has been purring along for decades, turning out classic Italian cuisine. The grilled seasonal vegetables are a favorite appetizer, and there's a wide variety of antipasti. The pasta with seafood in cream sauce is stellar, and the veal chops are legendary. But in the last few months, Damian's has gone from good to great, thanks to an extensive renovation. The carpeting, the windows and the lighting are all brand-new, and the look is more sophisticated. The art on the walls has gone from dated to classical. There's a new confidence in the kitchen, too, as chef Napolean Palacios seems to be raising the level of the cooking to fit the restaurant's new higher profile. The word is out: Damian's is back.

Houston is long on sushi restaurants, but Japanese street food is hard to come by. The expanse of Asian-melting-pot strip malls that are popping up seemingly overnight in Bellaire Chinatown seem to have forgotten about the Japanese entirely. Takoyaki Tea House is one of the exceptions. The menu here is limited, but it includes a variety of takoyaki, panfried balls of batter and filling topped with sweet mayo, wasabi, Japanese barbecue sauce and bonito flakes. Traditionally, takoyaki are made with octopus, but the shiitake and shrimp varieties are also good. As the name implies, Takoyaki Tea House has a large assortment of bubble and fruit teas to sip as you watch your takoyaki cook. Or you could just hang out in this cozy little spot and take advantage of the free wi-fi.

Photo by J.C. Reid

Chances are, if you do only one thing, you're gonna do it right. At Darband, all they do is kebabs and, yes, they do 'em right, every time. This is a no-nonsense place, where six bucks buys you a kebab plate like no other. Here, you get in line, review the menu on the wall above the cash register (there are pictures of the dishes to help you decide), place your order and pay. While you wait for your number to be called, wander over to the other side of the counter, where you'll see a person making fresh pita bread, which is baked in a special oven. Choose from kubdeh (ground beef), chengeh (lamb), chicken, shish (beef chunks), chello, barg or soltani. Most dishes come with grilled tomatoes and onions. Once your dish arrives, sprinkle on some sumac and squeeze some lemon on top. Let the juices blend with the bed of rice and enjoy a sumptuous meal. Don't forget to wait for the free hot tea after your meal.

Seoul House is the laid-back little brother of the huge cook-your-own-food Korean restaurants that populate Spring Branch and parts of Bellaire Chinatown. It's less of an ordeal to eat here (they cook the food for you and, consequently, you don't walk out smelling like a short rib), and the food is delicious. The bulgogi and galbi are as good as we've had anywhere, and the stir-fried veggies with clear noodles and seafood pancake are ex­cellent. Another great thing about this place is the serve-yourself condiment bar, which provides much predinner entertainment. Don't fill up on the kimchi, though, because the portions are more than ­generous.

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