Darband Shish Kabob
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

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.

Patrenella's Italian Restaurant
Robert Z. Easley

Eating lasagna at Patrenella's is like eating lasagna at the home of a kind Italian family. Wait a minute – that's exactly what this is. Sammy Patrenella welcomes guests to his home in the Heights, which his father built in 1938 and where the family has lived ever since. He's expanded it a few times, but patrons get to eat in what used to be either his living room or dining room, depending on where they sit. And the lasagna – wow! Many lasagnas skimp on the thin slices of pasta and pile on thick layers of sauce instead. It's easier for the cook and demands far less work, but it's nowhere near as good. Here, there are at least ten layers of pasta, each covered with homemade meat sauce, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and topped off with slices of mozzarella, which have blistered under the broiler.

Spanish Flower Mexican Restaurant
Jeff Balke

Generally speaking, anyone out at 4:30 a.m. is up to no good. Be they druggie, thief, insomniac or just seriously craving some queso, night owls can direct themselves to this eclectic Heights establishment. Spanish Flowers dishes up authentic Mexican cuisine for an impressively affordable price. Sure, it's no Taco Bell, but as everyone knows, coke hangovers and fast food do not mix well when you've been running from the cops all night in a stolen Ford Focus. Do yourself a favor and make a run for the REAL border next time. READERS' CHOICE: Katz's Deli & Bar

T'afia

We all know everything Monica Pope touches turns to gold: food, cocktails, locations, even her wait staff. Take her simple-but-elegant mac and cheese. On any given Tuesday, you can walk into T'afia and order a side of mac and cheese just like mom used to make — that's if your mom used bow tie pasta and powdered cheddar to make hers. Also like Mom's, on Tuesday it's free if you show up for dinner on time.

Tony's Mexican Restaurant

The margaritas at Tony's Mexican Restaurant always seem to stir up an endless series of questions, including, "What the hell is this secret ingredient?" and "Where the hell did you put my car keys, you asshat!?" This family establishment never seems to be anything less than packed, and for good reason: It's one of the Heights's best-kept and most-cherished Tex-Mex secrets. Featuring an intense but tastefully balanced combination of lime, tequila and buzz, these 'ritas go perfectly with a bowl of queso. If you're lucky enough to get a table at dinner, order a pitcher and start your own investigation.

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant

McCormick & Schmick's intriguing vibe and fantastic service don't begin and end with the restaurant portion of the building. One part Casablanca, one part fully stocked bar, this Uptown seafood restaurant enjoys paying homage to the history of the cocktail. Their "gin delicious" martini is a classic in itself, a modern twist on an old recipe that hints at a mojito but is unique enough to merit a taste or four. Try it with the lump crab and artichoke dip and you won't be disappointed.

Mexico's Deli

Mexico's Deli on Dairy Ashford is a humble little eatery with walk-up counter service and exceptional food. The tacos al pastor are made with marinated pork and bits of pineapple carved from a trompo (a cone of meat on a vertical roaster) on display beside the grill. The tangy pork is served on three small tortillas with a garnish of onions and cilantro and your choice of salsas. There are more than 20 variations of the Mexican sandwiches called tortas to choose from. Torta lomito Argentino, a steak-and-egg sandwich, is among the best. It features a thin slice of beef tenderloin, a fried egg, a thin slice of ham, mozzarella, avocado and tomato, all on a huge bun spread with refried black beans. Don't miss the flan — it's made with a pecan praline in the baking cup underneath the custard, for a simple, but delicious, twist on the old favorite.

Cafe Rita

If you've ever wanted to eat in a Middle Eastern home, now you can: at Rita's. This small, one-of-a-kind neighborhood spot is owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team known to all as George and Rita, an elderly Armenian couple who are eager to display their natural hospitality as well as their home cooking. There's nothing they enjoy more than letting you experience their made-from-scratch cooking or whipping up something off the menu. The BYOB place is tiny and fills up quickly. Don't be surprised if they have a pot of foul going (lima and garbanzo beans cooked with lots of olive oil and garlic) and offer you some just to try. Vegetarians will find lots to choose from, like a wonderful tabbouleh, hummus covered in olive oil, baba ganoush, lentils and lima beans. Carnivores will enjoy the shawarma, served with a garlic sauce, as well as the kabobs.

Cricket's Creamery & Cafe

Next time you're on 19th Street riding your bike and window-­shopping with your best friend, stop into Cricket's Creamery and have a strawberry shake. Cricket's makes its own ice cream and gelato, so that's a good start for a really good shake. Ask for it to be extra-thick and with whipped cream on top. The whipped cream is real — an old-fashioned mixture of homemade ice cream and milk. While you're waiting for the high schooler behind the counter to blend your frozen concoction, you can check out the assortment of kitsch crap clogging up the friendly little cafe. Oh, and say this when you get your shake, just for fun: "That's a $5 shake...just milk and ice cream. You don't put bourbon in it or or nothing."

Best Of Houston®

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