Cafe Montrose

'Twas a brave soul that first ate an oyster, and the same can be said of mussels. When it comes to mussels, or moules as they are called in French, no country does more with them than Belgium, where moules frites (mussels and fries), pronounced as one word, has become the national dish. At Café Montrose, you can enjoy mussels seven different ways. The traditional moules mariniere are steamed in white wine and arrive in a double boiler — the bottom containing the moules, the top used to discard the shells. Another version is made with escargot butter, heavily laden with garlic, that demands you use the accompanying French bread to sop up the delicious sauce. Yet other dishes are served with a rich tomato sauce or a heavy dose of Roquefort cheese, which adds creaminess and a sharp flavor. All are served with extra-crispy french fries, which come with mayo for dipping (yes, mayo, and don't even think of asking for ketchup). Wash any of the dishes down with a glorious Duvel or Chimay beer, close your eyes and you'll swear you can see the Mannequin Pisse.

Pico's Mex-Mex Restaurant

Pico's is known for many things, but Nachos Jorge should be near the top of the list. Piled high with savory cochinita pibil (Yucatan-style roasted pork), pickled onions, refried black beans, Chihuahua cheese, guacamole and jalapeños, these nachos are exceptional. More than enough for a meal, they're hard to stop eating until you have hunted down every last shred of cochinita on the plate. Order one of Pico's fishbowl-size margaritas to go with your nachos and you'll be a Pico's fan for life.

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Ask any downtown dweller where you can get a cold beer and a sandwich at any time of the day or week, and they will tell you The Flying Saucer. Said dweller may or may not mention the waitresses in short skirts, the wide selection of beer, the tasty bar food and the fact that it's open late on Sundays, which is pretty hard to come by downtown. The Saucer has become a place for people of all walks of life to step out of the busy downtown hustle and cool off while getting good service in a cozy atmosphere — plus free wi-fi.

YiaYia's Roadster Grill

The Roadster is a family-owned burger joint with a Greek twist. ("Yia Yia" is Greek for "granny.") A lot of times, hybrid restaurants fall flat on one side of the equation or the other — think of all those barbecue/burger joints with great burgers but lame 'cue. Not the Roadster; not only are their burgers juicy and delicious, but they also dish out mean moussaka and savory souvlaki. (The gyros, hot dogs and Philly cheese steaks are also worth investigating.) Owner Nick Semoudiaris treats his customers like family — you're never a stranger at the Roadster.

Sonny's Place

This quintessential neighborhood hangout is a longtime favorite of island folk. Larry Puccetti has been tending bar at Sonny's Place for 30 years. His dad, Lawrence "Junior" Puccetti, has been there almost 60 years. He inherited the place from his father Lawrence "Pappa" Puccetti, who opened the bar and restaurant in 1944. Junior grinds his own meat because that's the way Mama did it. And he employs the fresh ground beef in the excellent hamburgers, stellar spaghetti in meat sauce, and old-fashioned chili con carne. The gumbo, which is served only on Fridays, comes in your choice of shrimp, crawfish or mixed. The dressed shrimp bun is a po' boy on a hamburger roll. The walls are covered with photos and articles about the Galveston of yesteryear. Don't miss the plaque on the bar that tells the story of the gunfight that left a dent in the beer tap and a hole in the wooden bar top. Junior, it turns out, was once quite a gunslinger.

Best Neighborhood Spot in Sugar Land

Amici

Amici Ristorante

Jeff Vallone is following in his father's footsteps with his new restaurant in the 'burbs. Now southwest suburbanites don't need to trek into town to enjoy the Vallones' legendary food and service. Whether it's on the expansive patio or in the nicely appointed dining room, you will enjoy fine Italian cuisine without the stuck-up attitude (or prices) of some of the other Vallone enterprises. The dining room centerpiece is a cold appetizer display that will excite even the most jaded of diners. One could easily make a meal just of appetizers, like the carpaccio of branzino (a fish found in the Mediterranean) or the roasted peppers or stuffed eggplant. Pasta dishes, all featuring homemade pasta, include paccheri, tubes of pasta filled with shrimp, spinach and cheese; pansotti, filled with butternut squash infused with sage; and the incredible fazzoletti (handkerchiefs), large sheets of pasta stuffed with crab meat. Seafood, veal and pork items and a wonderful osso buco allow the chef to display a wide variety of dishes.

Best Neighborhood Spot Outside the Loop

Burn's BBQ

Burns Bar-B-Q

Why would you pick a place where you can't actually sit down and eat? Because of the food, the people-watching and the atmosphere. Besides, there's always the trunk of your car or, for most people, take-out. And there's one or two picnic tables, too. Finding the place is difficult, because it's located in an old house off the beaten path in Acres Homes. You'll know you're there when you see all of the parked cars and a line outside the house. And you'd best be ready with your order, 'cause the ladies ain't got no time to waste. Take your ticket, listen for your number and wait for some of the best barbecue you'll ever taste. There's tender brisket with the requisite smoke ring, fall-off-the-bone ribs and two kinds of sausage — one commercial and one homemade. Sides include a mustardy potato salad and beans. They often run out of things, so it pays to get there early. Also, it's cash-only.

Reef

Chef Bryan Caswell, formerly of Bank by Jean Georges in the Hotel Icon, has struck out on his own with this hip new eatery in Midtown. The seafood is not only local, it's unique. Where else can you get triple tail and croaker? Dishes like crispy-skinned snapper and pompano a la plancha are spectacular. And then there are casual offerings like mini-hamburgers and a salmon BLT, to keep the kitchen from taking itself too seriously. Located in a former automobile showroom, the restaurant makes a bold visual statement with its bare concrete floors, soaring ceilings and two-story display windows looking out onto McGowen. It looks like you're sitting inside a fish tank. The two-story, glass-enclosed wine storage area not only completes the fish tank illusion, it also keeps the wine at the perfect temperature. And the wines are sold at ridiculously cheap prices, which puts Reef way out ahead in the Houston wine game.

Little Hip's pays homage to a now-defunct diner once located in San Antonio. Among its standout classic Texas-style (by way of Louisiana) dishes is the homemade onion rings. While most local diners settle for the frozen bag of prefab rings, Little Hip's shows the love by breading every one of these flaky grease-soaked halos to order. There are plenty of sandwiches and barbecue to go with them. Next time you're in the mood for a damn good burger with a side of homemade love and a Coke, belly up to an old-school stool and enjoy a soon-to-be classic, complete with an extra-sweet and talkative waitress.

Jimmy G's

The oyster bar is the first thing you see when you walk in the front door of this Cajun seafood restaurant near Bush Intercontinental Airport. Belly up to the bar and get a couple dozen on the half shell and a cold beer. They serve half-shell oysters all year round, but if you're playing it safe you'll order the cooked oysters in the summer. The fried oysters are a good choice; they're coated in cornmeal, and they come with hand-cut fries. But you will probably see an intriguing ritual while you're sitting at the oyster bar as the counter man lines up oysters on the gas grill and turns the fire up high. Jimmy-G's fire-kissed grilled oysters are topped with parmesan cheese and basted with garlic butter — just like the grilled oysters at Drago's in Metairie, Louisiana. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that — just be glad you can get grilled oysters this good in Houston.

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