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.

Kasra Persian Grill

It's the intensity of the flavors that sets Kasra apart. Take Kasra's khorake bademjan, a long-cooked lamb shank, for instance. The meat falls apart at the touch of a fork, but it's the tart sour grape and tomato sauce with the gooey eggplant slices that makes it shine. Even the rice is amazing. There's zereshk polo, which is basmati rice garnished with a pile of barberries, small dried Iranian berries that taste sort of like lemony raisins. And then there's sour cherry rice: cherries blended with cranberries, pistachios and almonds spooned over basmati. Pomegranate lovers will want to try the fesenjan, cubes of chicken cooked in an electric purple sauce of pomegranate juice, saffron and ground walnuts. Then there's the hamburger on a stick. Kasra's kubideh is made with a high-quality ground beef mixed with grated onion, garlic and lots of spices. Try some of that on a hot taftoon!

Pho Binh
Jeff Balke

There's a ritual to eating the Vietnamese beef noodle soup known as pho that makes each bowl as individual as you are. It involves adding leafy vegetables and herbs such as cilantro, sweet basil and bean sprouts, an element of heat from jalapeños or Sriracha sauce, plus additional flavoring from Hoisin, fish and soy sauces, as well as lime juice. Undoubtedly, a good pho starts with the broth, which can make or break the dish. At Pho Binh, the beef broth simmers for hours, which concentrates the flavors. It arrives steaming hot in small, medium or large bowl sizes, for five bucks or less. Everybody sits at communal tables, so it's easy to see how others prepare their pho. You can get your broth with slices of steak or brisket and meatballs. The experienced pho connoisseur might try the more adventurous tripe, tendon and crispy fat.

Antonio's Flying Pizza
Photo by Houston Press Staff

The gourmet pizzas at Dolce Vita on Westheimer are fine — if they cook them long enough to get them crisp. But if you find yourself craving a plain old-fashioned cheese pie, it's time to go to Antonio's Flying Pizza. Antonio Rosa really throws his crusts. Normally, he caters to Houstonians, loading the pies with too much cheese and too much meat. But if you are smart enough to ask for an "extra crispy, light cheese" pizza with just a little garlic or peppers, you will get a sensational pie that will remind you of the ones served at little red-checkered tablecloth joints on the East Coast. The sausage-and-pepper sandwiches, spaghetti and meatballs, and calzones taste a lot like the East Coast versions, too. That's because Sicilian-born Antonio Rosa is a veteran of the East Coast Italian-American circuit. He owned a pizzeria in Fairfield, Connecticut, and another in Morristown, New Jersey, before moving to Houston and starting Antonio's Flying Pizza in 1971.

Perry's Steakhouse and Grille

The pork chop at Perry's ain't no ordinary pork chop, it's a damn roast. It's known as the Seven Finger Pork Chop, 'cause when it stands tall on your plate, it's a full seven fingers high. Before carving it, your server will inform you that this cut has an eyelash, ribs and tenderloin and that it takes a full five days to make this beauty, what with the curing, smoking and roasting and all. It has a wonderful, smoky, caramelized flavor, which almost renders the accompanying herb-garlic sauce unnecessary. It is served with homemade applesauce and mashed potatoes with dill.

Best Pre- or Post-Theater Restaurant

Damian's

Damian's Cucina Italiana
Photo by Groovehouse

One of the great things about dining at Damian's — in addition to the fact that it's one of the best Italian restaurants in town, with service to match — is its shuttle service. When you make a reservation, let them know you'll be attending the theater, symphony or any other show downtown. They will not only take you to your venue after your meal in a comfortable bus, but will also pick you up for coffee and dessert at the end of the show. That way, not only can you enjoy dishes like Mama Mandola's meatballs, eggplant parmigiana, osso buco, veal piccata or tiramisu, but you can do so without feeling rushed or hassled.

Da Marco
Photo by Houston Press staff

Year after year, meal after meal, plate after plate, no chef in Houston is as consistently brilliant as Marco Wiles. Try his velvety eggplant soup with a bruschetta crouton, his meaty braised duck ravioli served in a pile of wild mushrooms or his simple shaved celery salad topped with a slice of roasted beet and wafer of pecorino — each dish is as fantastic as the next, and there's always something new. Wiles keeps his ­cutting-edge menu up-to-date by gathering new ideas on his frequent trips to Italy and New York. The prices are reasonable, when you consider the cost of the ingredients. In fact, Da Marco's three-course business lunch may be the best bargain in the city. It's $22 for two appetizers and an entrée — a spread that would run you $30 or more à la carte. Lots of great restaurants appear on the scene in Houston every year; most flash brightly and fade. Da Marco just keeps shining.

Gravitas

The risotto at Gravitas is full of contrasts. Although the ingredients change with the menu, there's always a balance between textures, flavors and temperatures. Recently, the risotto had English peas and was topped with lightly dressed greens, red onion and a pecorino crisp. The acidity of the dressing cut some of the richness of the risotto, and the result was divine. This attention to detail is evident throughout the menu and the space itself and is a reason to keep going back to what is definitely one of Houston's best restaurants.

This Montrose-area hipster pool hall has a creative array of frozen daiquiris featuring our favorite Caribbean invention. Concoctions like the Slippery Climax and the Force Field go heavy on the rum and light on the everything else, including price. Their use of Bacardi 151 and Malibu rums makes the mixes enjoyable and doesn't leave your face too puckered by a sour aftertaste. Try the Terminator for the perfect mix of sweet and sour, or the Russian Quaalude if you're trying to wean yourself off of opiates. Go on the weekend if you're looking for a crowd, otherwise stick to weeknights, when the scene is a little more subdued.

Chuy's

Though Chuy's serves pretty good salsas all year long, during the month of September, their green chile salsa is the best in town. The vibrant New Mexican-style green chile salsa served up during their annual "Green Chile Festival" is made with chiles roasted fresh in the parking lot for the occasion. They bring in giant propane roasters on wheels with rotating wire baskets — the kind that chile roasters in New Mexico use — to make their green chile salsas and sauces. And you can eat them in a wild variety of creations — chile rellenos in fresh-roasted chiles, and fresh tuna tacos topped with green chiles. There's also a super-hot green chile salsa for connoisseurs with asbestos palates.

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