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
Photos by Carla Soriano

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
Jeff Balke

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.

Sangria is translated from a Latin word meaning "thin out your blood before sex in the sun near the sea." Yeah, we know you and your older brother used to mix all of your dad's cheap wine with a bunch of fruit and booze and get totally shit-faced every summer. Grow up and head over to Tio Pepe and let Carlos teach you how to do it right. His sangrias aren't too sweet — all the flavors shine. And did you ever have a real Spaniard play incredibly amazing flamenco guitar, too? Didn't think so. You may even learn some Spanish and something about Spain's history, like how they invented paella to soak up all that sangria.

Try a cup of the dark brown crawfish bisque — you couldn't finish a whole bowl. The flavor of Lafayette, Louisiana, lingers on in Houston at Jimmy Wilson's. Denis Wilson and his partner Jimmy Jard swapped first and last names to rechristen the old Denis's Seafood on Westheimer. It's either a business reorganization or some kind of piracy — don't ask cuz you don't really want to know. Wilson was one of the original Landry's gang. But while Tilman Fertitta watered down the spicy Cajun seasonings, Denis Wilson carries on the original tradition at his independent restaurants. Jimmy Wilson's is identical to Denis's Seafood in everything but name. They still have a blackboard announcing which fish are being served. Along with the usual suspects, you might find cobia, amberjack or tilefish. And the fried shrimp, crab and crawfish enchiladas, po' boys, gumbo and étouffée are all still terrific.

Oceanaire Seafood Room

The restaurant is designed to resemble an art deco ocean liner, and the pampering service fits right into the theme. The staff is extremely well-trained. They know the oyster list and can explain the differences among every variety of fish on the menu. The waiter will select a white or black napkin for you based on the color of your clothing. Someone will fasten a napkin around your neck with a classy clip if you are eating lobster or just want a bib. Tell them it's your birthday or anniversary when you make your reservation and you'll get a specially printed menu and a congratulatory card when you sit down at your table. And if you really want to be coddled, book a private party here.

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