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.

Featuring a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor and an army of oversexed twentysomething beauties on both sides of the bar, The G.R.A.B. manages to fit into a niche so many Houston bars have failed to grab hold of: the gap between the bohemian hipsters of Montrose and the gel-haired yuppies of Midtown. Their signature shot, Alexa's Sweet Kiss, embodies the quirky but simpatico nature of this downtown gem. This tricked-out version of a Kamikaze is smooth, cool and sneaks up on you faster than you can say, "Hello, officer." The combination of vanilla, sweet and lemon flavors goes down leaving you wanting another.

T'afia

Andrea Lazar prefers the title of "beverage director" to sommelier, but whatever you call her, she has changed the way Houston drinks. Lazar is a firm believer in the naturalistic notion of terroir, and a champion of underappreciated wines. One page of her wine list is devoted entirely to overlooked and underloved rosés. She is also an innovator. The restaurant's moniker is a nickname for a Mediterranean beverage called ratafia, which is made by marinating fruit and herbs in a mixture of wine and spirits for several months. From the beginning, Lazar has overseen the process, experimenting with ever more interesting combinations. Figs, blood oranges, lavender, Meyer lemons and Texas grapefruits are only a few of her favorite ingredients. The refreshing ratafias are served on the rocks or mixed with spirits to create wild cocktails that are spiked with frozen fruit cubes. Dark rum and blood orange ratafia with frozen pineapple rectangles turns out to be a great accompaniment to foods like grilled duck breast — especially in the summer.

Soul on the Bayeaux

At this small, colorful, converted old house, you're bound to get personalized service because there are but a few tables. Here, they churn out crispy catfish, glorious gumbo, sensational smothered pork chops and exciting étouffées, all of which will make you want to hug yo' mama — not to mention an oyster or gator po' boy that will remind you of New Orleans. They are known for their all-you-can-eat catfish, and if you have a couple of hours to spare, you can certainly attempt to do some damage to the catfish industry. Mustard greens, okra, yams and corn are among the traditional sides available, and their sweet potato pie or peach cobbler are not to be missed. Repeat: not to be missed.

Nelore Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse

Nelore is the name of Brazil's most famous breed of cattle, so it's no wonder that it's all about the meat here, and lots of it. Oh sure, there's a fabulous salad bar with copious amounts of smoked salmon, extra-large shrimp, huge asparagus stalks and Brazilian cheese puffs galore. But why bother? It's about the meat. This churrascaria has waiters dressed as gauchos who visit each table armed with three-foot-long skewers, each containing one of the 18 meats they offer here. They keep on coming until you can't take it anymore. Favorite cuts include the filet mignon, beef tenderloin doused with garlic sauce, lamb, chicken hearts and the pork sausage known as linguiça. There is one dessert that is worth leaving room for, and that is a smooth papaya cream topped off with a splash of Crème De Cassis...mmm!

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