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!

The wet-aged USDA Prime porterhouse here is one of the best steaks in the city. But it's the lack of snobbery that puts Bob's ahead of the steakhouse pack. The Houston Bob's is a clone of the original Bob's in Dallas, where the bar always seems to be crowded with flirty blonds and Bubbas in cowboy boots who laugh real loud. At the Houston location, the guys in starched shirts and ties, the ladies in sexy designer dresses and the guys in pastel hip-hop shorts and sandals all seem to get along just fine. Try a martini — the house gin is Beefeater. There's sports on the television, free pickles on the table and your choice of potatoes on the plate with your steak. Best of all, the waiter seems just as happy to bring you a beer as a $200 bottle of wine. READERS' CHOICE: Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

Osaka Japanese Restaurant

Nestled into a small Montrose-area strip mall, this place has been a favorite of neighborhood patrons for some time. Osaka serves up some of the largest and freshest pieces of sashimi a person can find in the city. The salmon is always so magically fresh, you can't believe it's served at a sushi restaurant in Houston. But if you prefer rolls, they have you more than covered. The menu is filled with unique house items like the Osaka roll or the crunch roll, a spicy one that's covered with tempura bits. And it always helps that they regularly treat customers to the occasional freebie.

Tacos A Go-Go

Sure, they might not be the most authentic tacos in town — and heck, the entire establishment is puro bolillo — but we can't get enough of the tacos verde at Tacos a Go-Go, and we're not just talking about the times we stumble over there drunk from a night of carousing at the Mink or the Big Top. Filled with zucchini, yellow squash, red onion, carrots, mushrooms and black beans, these hunger busters are best topped off with the house sauce (a blend of red peppers, mayo and sour cream) and, if you're feeling ritzy, a dash of guac. This is bastard Tex-Mex at its best.

Jarro Cafe
Batli Joselevitz

The bistek taco and the cochinita pibil taco at the Jarro taco trailer are transcendental. After the cook in the Jarro uniform passes your taco through the window, the real fun begins. On the stainless-steel counter that runs along the front of the trailer, there are assorted salsas and condiments in decorative Mexican three-legged bowls. There's a green salsa of chopped jalapeños and cilantro, a bright orange sauce made with hellishly hot chile de arbols and a neon lime-colored tomatillo and serrano slurry that will rip your tonsils out. If you're having a steak taco, you might try the dark chocolate-colored salsa made with dried chilies in oil and a dash of orange juice for sweetness. If you're eating cochinita pibil, don't miss the "Mayan escabeche," electric-purple onion slices marinated in lime juice, flecked with Mexican oregano and chili powder. The combination of flavors you select will define the taste of the taco, so you have to choose wisely.

La Mexicana

Decent Tex-Mex may be as plentiful as traffic jams here in Houston, but when it comes to authentic Mexican tamales, one need look no further than 25-year-old La Mexicana. Their homemade tamales are nothing short of spectacular. They always taste fresh and have generous doses of pepper and chile powder. Calling these "kinda spicy" is like calling Beyoncé Knowles "kinda hot": It all depends on your taste, son. The casual atmosphere of the outdoor patio is also a nice change of pace from the eternally overcrowded new kids on the block. Be sure to order a full dozen: They're so addictive, you're going to want more than six.

Oporto Cafe

If you're looking for a swanky wine bar that'll impress a date, Oporto is your place. The tapas here aren't snacks; they're huge. There's nothing better to nibble on while quaffing a glass of wine than the "Oportobello." It's a marinated portobello mushroom topped with spinach and artichoke gratin and finished with white truffle oil. If you're still hungry after that Texas-size "tapa," go for the linguiça oporto com batatas, a Portuguese-style sausage sautéed with onion, roasted peppers, potatoes, garlic, port wine and piri-piri oil. Great wines and delicious tapas will surely impress your date, but looking at all the hot River Oaks MILFs walking into Dark Tan next door will not. Saúde!

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