Lomonte's Italian Restaurant

Perhaps it's the flour, seasoned with Italian spices and parsley, used as the batter which makes them so incredibly crispy and greaseless; maybe it's the homemade picante sauce Lomonte's serves along with a terrific marinara sauce that you dip them in; then again, maybe it's the tiny pieces of squid the restaurant uses — no jaw-breaking pieces here — that make them the best in town. Whatever it is, these things are addictive, and once you start eating them, they go down so effortlessly that you'll soon be staring at an empty platter wondering where they all went.

Pan Y Agua

Pan y Agua is a new and already packed upscale cantina where the elite meet to pay a premium for Latin food. If you're not up for an expensive steak, there are some real standouts on the appetizer menu. One such standout is the campechana. Beautifully presented, well-flavored and full of plump, fresh, high-quality seafood, the campechana is well worth the price. It's garnished with avocado and substantial homemade tortilla chips, and you'll fight over who gets the last bite.

Cafe Pita +
Photo by Troy Fields

Cevapcici, or cevaps for short, are the Slavic version of kebabs. It's also the Bosnian national dish and the signature item at Café Pita +, Houston's favorite Bosnian restaurant. To make cevaps, ground beef and lamb are mixed with pureed onions, herbs and spices, formed into cylinders and grilled. The result tastes like a hamburger and looks like a hot dog. An order of cevaps at Café Pita + gets you six meat cylinders sandwiched between the top and bottom of a hot lepinja, the spongy Bosnian bread that's a cross between pita and focaccia. The bread is split open and laid over the sizzling meat to soften it. Don't make the mistake of picking up the whole thing like a hamburger — your cevaps will end up on your shirt. Instead, tear off a piece of the flatbread and slather it with the red pepper and eggplant paste called ajvar and the white dairy spread called kajmak. Put in a cylinder of meat and some chopped onions, wrap, eat and repeat. You will soon be back for more.

Becks Prime
Daniel+Kramer

When it comes to local chains, no one does burgers and steaks faster or better that the folks at Becks Prime. Originally only on Kirby Drive more than 20 years ago, the chain now has eight locations peppered throughout the Houston area, five of which sport the all-important, convenient drive-thru windows Houstonians know and love. But just because the food is fast doesn't mean it's fast food that you have to eat on the run. Here you can enjoy the never-frozen, mesquite-grilled burgers made to order while relaxing under an umbrella on the patio with a cool glass of white wine or a beer. When you're done, polish it all off with a thick and delicious shake made with Hershey's chocolate or fresh strawberries, and you'll see why Becks Prime has been a local favorite for years.

Connie's Seafood
Jeff Balke

Across the street from the Heights farmers market, this kid-friendly seafood spot has a myriad of fresh offerings at very reasonable prices. The menu provides many choices in preparation and serving size, so even the pickiest eater will be satisfied. The calamari and campechana are fantastic, and the fried-seafood platter is definitely enough for two. Shrimp fried rice is a crowd favorite at Connie's — although eating shrimp-fried rice while being entertained by mariachis can be a bit disorienting. No worries; after a few micheladas and a trip to the seafood case, all will seem right with the world again.

The Hill Bar & Grill

J's Special at The Hill Bar & Grill in Waller is a cheeseburger served on Texas toast. Swapping out a bun for two double-thick slices of toasted white bread sounds like a pretty minor change. But the effect that ­aggressively griddled Texas toast has on this cheeseburger is quite r­emarkable. The burger comes wrapped in ­tissue paper and served in a paper-lined ­basket on a bed of fries. A thick square of melted American cheese bubbles invitingly over the side, sticking the burger, the three slices of tomato, the crinkle-cut pickles and the Texas toast together. The mayo is spread so thick on the bottom a little oozes out. There is a little yellow mustard on the top. The crunch of the slightly greasy Texas toast and the velvety smoothness of the melted ­American cheese contrast wildly with the drippy half pound of juicy ground beef and fixin's. It's like a big handmade Texas burger stuffed inside a giant grilled-cheese sandwich.

Ouisie's Table

The perfectly battered chicken-fried steak at Ouisie's has been rated the best in the state by more than one chicken-fried critic. The awesome meat patty is covered with an undulating crust and served with black pepper milk gravy in a metal gravy boat on the side so that you can dip each bite in gravy as you go, or pour a little on your plate. It comes with upscale Southern black-eyed peas, mustard greens and a rich corn pudding soufflé. There is also a chicken-fried venison steak on Ouisie's menu made of Axis venison backstrap pounded out, dipped in seasoned flour and pan-fried. The venison CFS comes with wild rice risotto, mushrooms and the corn pudding. Readers' Choice: Hickory Hollow

It's huge, it's inexpensive and it's fun. Located in a towering building on Bellaire between Synott and Dairy Ashford, Jackie Tan Restaurant looks like a fortress along the Great Wall of China. It seats over 300. The menu is huge, and there are lots of gloppy brown sauce dishes lying in wait for the unwary. If you pay attention, you can get some stellar food here. Don't miss the vaguely named "shrimp special salad" on the first page of the menu. It is the best shrimp and jellyfish salad in the city. Fresh snow pea shoots quickly sautéed with garlic are exceptional. And so is the crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-in-the-middle, deep-fried softshell crab served over a cold mixture of chopped scallions, herbs and hellaciously hot sliced green chilies. Call it an oversized Asian diner or a noodle house on steroids. Whatever you call it, Jackie Tan is defining the new frontier in Bellaire Chinatown.

Cafe Montrose

We suspect a young boy owns the establishment that makes this city's best chocolate mousse — not because mousse is akin to pudding, and that's what's often packed in Lunchables. You'll see why, once you visit this hideaway featuring Belgian cuisine. Festooning the cafe's walls are dozens of pictures and other likenesses of boys and cherubs holding their penises. Some are peeing. Must be a Belgian thing. We shrug as we wolf down the creamy concoction so strong and rich it's like eating Scharffen Berger with a spoon. If you can stomach the art, stay for dinner. The mussel dishes are divine, and they come with French fries (which just may have been invented in Belgium).

Cleburne Cafeteria - CLOSED

If Houston traffic leaves you needing some serious TLC, Cleburne Cafeteria is your place. Everything about this Houston staple whispers comfort. Drift through the line and pick up heaping bowls of mayo-filled salads, thick-sliced meatloaf, gooey chicken and dumplings and layer upon layer of luscious cake slices before sliding into a chair and relaxing with your meal. You'll feel right at home, assuming you live on a waterbed doped up on Vicodin. Be careful not to zone out so much that you start to hum along to instrumental versions of Lite FM favorites that slowly creep into your brain. The remarkable selection of homemade goods brings in lots of salivating customers, so get there early to stake your claim.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of