Gelato Blu

The 75 varieties of gelato available here are all made by hand, and they should keep even the worst ice-cream-aholic satisfied for quite a while. All of the gelatos are extremely dense with intense flavors. There's also sorbetto, made with virtually nothing but fruit. It's hard to pick just one flavor, so the kind folks here are ready with a sample spoon. Perhaps you'll flip for the amaretto or the Almond Joy, or maybe the Baileys, tiramisu, blueberry cheesecake, chocolate macadamia or coconut peppermint.

Shri Balaji Bhavan Pure Vegetarian Restaurant
Jeff Balke

Shri Balaji Bhavan serves up some excellent Southern Indian comfort food that has not been dumbed down for the masses. The staff is friendly and willing to help navigate the menu, if you're not familiar with Indian food. Thali, or sampler platters of sorts, are a great way to try a number of things if you can't commit. There is also an impressive list of chaat — the bhel puri is addictive — and rice flour or lentil dosas that will make you return regularly to this unassuming vegetarian gold mine. Almost everything has a healthy amount of spice to it, so you'll want to get a lassi or some chai to go along with the meal.

Shanghai Cuisine

Houston ethnic food doesn't get much more exotic than this. But even if you aren't up to trying street foods like otak otak (tubular "fish cakes" grilled inside banana leaves and dipped in spicy peanut sauce), gado gado (watercress, long beans, cabbage, and fried tofu tossed in chili-spiked peanut sauce with crispy shrimp chips) or nasi goreng with sator (fried rice with "stink beans"), you will still find much to love at this little Indonesian diner. Try the chicken satay. You will think you've never eaten satay before. Covered in sweet soy-and-peanut sauce and dotted with chopped peanuts and garlic bits, the luscious Indonesian version of chicken satay is nothing like the dried-out chicken on a stick you get at Thai restaurants. Truth is, satay, much like the rest of Thai cuisine, comes from the much older culture of Indonesia.

Ristorante Cavour

Flawless is the only word to describe the service at this exclusive place with only seven tables in the Hotel Granduca. However, it's not just the traditional European-style service and unmistakable attention to detail that make Ristorante Cavour what it is; it's the fabulous, authentic, traditional Italian food that puts it over the top. You're encouraged to have three courses here, in the typical Italian manner, excluding dessert. For your antipasto, start with the wild mushroom soup, one of the best-tasting soups you'll ever encounter, or perhaps the beef carpaccio. For your primo, try the homemade gnocchi in a sage-veal juice, the soft polenta with parmesan or the risotto Milanese. For your secondo, have the osso buco or the chicken scaloppini, either of which will give you a taste of real Italian.

Do yourself a favor and try the tilapia in brown sauce.
Photo by Daniel Kramer
Do yourself a favor and try the tilapia in brown sauce.

In a city with summers hot enough to cook an egg on your forehead, a place like Caribbean Jerk Cuisine is a cabana in the sun. No fusion crap at this spicy hole in the wall, just good down-home tropical specialties like curried goat, hot meat pies and jerk snapper. How do you jerk a snapper? Lots of aromatic spices and hot chiles like habaneros, that's how. Don't forget the jerk chicken, pork chops and salad. This place knows how to treat fish and people: Just keep the latter full of ice-cold Red Stripe and delicious fresh food.

Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen Restaurant

Would it kill you to eat a little something, or do you enjoy breaking your mother's heart? If that sounds familiar, you'll be right at home at Kenny & Ziggy's, where authentic New York deli food is done up right. Dig into a gargantuan Reuben or corned beef sandwich. Get a bagel topped with any of the stunning smoked fish, with perhaps a side of matzoh ball soup. The enormous desserts are a must-try, especially the golf ball-size macaroons, colossal layer cakes, or an éclair that outweighs that barking Dachshund that keeps you up at night.

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Troy+Fields
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As the name promises, Tofu Village has all kinds of tofu (most of which are not vegetarian) and a village of two-dimensional Korean glitterati whose eyes follow your every move. It also has all kinds of pancakes, and they are quite delicious. What sets Tofu Village apart is that its pancakes — whether zucchini, seafood, oyster or kimchi/shiitake/beef — come out sizzling hot on cast iron platters, which makes them crispy and less doughy than at other places. On our last visit, we got the gringo treatment and received uninspired iceberg lettuce salads instead of the delicious banchan (side dishes) that usually accompany the meals; so you might have to request the colorful native lagniappe if you're offended by iceberg.

House of Pies
Jeff Balke

Low-key doesn't begin to describe this Upper Kirby institution, where the wait staff has seen it all and won't bat an eyelash if you come in from your job still in uniform or from that costume party still dressed as Catwoman. Although the pies are certainly the pièce de résistance of this 24-hour hangout, don't shy away from other menu items. With a constant stream of characters straight out of central casting, people-watching is as fun at 4 p.m. as it is at 4 a.m., and with menu items like the Hangover Omelet, late-nighters are a welcome addition to the eclectic scene. Best of all, since breakfast is served 'round the clock, it's never too early or too late to hit up the reliable eggs, buttery sandwiches or daily specials.

Pico's Mex-Mex Restaurant

Few things can bring you sheer joy like a ­margarita the size of your head — just as ­nothing can bring about sheer agony like two margaritas the size of your head. Pico's momentous 48-ounce margarita is a good balance of sweet and tart and an excellent deal. If you're in the mood for something more adventurous, Pico's also has a healthy list of top-shelf margaritas, like the San Miguel with hibiscus liquor. But it's hard to beat the original. Readers' Choice: Café Adobe

Anybody can make a martini: Shake the booze and ice till it's so cold you can't taste it or feel it going down your throat, making it easy to drink three in an hour and get so shit-canned you're wearing your necktie like a headband and telling your boss at happy hour what you "really think about your bonus." But can they serve it with three olives stuffed with ­prosciutto, blue cheese and caviar? Who is the glutton that thought of this? How rich and bored do you have to be to stuff three decadent ingredients into one of God's fruits and then soak it in a top-shelf vodka? What's next, a lobster mojito? If you don't mind supporting a corporate restaurant, then you probably won't mind spending $15 on a drink. Check it. Readers' Choice: Davenport

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