Buffalo Grille
Photo by Houston Press Staff

If you want to avoid the hyper-corporate flopcakes at places like International House of Crap or the House of Guys, head on over to one of these home-style grills. Buffalo Grille has good old-fashioned hotcakes the size of your head. There is no short-stack, or even a half-stack. Stacking these country cakes would be totally ridiculous. They're huge and hot and tasty. The only thing better than lathering the pancake with butter and sweet, sticky syrup is ordering a side of the to-die-for peppered bacon. Mmmm...

Thien An
Photo by Jane Catherine Collins

What sets one pho apart from another? Quite simply, the broth. The longer it's cooked, the more profound the flavor, and here they start the broths early so that by lunch, they've been simmering for quite a while. Thien An has all of the traditional cuts of beef, steak, brisket, flank steak — both standard and fatty versions — tripe, tendon and, of course, meat balls, which can be added to any of the above at a small cost. All of the meats sit atop thin noodles and come with trimmings like fresh basil, jalapeño and bean sprouts. If you hit this spot at just the right time, your slurping will be drowned out by the slurping of others — so you won't feel embarrassed at all.

Abdallah's
Photo By Troy Fields

Abdallah's sells its pita bread not only at the store but also to many of the Middle Eastern restaurants and supermarkets in town. The bread here is large, about 12 inches in ­diameter. Six come in a package for the incredible price of $1.25. A whole-wheat version is available for $1.50. When toasted, the bread opens to form the perfect pocket, ready to be filled with your favorite falafel. Alternatively, you can tear off a piece and scoop up your favorite hummus or tabouleh. Even alone, the bread has a lot of flavor.

Russo's New York Coal-Fired Pizzeria

At Russo's New York Coal-Fired Pizzeria near the intersection of the Northwest Freeway and Highway 6, Anthony Russo has re-created the old-fashioned coal-fired pizzeria experience in a suburban strip center. But the superhot oven is only part of what Russo is doing right. You don't get a pizza crust with this kind of fabulous texture unless you can turn out a high-rising yeasty dough every day. And the only way to keep such a great pizza from getting gloppy is to teach every apprentice pizza maker in the place that you aren't doing your customers any favors when you pile too many toppings on the pie. And then there's the quality of the toppings themselves. As long as they can keep the oven hot, the dough yeasty and the toppings high in quality and low in quantity, Russo's New York Coal-Fired Pizzeria will have the best pie in Houston. Readers' Choice: Star Pizza

Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca

Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca is owned by Marco Wiles, the chef-owner of Houston's best Italian restaurant, Da Marco. Wiles says that Dolce Vita is a tribute to authentic Italian pizzerias. Heating up a brick oven takes a long time, which is why the great pizzerias in Italy are only open in the evening. Dolce Vita is following their lead, so forget about grabbing a pizza for lunch. While the 12 pizzas are by far the most popular items on the menu, the unusual antipasti items are worth sampling. Come early for the two-floor happy hour scene. Downstairs, the double-sided wine bar and the row of tables overlooking the pizza oven are one of the hottest see-and-be-seen spots in the city for the black-T-shirt-and-blue-jeans set. Upstairs, a funky maze of dining rooms with parquet floors and faux wood-grain painted walls offers lots of quiet corners for intimate conversation.

Perry's Steakhouse and Grille

There should be a prize for eating Perry's entire seven-finger pork chop by yourself in one sitting. Really, this is one big cut of meat. Stacked seven fingers thick (hence its name), this pork chop is carved tableside into three large pieces. Served with garlic butter on top and applesauce on the side, the meat is falling-apart tender and wonderfully caramelized. The closer to the bone you get, the sweeter and tastier the mouthfuls become. And nibbling those last bits right off the bone like a gluttonous caveman is definitely encouraged; the dish is served with a damp towel for cleaning your hands when you're finished. Come to think of it, enjoying an entire Perry's pork chop by yourself really is like winning a prize.

Bistro Lancaster
Jeff Balke

With her ever-changing seasonal menus and inspired take on traditional fare, talented award-winning Executive Chef Jamie Zelko has revitalized Bistro Lancaster, once again making it the best spot to grab a bite before a show or a drink right after. Located inside The Lancaster Hotel in the Theater District, the bistro is the perfect spot to dine and then make it to the show on time. Servers know their clientele, and they expertly get time-pressed theatergoers in and out without seeming to rush at all. And after the concert or play, stop by again to enjoy the bistro's cozy English-style bar, rated one of the top ten in the country by Food & Wine magazine.

Reef

Reef is an intensely local restaurant that caters to our city's culinary eccentricities. Chef-owner Bryan Caswell, who grew up in Houston, used to do a lot of fishing. Fishermen understand the treasures of the Gulf of Mexico in a way that non-fishermen never quite get. At Reef, the menu changes every day to take advantage of what's available. Sure, there's shrimp, crab, oysters and red snapper. But there's also wahoo with plantains, tripletail with artichokes, amberjack with asparagus and sheepshead with orange mustard. But Reef isn't just giving Gulf seafood its much-deserved props, it is also paying homage to the whole spectrum of influences that makes food taste like it came from Houston. Vietnamese hot pot, Indian raita, Mexican carnitas and Southern corn pudding might sound like an odd combination of things to put on the same menu — except in Houston where we eat Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican and Gulf Southern cooking all the time. Reef also has the best wine deals in town. A bottle of Jermann pinot grigio that sells for $65 in an Italian restaurant across town goes for $39 at Reef. There's not another restaurant or wine bar in Houston that keeps their wines in temperature-controlled storage and sells them at these prices.

Open City

The best part about Open City's wine-and-fruit concoction is that they make their sangria with bourbon. Before you scream, "Spanish booze sacrilege," taste it! Better yet, have a pitcher on the rooftop with its view of the city skyline while you're surrounded by scores of hot women and quick bartenders. Open City's reverse happy hour runs from 9-11 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. You can get $3 Texas ruby red sangria, regularly $7 a glass, or a pitcher for $24. What more could you want? How about a Bloody Mary bar? They have one on Saturdays, just in case you overindulge on Friday night. Too bad they don't have reverse hangovers.

Best Seafood Restaurant

Traditional Cajun crawfish bisque was the best starter at the old Jimmy Wilson's on Westheimer. Fried green tomatoes topped with jumbo lump crabmeat is the signature appetizer of the upscale new Jimmy Wilson's on San Felipe. The list of fresh fish written on a chalkboard at the old place appears on a flat-screen television set in the sleek new dining room, and it is likely to include such rarely seen Gulf delicacies as angelfish, cobia and golden tilefish. Get your catch of the day broiled simply with lemon butter, or get any fish on the list with a sinful Louisiana cream sauce. A wall of wines entices you to trade up from cold beer and Cajun cocktails. Usually when a down-home restaurant goes upscale, it falls on its face, but owners Jimmy Jard and Denis Wilson have pulled it off.

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