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.

Da Marco
Photo by Houston Press staff

There was a time in Houston when the best tables were awarded to the wealthy and prominent and the rest of us had to wait. In those days, great service meant sucking up to socialites and fluffing napkins, not providing information about the menu and the wine list. Da Marco is the upscale Italian restaurant that changed all that. Da Marco was a radical departure from the style of Gulf Coast Italian restaurants that long ruled Houston. Instead of following the familiar formula of opulent decor, overly rich sauces and obsequious waiters, chef Marco Wiles took his inspiration from a new generation of cutting-edge Italian restaurants like Mario Batali's Babbo in Greenwich Village. When rich Houston patrons accustomed to getting their own way demanded that chef Wiles make them ham sandwiches instead of eating the food he worked so hard to create, Wiles told them to "go eat at Tony's."

This Is It

Family-owned since its beginning, This Is It Soul Food is all about big, hefty servings of done-right down-home cooking. Back when it opened in 1959, a meal cost 89 cents. It's a bit more these days, but still more than reasonable. Now $10 will get you a plateful of fried catfish, smothered pork chops, barbecue ribs or oxtails and more (specials change daily). You'll also get three heaping servings of greens, mac and cheese, white rice, yams, green beans or chitterlings and hot cornbread. Lunch crowds are big (expect a line between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.), and include business people from downtown, local celebs from the African-American community, blue-­collar workers and just plain old regular hungry folks. When you're in the mood for soul food, This Is It!

After a few bites of the borrego al pebre at Inka South American Cuisine, you may find yourself wondering where in South America the recipe for this rack of lamb crusted with spices and served with a battered and deep-fried avocado quarter came from exactly. Yes, the menu also features authentic arepas, glorious empanadas and lots of intriguingly seasoned postmodern ceviches — but is Inka really a South American restaurant? You would have to ask chef/owner David Sanchez, a Culinary Institute of America grad, for the answer to that question. And Sanchez is a bit ambiguous on the subject. He describes the fare at his colorful and casual far-west Westheimer eatery as "South American-inspired," but admits his innovative menu aims for excitement over authenticity. So maybe it's more accurate to call this great new restaurant a 21st-century Nuevo Latino cafe. Try the crusted lamb chops, the coconut shrimp and the mussels with corn salsa, and you'll give Sanchez the benefit of the doubt.

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse

Sure, this is the place to see and be seen, and it's been so ever since it opened its doors. Sure, the decor is superb (it was the most expensive build-out in the city's history). Sure, it's one of the largest restaurants in the city (it seats 400). Sure, it has the most expensive and extensive wine list in the city. None of these, however, are the reason to come here. You come to Del Frisco's for a big, honking piece of meat, expertly prepared, naked except for simple salt and pepper. Forget the to-die-for crab cakes. Forget the lobster. Forget the sautéed mushrooms or the potatoes or the creamed spinach. It's aged, corn-fed, straight from the Midwest meat cut to order — bone-in rib eye, porterhouse, Double Eagle strip (26-ounce, bone-in), filet mignon. Any questions?

Sushi Jin

It's obvious after one bite that Sushi Jin has raised the bar for Houston's raw fish lovers. Flown in from Japan, the mouthwatering pieces of salmon, tuna and yellow tail are sure to impress even the snobbiest connoisseurs. Wanna walk on the wild side? Jellyfish, sea cucumber and other exotics are hidden away in a secret stash — all you have to do is ask and prove you're no novice. Private karaoke rooms allow diners to sing and dance, or you can just relax in one of the booths and enjoy the restaurant's simple, elegant decor.

This stately white and stainless steel taco truck can be found at the corner of Hillcroft and Jessamine on the same block as Droubi's Middle Eastern grocery and bakery. The cooking is top-notch, and the garnishes are unusually elaborate. Try the quesadillas al pastor, lovingly topped off with sour cream, avocado and cilantro. You get two salsas with every order, a fiery red and a tart green, and a little foil pouch full of radishes and marinated onions. "My beautiful Huetamo #2" is the English translation; the taqueria on wheels was named after the town of Huetamo in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán. The truck was recently purchased by a seasoned kitchen veteran named Nicolas who has worked in Houston restaurants, including Carrabba's and Pappas Brothers Seafood, for the last 22 years. Nicolas decided it was time to go out on his own. He says the hours are long, but he doesn't have a boss anymore, so it's worth it.

Alamo Tamale & Taco
Photo by Daniel Kramer

There are two kinds of tamales to be found here: the machine-made kind, which aren't bad, and the handmade kind, which are unbelievable. Either way, you'll be given a paper bag containing your booty, since there's nowhere to eat them. Pick up a dozen handmade chicken or beef tamales or, best of all, six of each for $8. No two are exactly alike. The meat makes up more than half of these tamales, unlike some places where there's more masa than meat. The chicken and the beef fillings are coarsely cut, so you can easily tell what you're eating. Orders come with red or green salsa, which is almost unnecessary, since the tamales at Alamo Tamale Factory are already so moist.

Rioja - CLOSED

Serving classic tapas and sangria, Rioja is a standard among Spanish restaurants in Houston. It is pretty much a no-brainer that when you go to Rioja, you're going to get some pretty badass tapas, like the house-made chorizo or the fried shrimp with smoked paprika. Rioja serves good-size proportions of authentic, well-made tapas, reasonably priced and made with fresh ingredients. But the kicker is you can wash them down with an amazing sangria. In a nutshell, this place is perfect for getting borracho and having some handy snacks to take care of you.

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