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.

Laredo Taco Place

If it's down-home comfort you seek, look no further than Laredo Taqueria. From the woman behind the counter hand-rolling the softest of tortillas to the Little League photos and ceramic tiles depicting the Virgin Mary on the walls, this cozy one-room joint on the north side of town just off I-45 brings home the feeling of an old-timey taqueria. Fall into line alongside the display case that boasts simmering troughs of pork, chicken and fajita meats, all of which are falling-apart tender, and you'll see why this little gem is often packed. Plus, at $1.50 for a taco bursting with this much flavor, the price will make you feel good, too.

Los Dos Amigos
Jeff Balke

When Los Dos Amigos first opened 32 years ago, the sign above the building was red. The color has washed away over the years, and now you can barely read the name of the place. Los Dos Amigos is one of many restaurants on Washington Avenue that were built to serve the nearby Mexican barrio. The neighborhood has changed, but the humble little eatery still serves a disappearing variety of home-cooked Tex-Mex. Breakfast at Los Dos Amigos features hand-cut potatoes, homemade flour tortillas and silky refried beans. Don't embarrass yourself by asking if the tortillas and beans are made with lard. Of course they are. Breakfast tacos are 99 cents, and the breakfast specials are $3.25 until 10 a.m. For a true taste of yesteryear, order the cheese enchiladas topped with two fried eggs and raw onions.

Vieng Thai

Vieng Thai's dynamic dishes are a welcome change or addition to the ordinary just-home-from-work quick dinner out. As you enter the modest dining area, remind yourself that it's the food at Vieng Thai that's bringing you here. Random karaoke videos in the background may or may not add to the ambience, depending on your camp-tolerance that day. The impressive menu guides you through lime, peanut, eggplant, coconut and curry, and if you're looking for hot, you've come to the right place. Vieng Thai's spicy dishes make no concessions to the American palate, but there are also plenty of mild options listed for those who want to go home with some taste buds intact. Or meet in the middle with the kee mao noodles. While some heat is present, these are sure to appease those who are looking to take a brief stroll on the wild side. Vegetarians will appreciate an entire page of dishes geared especially to them.

Quan Yin

For those who want to live meat-free but still can't shake that craving for the forbidden, Quan Yin Vegetarian is the place. The soy substitutes come in just about every shape, color and type of animal that you'll find on a farm, and are as close to the real thing as you can get without drawing blood. One highlight of the extensive all-vegetarian menu is the soy-chicken and onions dish. Served with perfectly cooked broccoli florets, the tender chicken and sweet onions are brought to your table with a scoop of white rice. Thinly sliced ginger adds a nice kick. Bite after bite, your mouth will swear it's chicken while your mind will rest easy knowing it's not. The textures, colors and flavors in other dishes here get it right every time, and items like egg-less egg rolls make vegans happy as well.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of