Feast

Frank Bruni, the restaurant critic of The New York Times, paid his props after a visit to Feast last spring. "It's a full-on, extended ode to offal that has no real peer in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other major cities that pride themselves on their epicurean adventurousness," he wrote in his Critic's Notebook column in the Times. With "nose-to-tail eating" getting more buzz in the food world than ever before, Brits Richard Knight (the chef) and James Silk (the butcher) have put Houston out in front of the entire country with their cutting-edge carnivore cuisine. Both Richard and James have worked for some prestigious, Michelin-rated places and people, most notably under Fergus Henderson of St. Johns, in London, where James studied the "whole beast" philosophy at the feet of the master. Better hurry up and order some beef heart or tongue and testicles in green sauce before the lines get too long.

Ristorante Cavour

There is an art to making the perfect risotto. Cook it too long, and the much-prized al dente texture disappears in a soft mass. Add too much stock, and the dish turns into a soup. Balancing the flavors of saffron, wine, onion and stock is a delicate task indeed — too much of any one will overpower the dish. All four flavors should be present, along with a generous dab of butter and ample shavings of a good Parmigiano. At Cavour, the chef makes a classic risotto Milanese masterfully. The result is a spectacular combination of flavors with a firm texture and bright yellow color.

Boheme Cafe & Wine Bar

Perhaps it's a combination of the Spanish decor and slightly tropically tinged atmosphere of Boheme that makes rum the drink of choice here. Or perhaps it's just the killer mojitos the place turns out day after day to thirsty crowds of art lovers and assorted Montrose rogues. Whether freshly muddled (you can smell the bright snap of mint as soon as you walk in) or frozen, mojitos are on nearly every table here, along with glasses of wine and Boheme's famous homemade sangria. Sipping your mojito among the fat, green clumps of bamboo and the fascinating Zimbabwean sculptures on the back patio, it's easy to forget you're in Houston — until you notice the enormous three-story condo looming above you, that is.

Reef

Bryan Caswell was named one of the 10 Best New Chefs in the country by Food & Wine Magazine this year. He owes much of that honor to the bounty of the Gulf of Mexico. Caswell is a fisherman, and he understands the treasures of the Gulf in a way that non-fishermen never quite get. His nickname on Twitter is "Wholefish," and that's also the name of his seafood encyclopedia of a blog. The name describes his culinary philosophy in one word — Caswell doesn't buy filets or fish steaks or anything that someone else has cut up; he buys whole fish. That's the only way to know exactly what you're getting, he says. At Reef, the menu takes advantage of what's available. Sure, there's shrimp, crab, oysters and red snapper. But there's also wahoo, tripletail, amberjack and sheepshead. These are fish that no one else in town is cooking, and at Reef, they are all presented in unexpectedly brilliant dishes.

Baby Barnaby's Cafe
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

Although any one of the four Barnaby's locations will offer you unrivaled service, the original location — tucked away in a residential area in Montrose off Fairview — still sets the bar. Despite long waits on weekends and occasionally cramped quarters inside (especially when you're dining at Baby Barnaby's next door), the waitstaff are never anything short of charming and gracious. Between complimenting your hairstyle, telling your grandmother how glorious she looks today, recommending their favorite dishes and always getting your order perfect, the staff always offer excellent service. And employees appear to love the place just as much: Anecdotes have flown for years of high-end maître d's attempting to lure Barnaby's crew members to "greener pastures" and failing every time.

Segari's

The late Sam Segari was nuts about shrimp. His restaurant, Segari's, is run by his daughter now. But the shrimp dishes are still made with U-10s, the largest Gulf shrimp available. The cryptic code means "under ten to a pound" — the actual average size is close to a fifth of a pound each. They come fried, grilled or boiled. The boiled are served in a shrimp cocktail with some huge crab "lollipop" claws. The fried shrimp are so big, they are flattened out before being battered. They taste like chicken-fried shrimp steaks. If you are a demanding customer who can't excuse slow service, eccentric attitudes and made-up-on-the-fly prices, don't even bother setting foot in Segari's. But if you can pretend that you are eating at an eccentric friend's house and go with the high-spirited flow at this little speakeasy, you can have a helluva good time.

This place is a dump, but the cooking is stellar. The wise move is to get your food packed up to go and enjoy it at home. The steam table features melt-in-your-mouth oxtails in brown gravy, fork-tender smothered pork chops, a falling-apart pepper steak in spicy sauce, and Creole meatloaf, all served with two vegetables and cornbread. In the one-bowl-meal category, there's chicken gumbo, ham hocks with butter beans, and a bowl of stewed chicken and fluffy homemade dumplings in a peppery gravy with a huge hunk of sweet cornbread on the side. The prices are ridiculously cheap — chicken and dumplings is $6.50, meat and vegetables are $8 to $10. The Kitchen Soul Food does lots of catering, and it's easy to see why. You can feed a big crowd some awesome home cooking for peanuts.

Pradaria Steaks & Churrascaria - CLOSED

Pradaria is a little different from the other churrascarias in town. There's sushi on the salad bar and a wider variety of rodízio meats. The servers in gaucho costumes come around with the usual rib eye and picanha, the juicy top sirloin that's doubled over into a C shape on the skewer. But they might also show up at your table with an entire 18-pound rib roast, or a rack of dainty pink lamb chops. They are also likely to offer you offal like sweetbreads and such seldom-seen specialties as cupim. Cupim is highly prized in Brazil. It comes from the hump of Brahma crossbred cattle, and it's as marbled as the best Kobe beef. As for the raw fish, it seems that nearly every churrascaria in Brazil serves sushi on the salad bar. There's a huge Japanese population in Brazil, and it's become a part of the churrascaria culture.

Oporto Cafe

Oporto has a great selection of tapas at very reasonable prices, even when happy hour isn't in effect. And though the name implies Portugal, the menu reflects the spirit of Spain. Spanish and Portuguese wines pair nicely with a diverse list of meats and cheeses. The small plates here are well apportioned, and the sangria is always a solid choice. Salada do mar, an interesting twist on ceviche, is fresh and generous, and daily specials are usually fantastic if you get there before they're sold out. Flavorful pizzette and panini are filling and the perfect snack before heading to a movie at Edwards Cinema across the street. Although you won't find paella here most days — Sunday is paella night — you'll walk away happy nonetheless.

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse

From the day construction began, Del Frisco's set out to be the top steak house in Houston. The 13,000-square-foot Galleria location is a copy of the 17,000-square-foot Del Frisco's in Manhattan. The walls are mahogany, the floors are Brazilian slate and the grand light fixtures are made from Spanish alabaster and cost $75,000 apiece. The total bill for the finish-out was reported to be more than $11 million. The food isn't cheap, either. The dry-aged Australian Kobe rib eye, at $90, is the most expensive steak on Del Frisco's menu and the best steak in town. The rest of the wet-aged USDA Prime steaks and USDA Choice filet mignon are on a par with a bevy of luxury steak houses located within minutes of Del Frisco's location, including Palm, Morton's of Chicago and Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. But it's not the quality of the steaks that puts Del Frisco's above its competitors. It's the service — there are three tables per waiter — an astonishing ratio. And the "customer first" attitude is a stark contrast to the run-up-the-bill scams encountered at some other steak houses.

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