Even though executive chef Steve Super left The Tasting Room at Uptown Park this year to helm the newest sister restaurant, Max's Wine Dive in Austin, the food remains as good as ever. When the Tasting Room expanded a few years back, it opened up space for not only a professional kitchen but also plenty of room to enjoy the food that came out of it. This is not your typical bar food: French fries are coated with divinely pungent white truffle oil, and artisanal charcuterie and cheese plates aim to complement your choice of wine. Sunday brunches with a distinctly Southern twist are hugely popular events, as are the occasional crawfish boils thrown on the patio in the summer. And while you normally wouldn't consider a weekday lunch at a wine bar, the menu of gourmet sandwiches and dishes, like goat cheese ravioli in a brown butter sauce, is so alluring that you'll even forget they serve wine.

In Houston, a great wine list used to mean pages and pages of old French wines that started at a hundred dollars a bottle and went up to the stratosphere. Today, thanks to the popularity of wine bars, overpriced and overrated labels are out and unknown regions and obscure varietals are in. Catalan is the best example of the new wine awareness. The restaurant combines cutting-edge food by chef Chris Shepherd (formerly of Brennan's) with the kind of exciting wine discoveries and wine education you expect in a top wine bar. Antonio Gianola (formerly of Da Marco) is the best sommelier in the city. He can wax eloquent on a list of stunning, innovative wines from around the world in the $30-to-$60 range that will surprise and delight the most jaded wine snob.

Photo by Houston Press Staff

BB's Cajun Cafe isn't entirely Cajun. Sure, the oyster poor boy with big, gooey crusted oysters is plenty Cajun. And so are the "Bedtime in the Bayou" shrimp sandwich and the spicy battered soft-shell crab on a roll. But the roast beef and gravy poor boy is pure New Orleans. So is the restaurant's most popular entrée, "Maw Maw's Grillades and Grits," a bowl full of deep brown gravy with tender round steak and a mound of grits. The "Southern Man" breakfast of fried catfish, grits and poached eggs is more like Mississippi Southern cooking. And the big donut-like beignets are Tex-Mex Creole, according to Brooks Bassler, the owner. The "Tex-Cajun Virgin," a plate of hot-out-of-the-fryer shoestring fries topped with roast beef slices, brown gravy and lots of chile con queso, is all by itself some new category of fusion cuisine that the rest of the world has yet to discover. And it sure tastes good.

Dave Rosales

There's a reason that The Chocolate Bar has a reputation as a chocoholic's heaven. From the dozens of flavors of chocolate ice cream to the endless choices of chocolate pies (and hot chocolate to put your grandma to shame), there's something here for everybody. As long as they like chocolate, that is. But the enormous, multilayered cakes stand out here, glistening in their cases like a fever dream brought on by too many viewings of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Although a slice of the dreamy, chocolate-upon-chocolate Aunt Etta's cake will run you $9.95, it's all the better to share with a friend — especially over two glasses of cold whole milk, legs dangling innocently from the high bar stools as you eat. Afterwards, work off the sugar buzz with a frenzied jaunt through Candylicious, the candy shop on the other side of the store, as you recapture your chocolate-loving childhood, if just for an afternoon.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of