Pesce

Pesce doesn't get the respect it deserves among foodies because it's part of the Landry's chain, and though it is a bit pricey, it does fish right. The Spicy Buffalo Calamari is a standout. For $10 you get a heaping portion of golden, fried calamari which can best be described as little ringlets of spicy goodness. Spiked with a dash of Crystal hot sauce, it's refreshing to see a high-end Cajun version of this classic appetizer that is often missing from so many menus. Served with carrot and celery sticks and a side of ranch dressing, the calamari is great to order at happy hour or to start off a fish feast.

Enjoy the bread at places like Da Marco and Branch Water Tavern? That's because it's baked locally by Slow Dough, an artisanal bakery run by Heath Wendell and Marlo Evans. Like the talented folks at Feast — which Slow Dough supplies with loaves of fresh sourdough — Wendell has taken up the craft of his ancestors. The fifth-generation baker started Slow Dough in April 2009 and quickly began to turn out the best ciabatta and baguettes in town. Restaurants like BRC and Poscol as well as bars like Anvil now stock the fresh bread, delivered daily. Recently, the bakery partnered with Georgia's Farm to Market to sell products directly to the public, so you don't have to wait until your next night out to enjoy a dreamy loaf of pain au levain.

Barnaby's Cafe
Photo by Houston Press Staff

Never atop any list of health foods, hot dogs seem to get a bad rap these days. But if you feel the urge to splurge and gobble down a dog, you won't find a better option than the all-natural foot-long at Barnaby's Cafe. Served on a toasted bun and sliced down the middle into two meaty halves, this hot dog is seared to perfection, with the grill marks to prove it. Purists can order it plain and revel in that all-beef flavor, or pile on the cheese and chili. If you still have room afterwards, don't forget that often-overlooked side of crispy, Cajun, thin-cut fries, and see how Barnaby's delivers the classic hot dog experience that brings you back to those childhood cookouts, but without all the work.

Tecate Mexican Restaurant
Jeff Balke

From the outside, the place doesn't look like much — just a typical near-Northwest Side Mexican joint that has just about evolved from a taqueria into a full-fledged restaurant. And once you are inside, you will see that there are few frills and the prices are still nice. But one bite of Tecate's carne asada will melt your soul. Wrapped in a tortilla with a dollop of guacamole and a sprinkle of pico, this perfectly marinated, charred just so and delectably juicy beef will renew your faith in a dish that is too often served up tough and overly chewy. Wash it down with a namesake beer and enjoy your ascent into el cielo.

Joe Steelhammer is cranking out some of the most luscious gourmet cakes, pies and cheesecakes in town, but it's his ethereal quiches that are beyond impressive. His motto is "Real Men Eat Quiche," and he takes this very seriously. It all starts with a decadently buttery, flaky crust which he fills with farmers' market-fresh ingredients that rotate weekly. Recent offerings include tender baby spinach, sweet sun-dried tomatoes, succulent crab and plump, pink shrimp. Steelhammer then works his magic by combining these gems with eggs and a sinful amount of cheese. Just try and resist the deliciousness.

Luigi's Pizzeria

At Luigi's, the owner works in the kitchen, the wife takes your order and the daughter brings you your food. In a fast-food culture, this kind of business is few and far between. Luigi's just has plain good food and service. The pizza is thin-crust, with mounds of toppings and piping-hot cheese. The menu is written on a dry-erase board and is kept simple, with salads, hot wings, calzones and gelato. Specials range from lamb to spaghetti. The honest, hardworking family that runs Luigi's will keep you coming back for the great pizza, while the amazing gelato will keep you there a little longer.

Bombay Pizza Co.
Photo by Troy Fields

Bombay Pizza Co. is worth visiting for its sheer originality. It only helps that every pizza made here is fantastically scrumptious. The pie starts on a thin, crispy crust studded with sesame seeds, unlike any crust you have tried before. Next comes an unprecedented array of toppings. The saag paneer version features spiced greens, paneer, fontina, goat cheese and mozzarella. For something spicier, try the Gateway to India, which boasts tandoori chicken, crabmeat, artichoke hearts, fresh cilantro, mozzarella, provolone and cilantro chutney. You can also make a custom creation, but with so many amazing options available, you probably won't want to.

Huynh
Stephanie Meza

Huynh is an easy spot to love — this family-owned-and-operated restaurant serves up fresh, authentic Vietnamese in a casual dining room in east Downtown. Favorites like char-grilled pork noodle bowls and spicy bun bo hue are lined up alongside some of the best tofu in town (No. 82, tofu with curry, coconut and peanut) on a cheaply priced menu. Thoughtful touches, like simple syrup served with iced tea, add to the restaurant's value and set it apart.

Mojito
Theo Santos
Mojito

Flor de Cuba never skimps on authentic flavor or Latin flair while serving up all of the best traditional Cuban dishes. Start your day off with a tortilla abuelita (omelet with fried plantains) and one of the most authentic cups of café cubano you'll find outside of Havana. Or stop by for dinner and feast on chuletas de puerco, garlicky black beans and fluffy white rice. There is also a full bar serving up great mojitos, a bakery filled with tropical fruit treats, and live music on the weekends.

Istanbul Grill & Deli

For more than 12 years, the friendly folks at Istanbul have been serving Turkish food with a smile and a helpful hand in Rice Village. Even if the rest of the Village is entirely different these days from the quiet shops and restaurants that once populated Times and University, Istanbul hasn't changed at all. It's still the same welcoming, low-key Turkish bungalow that it always has been, and dining on the broad patio or inside, amidst the clatter of the kitchen and the fresh meats on display in the refrigerated cases, has always been like eating with family. If you have questions about the menu, the waitstaff are more than eager to explain any dishes or traditions to you and are quick to offer up some of the deliciously dark Turkish beer or coffee to accompany your meal. No flagging down is necessary here, nor do they hover. Happy mediums like that are hard to come by in restaurant service these days.

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