Zelko Bistro - CLOSED

Located in an airy little house in the Heights, the newly minted Zelko Bistro has taken a concept we readily adore — comfort food — and added an upmarket spin. Are you one of those naysayers who think comfort food and white linen don't jibe? Fried chicken breaded with Cap'n Crunch, an outstanding Reuben and the city's best fried green tomatoes will have you thinking otherwise. Chef Jamie Zelko seems to know that reputable meatloaf is essential if comfort food's your game. Cooked in a can and served over a mound of buttery mashed potatoes, her "Homeless Joe" meatloaf dances on the tightrope separating down-home and upmarket. You'll want it again and again. Fried pickles, hearty soups and a fabulous burger are additional reasons to hang your hat on the Zelko rack night after night.

READERS' CHOICE:

Phoenicia Specialty Foods

The proprietors call it Phoenicia, but we like to refer to it as "heaven." With aisle upon aisle of international goodies, this grocery warehouse is the kind of place where one can easily spend half a day and drop a lot of cash. But the pita bread (or pideh, as you'll see it labeled here) is alone worth making the drive for — soft, with just the right amount of chew, these rounds are in a far different category from the generally bland pitas sold elsewhere. You've also got to see Phoenicia's ingenious pita conveyor belt in person, which snakes from the second-story bakery down into the middle of the first floor, sliding fresh bread down to waiting Phoenicia staffers. Grab a still-warm bag. Or two. Or four.

The Chocolate Bar
Dave Rosales

With flavors like Chocolate Banana Pudding and Brownie Supreme, the aptly named The Chocolate Bar is a chocoholic's paradise. Try the Candylicious Junkyard, which takes six classic candy bars and mixes them into a luscious white chocolate ice cream, transforming them into the ultimate nostalgic treat. The most popular choice is the Creamy Dreamy Truffle, which blends chocolate truffles into an exquisitely velvety chocolate ice cream. It will delight your palate with an intriguing mix of silky textures and decadently rich chocolate.

Best Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant

Udipi

Udipi

You don't get much more vegetarian-friendly than a restaurant whose menu doesn't contain a shred of meat on it. The southern Indian cuisine at Udipi is entirely meat-free, but that doesn't mean it's boring or won't fill you up. Offering everything from playful, light-hearted fare like creamy, sweet mango lassis and springy idlis to more substantial dishes like fragrant aloo gobi and navratan korma, Udipi encourages you to experiment with vegetable-based dishes in an easygoing environment with reasonable prices. And what's more, it's bringing that attitude and its delicious food to the suburbs: Udipi also has locations in Katy and Sugar Land.

Jenni's Noodle House

When Jenni's Noodles moved to South Shepherd and West Alabama, gay smiles filled the 'Trose. Now the gay-friendly eatery offers its Dream Rolls and Angry Udon inside the sacred Loop. Jenni's is famous for serving traditional Vietnamese dishes with interesting names and plenty of culinary twists that are tasty and fun. And the service is always friendly. This is a come-as-you-are eatery that has magically avoided the clichés of so many other restaurants.

Fins

Fins' salt and pepper shrimp may sound like a simple dish, but what it lacks in complexity, it makes up for in its flawless execution. All the ingredients are very fresh and flavorful. Plump, juicy shrimp are very lightly battered and fried until perfectly crispy outside and succulent within. The generous grinding of pepper adds a nice hint of spice, while the sweet heat of the ginger is an unexpected treat. Served with sweet sautéed onions and green bell peppers, this understated dish provides maximum satisfaction.

Stella Sola

Yes, Stella Sola is owned by local celebrity chef Bryan Caswell, and yes, Stella Sola can be a bit pricey for dinner and wine, but brunch is its great egalitarian offering. Served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday, brunch brings nothing less than this "Texas-Tuscan" restaurant's spot-on food at far more reasonable rates. Knock down a "toad in a hole," with egg housed in homemade brioche, along with ham, mushrooms and cheese, for only $9, or grab a plate of shrimp and polenta (which is really just grits) with some bacon for $11. And since this is an Italian-inspired eatery — Stella Sola means "Lone Star" in Italian — don't forget a glass of Prosecco to wash it all down.

Irma's
Stephanie Meza

Irma's has been a Houston institution for years, holding court in a cramped but festive building almost directly underneath 59 South. The crowd is full of regulars, who know not to ask for menus (a list of available items will be delivered orally). This is the place to fill up on the fine frozen margaritas, fresh lemonade and crisp, salty chips dipped into fantastic guacamole. It's depressing how often guacamole in this town is presented at baby-food consistency, betraying a prepackaged pea-green color and all but flavorless. Not so at Irma's, where chunks of ripe avocado stand out for texture, garlic flavor is prominent and fresh cilantro and minced jalapeño garnish a bowl of guacamole done right.

Pho Binh

Tucked into a nondescript block of Beamer well south of Hobby Airport lies the Pho Binh trailer and the best soup in Houston. That's right, it's a trailer: a temporary building with a weensy kitchen and two tiny rooms packed with tables. The gracious staff turns out bowl upon bowl filled with broth so pure, you want to bathe in it. Meats like chicken, rare beef and pork meatballs are moist-tender-delicious, and the long, smooth noodles slip-slide down with the greatest of ease. It is, quite simply, perfection in a bowl. That said, be sure to get there early; they run out of this pho goodness each and every day. You might have to share a table — that's how small it is — but that just means you get to chat with your neighbors.

CHA Champagne & Wine Bar

Cha has an amazing selection of reds and whites, plus an excellent list of Champagnes. Though you can pop a $400 bottle of bubbly here, you can also purchase a delightful glass for less than $10. Cha also has a small menu of delicious nibbles, including perfectly baked flatbread pizzas adorned with truffle oil and sea salt, cheese plates, and smoked duck breast that perfectly complement the Champagne and wines without overpowering them. Even those generally averse to wine bars will enjoy luxuriating in Cha's cozy interior while listening to a local live musician or heading to the second-floor patio for an unparalleled view of downtown.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of