Reef

After a lovely meal featuring some of Houston's best seafood, go ahead and indulge that aching sweet tooth with REEF's "No Minors" milk shake.This is not your grandfather's milk shake, nor is it fit for the children. Here, the age-old milk shake gets a kick in the pants, adding brandy and Kahlúa to its delicious ice cream base. Yowzah! It's basically the milk shake version of a Brandy Alexander: creamy and smooth — yet not so rich as to be considered sinful. Portions are large and hearty; we like to add an extra straw and share it 1950s-style.

Ocean's

One thing should be perfectly clear when ordering a dish of ceviche at Ocean's, the new restaurant that has taken over the old Bistro Vino space with panache: This is not the ceviche to which you are probably accustomed. The plates that come out at Ocean's are immense platters, artfully decorated with a few spare pieces of raw fish. The effect is more like sashimi than ceviche, but the taste is wholly Latin-influenced. The rasurado plate hums with the intensity of Serrano peppers mixed with chipotle sauce, the fiery flavors balanced by a creamy slice of avocado on top of each velvety piece of yellowtail tuna (which is the fish that Ocean's recommends with the platter). On an entirely different note, the Oriental plate — recommended with salmon — is elegantly seasoned with ginger, orange juice, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil. When's the last time you ate ceviche that comes with soy sauce?

Bombay Pizza Co.
Photo by Troy Fields

What could be more Houston than an amalgamation of Italian, American and Indian concepts into one fantastic dish? At Bombay Pizza, located on the ground floor of the Commerce Towers, owner Viral Patel has combined his Indian background with an affinity for making great pies, and the result is dazzling. The Saag Paneer is exactly what it sounds like: a pizza topped with spicy greens and paneer (Indian cheese) along with goat cheese and mozzarella on a delicately crispy crust. Think of a spinach pizza, but with a South Asian twist. Feeling more adventurous? Try a Gateway of India pizza that mixes tandoori chicken with artichoke hearts in a cilantro-chutney sauce. And don't fret about missing breadsticks with your order. Bombay Pizza has something even better: a Kati Roll, fresh naan filled with cilantro-mint chutney and a choice of fillings.

Ruggles Green
Jeff Balke

When you think of empanadas, you may not immediately think of the first Houston restaurant to be certified by the Green Restaurant Association, but the folks at Ruggles Green are churning out a delicious new twist on the classic South American dish. Cleverly named "Hempenadas," this version is made with high-protein hemp flour and a stuffing of golden raisins, nutty hemp seed and Texas grass-fed beef. $8.95 gets you a trio of half-moon delights with a ramekin of roasted garlic cilantro sauce for dipping, served as an appetizer. Delicate on the outside and moist on the inside, these all-natural creations are not to be missed.

Under The Volcano

If Under the Volcano seems like an unlikely place to order a shot, that's because it is. Most of the time, you'll see most regulars at this classic Rice Village bar drinking frozen screwdrivers, frozen rum and Cokes or just a plain old draft beer. But if you're feeling capricious, order a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake at the bar and prepare to judge shots quite differently. Unlike overly sweet intoxicants like Buttery Nipples or Red-Headed Sluts, the Volcano's Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is a shot you can actually sip on, if that's your thing. The tropical taste of pineapple washes down neatly with a smooth layer of vanilla and a bright note of grenadine at the very end. We're not saying you should make a habit of ordering these one after another, but there are far more embarrassing ways to get your shot on.

Block 7 Wine Company

At Block 7, dry-aged beef is topped with well-melted Gruyère and a bacon relish that adds a hint of smoke and edge to the already flavorful meat. The kitchen keeps additions to a minimum (arugula, Dijon aioli), and this restraint, plus an excellent bun from local Slow Dough bakers, keeps what could be an over-the-top burger from becoming pretentious. Block 7 also serves up toothsome sweet potato fries and one of the most reasonably priced wine lists in town, making the burger experience at the glass-lined Heights eatery an excellent one.

Beaver's
Photo by Houston Press Staff

This isn't your mama's chicken-fried steak — it's an obscene tower of goodness, impaled with a wood-handled steak knife, daring you to defeat it. Unlike many other CF steaks in town, the accompaniments at Beaver's are just as good as the main event: mashed sweet potatoes and Southern-style greens, all swaddled in a rich mushroom gravy with a side of Texas toast. And the star of the show? Perfectly crusted on the outside, moist and decadent on the inside. Fair warning — the faint of heart may need to bring a dining companion along to finish the plate.

Hank's Cajun Crawfish

There's nothing pretty about Hank's — it's a dive in a strip mall way the heck out on Bellaire, but man can these folks boil some crawfish. Big, fat mudbugs are served up for some of the lowest prices per pound in town, but the tail meat is sweet and tender, the spice blend perfect. You can order at four different levels of spice — mild, medium, spicy and tear-inducingly hot, adding in fresh garlic if you like. Luckily, cold beer is available to quell the fire in your mouth and Hank's sports plenty of other Louisiana favorites — po boys, boudin, barbecue shrimp and more — to round out your meal.

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.

Shri Balaji Bhavan Pure Vegetarian Restaurant
Jeff Balke

Like most restaurants in Little India — the section of town that straddles Hillcroft where it meets Highway 59 — Shri Balaji Bhavan is a hole in the wall, and it's enticingly inexpensive. But what sets Shri Balaji Bhavan apart from all its neighbors are two things: spice and authenticity. In the great eternal debate over which is more important — how good food tastes versus how bona fide it is — Shri Balaji Bhavan wins on both fronts. The supremely authentic cuisine here is also supremely delicious, from the delicate dosai and spicy samosas to the tangy bhel puri and the numerous other chaat dishes that are perfect for sharing. Ornot.

READERS' CHOICE: Indika

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