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.

Ropa Vieja
Theo Santos
Ropa Vieja

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.

Taqueria Del Sol

Seeing how the lunch rush starts darn near breakfast time, finding a quiet time at Taqueria del Sol is next to impossible. And once you begin your meal, you'll see why. Your food will arrive fast and furious and all kinds of delicious. Gorditas are thick and picante, packed with your choice of meat or nopales. Quesadillas and enchiladas are equally enticing, with flavorful meats and fresh shredded lettuce. But the real star here is the torta, easily the best in town. Our favorite is the torta de barbacoa, a Mexican sandwich of tender barbecued meat atop a soft, flavorful bun and bursting with lettuce, tomato, guacamole and sour cream. This thing is fantastic, huge and just $2.75. Taqueria del Sol is four times better than your regular Mexican joint, and half the price. Service is friendly and helpful. And there's a bakery attached if you need a little pan dulce post-meal.

Yelapa Playa Mexicana

Yelapa is not your run-of-the-mill Mexican joint. In fact, it offers more of a postmodern spin on traditional Mexican cuisine. Chef L.J. Wiley uses local ingredients in breathtaking ways, creating dishes that are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate. You won't want to miss the innovative ceviches, flash-marinated in lime juice; ingredients rotate according to what's fresh and what's in season, but we love how Chef Wiley combines fish with sour citrus and picante spice. If ceviche's not your thing, grab a plate of Yelapa's "real guacamole," a mound of avocado chunks combined with tomato, mango and fennel. And if you're looking for something a little more mainstream, try the tacos al pastor, one of the outrageous gazpachos or the delectable softshell crab.

Brennan's of Houston
Photo by Troy Fields

Although we all miss the old Brennan's, which was destroyed by fire during the ferocity of Hurricane Ike, the new incarnation of one of the Bayou City's crown jewels has taken our breath away. Gone is the old, shaded courtyard and slightly fussy ladies-who-lunch interior. In their place is a stunning two-story tribute to modernism with highly retro and elegantly classical tendencies, each dining room in the restaurant a different interpretation of this new design aesthetic. Those in search of sunlight will want to dine in the vibrantly chartreuse-and-white Solarium, while those looking for that cozy, tucked-in feeling will seek out the John Staub Room, with its graceful shades of chocolate and taupe anchored by a roaring fireplace. And those in search of a deal will find the 25-cent martinis served at Brennan's bar during lunch to be the most ideal refuge of all.

Royal Restaurant

For an all-around authentic Indian/Pakistani experience, you can't beat Royal. You will get the royal treatment here, not to mention some really outstanding food. The goat champ is reason enough to come here, but you must also try the chicken korma, which will send your taste buds to nirvana. The menu is straightforward, and if you can't decide, the owners will guide you. You can't go wrong with any meat simmered in curry.

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