Escalante's

Not every Escalante's serves local red snapper. It is usually done as a special, and you have to ask about it. But when it's available, it's some of the freshest snapper we have ever tasted — firm and mild, with the taste of salt water. The skin is extra-crispy, and when you squeeze the lime over the top, the snapper will transform everything you know about fresh fish and make you a true believer. After you try it, you'll be calling Escalante's and asking if it's available.

Osaka Japanese Restaurant

It's refreshing when you find a place that's as genuinely comfortable as it is delicious, and that's exactly our experience at Osaka. The menu at this diminutive Japanese joint isn't mind-blowing, but it's consistently refreshing, with delicious salmon, shrimp, eel and tuna offered in creative combinations, all at reasonable prices. You'll find the standbys on the sushi list, plus a bunch of more adventurous rolls that expertly play with textures and flavors. Try one of the outstanding bento boxes for a quick lunchtime fix, or slurp up the fantastically simple soups. Nothing about Osaka is pretentious or loud. In fact, beyond the food, the zen atmosphere is one-upped only by the amiable servers, who can make suggestions and customize orders. Perhaps best of all, every diner gets a small freebie at the beginning of every meal — from creative rolls and punchy dumplings to golden tempura and steamy baked mussels. No wonder we love Osaka so much.

Mockingbird Bistro

Mockingbird is one of those rare bastions of civility that's open on a Monday night, all the better to enjoy a glass of wine and a carefully constructed cheese plate at the restaurant's stately bar, under the whimsical and watchful eyes of a ceiling full of gargoyles. Of course, you can order the cheese plate at your table, with your meal. If you're feeling particularly continental, order it for dessert. But the constantly rotating cheese plate — which lately has featured selections like local goat and beer-bathed tomme from Houston's own Pola alongside a smooth sheep's milk Ossau from France — is sure to be a highlight of your meal. And at three cheeses for only $9 (along with a selection of crackers, fruit and honey), it's one of the best deals in town.

Randalls

Necessity is the mother of discovery. You might expect the fried chicken at Randalls to be mediocre, but someone there has a love for crispy, golden-brown, juicy country-fried bliss that cannot be denied. On a bad day, it is better than most chains. Paula Dean would agree: The eight-piece combo of Southern delight is greasy finger-licking good.

Fu Fu Cafe

The soup dumplings, or "steamed pork buns," as indicated on Fu Fu's menus, are small, doughy bags of concentrated broth and meat eagerly waiting to erupt in your mouth. These meaty morsels are both amazingly delicious and amazingly hot. If you're not careful, you'll scorch your lips, tongue, gums and anything else the molten inner liquids come into contact with. But handled correctly, you would find yourself with a new addiction.

El Rey Taqueria

El Rey may cater mostly to weekend partiers and yuppies looking to get their Mexican or Cuban fix, but when it comes to slinging breakfast tacos, the chain taqueria is tops. The jam-packed flour or corn tortillas come with fluffy eggs and choice of potato, bacon, ham or a mix of onion, chile pepper and tomato hunks. Off-menu, spicy chorizo is often available. The green salsa is thin and tart, with a great kick to start off the morning. Check out the eatery's colorful interiors and listen to Mexican crooners singing over the loudspeakers as you wait for your freshly made tacos. And at $1.65 a pop, you'll see why folks are lining up out the door most mornings to get their much-needed dose.

Dim Sum King

What's better than a truly authentic, Hong Kong-style meal of dim sum? Being able to get that meal nearly any time of day or night. Unlike most establishments, Dim Sum King serves the traditionally Sunday afternoon meal all day long, six days a week (no dim sum for you on Tuesdays), so you can quell that craving for yum cha and dumplings whenever the mood strikes. The menu is helpfully divided into three sections — small, medium and large plates, with corresponding prices — and has pictures as well as English descriptions under the Cantonese titles, helpful when encountering dishes like "White Cloud Phoenix Talons." The staff speaks limited English, but is always friendly and helpful. Favorites on the vast menu include savory turnip cakes, tangy beef balls and crunchy deep-fried shrimp balls, but the wide selection leaves room for ample experimentation over many visits.

READERS' CHOICE: Dim Sum King

Sugarcane

Sugarcane is quickly becoming Houston's best option for an organic cocktail, and one sip of its unique take on the margarita will explain why. It's called a "Skinny Margarita" because it only has about 100 calories, but the real treat is how good it tastes. The bartender starts with an organic tequila (ask for Dulce Vida Blanco), then mixes in organic agave nectar, Citry Organic Orange Liqueur, freshly squeezed lime juice, freshly squeezed orange juice and a splash of spring water. The result is a lusciously simple and refreshing margarita on the rocks that satisfies your Tex-Mex craving even without a big plate of nachos on the side.

Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen

Busting out of a strip mall on Woodway, Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen is a true Texican kitchen. Sylvia herself roams the place, checking on tables as her enormous turquoise earrings sway delicately along with her nonstop motion. She is the center of this colorful universe, where she mimics the flavors of her youth in the Rio Grande Valley. The enchiladas, of course, are the star of the show. The cheese enchiladas get our vote for best in town. The homemade tortillas rolled and filled with a blend of cheddar cheeses and topped with Sylvia's signature enchilada chili are smooth and lack the seemingly requisite pools of grease. Meat enchiladas, too, are a win. They're packed with fresh, well-seasoned meat, and kicked up a notch by the thin, homemade sauce. Another plus? Portions are reasonable and not slathered with superfluous amounts of cheese.

Red Lion Pub

Rumor has it that visiting Englishmen will get off the plane from London and hop a cab directly to the Red Lion for its fish and chips. Whether or not there's truth in this rumor, the delicious fish is undeniable. The fresh cod fillets are fried in a light, crispy batter that seems to magically adhere to the moist, flaky fish. Served with a side of fries and peas, this dish definitely doesn't disappoint.

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