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.

Annie's Hamburgers
Photo by Houston Press Staff

After eating breakfast at Annie's — the gigantic, fluffy biscuits with sausage gravy will put you into a carb coma — you'll want to come back the same day for a cheeseburger, double meat, double cheese, extra bacon and a side of fries. This is a neighborhood classic offering food of high quality and consistency. Breakfast is simple and to the point. You can't go wrong with anything on the short list of menu items, from fluffy pancakes to super-crispy hot waffles. Bacon and sausage patties are precooked to a greasy crispiness that you'll think just came off of a cast iron skillet on your Grandma's stove.

Kata Robata Sushi & Grill

It says a lot about the changing palates of Houston diners that a highly modern sushi restaurant with a strong undertone of French fusion should be chosen as 2010's best new restaurant. But the food at Kata Robata (and the casual atmosphere that belies some of the menu prices) is truly the biggest draw of any place that's opened in the past year. Omakase platters prepared by the talented Manabu Horiuchi, formerly of Kubo's, are both playful and breathtaking at the same time — as well as quite a bargain. And that's a recurring theme at Kata Robata: fresh, flavorful, high-quality food for a lot less than you'd expect to pay. The enormous bowl of authentic Japanese ramen with a sweet, meaty broth and plenty of pork and noodles is a shining example, as are the delectable panko-crusted lamb lollipops with ginger sauce that are as fun to eat as they are delicious.

Shanghai Chinese Restaurant

The family that owns this Chinatown eatery knows what it's doing. The salted pork ribs are a must-try here. Also get the wonton soup, a flavorful broth holding fresh dumplings packed full of ground pork. The noodle soup with brisket is too good to pass up, so you might have to make a choice to eat one dish here and take one home. In fact, all the classic dishes are done right. The fried rice is superb, and the lo mein is straight out of an old-school Chinese diner. The egg rolls are fat, flavorful and extra crispy, with lots of meat. The owner's entire family will be there to serve you, and you might see them sitting down to eat the same food you just ordered.

Beaucoup Bar & Grill

You can't go to Beaucoup and not get the crawfish bread — it would be wrong to do so. It is that good. Imagine the best crawfish dish you have ever put in your mouth times ten, with crunchy, butter-soaked French bread covered with crawfish meat and smothered in cheese and sauce. Ask for some hot sauce, and you will get something made in house that tastes better than the bottled kind. Other Cajun dishes like gumbo taste homemade and soulful. The fried burger is perfect for big eaters. And the wings in all their different flavors and rubs put this jumpin' little Creole joint on the map.

Catalan Food & Wine Bar

Catalan is the restaurant that's setting the bar for every other dining establishment in Houston; there's a reason executive chef Chris Shepherd is referred to as "The Godfather" by his peers, after all. Just-off-the-truck fresh meat and produce from local farmers, carefully selected wines and a killer wine list by sommelier Antonio Gianola, a stunning dining room with partially open kitchen, and the skilled hands of Shepherd and sous chef Antoine Ware all combine to create one of Houston's most unique restaurants with the best food in the city. Shepherd isn't content to just serve up classic recipes with his ultra-fresh ingredients, however; it's the combination of street food with multiethnic flavors in dishes like lamb sweetbread tacos and crispy Akaushi oxtail spring rolls that makes Catalan the epicenter of Houston's burgeoning Gulf Coast cuisine scene.

Brasserie Max and Julie

"Brasserie" means "brewery," and the folks at Max & Julie's have captured the lively spirit of the iconic French experience here in the heart of Montrose. Dive in with a bowl of Soup à l'Oignon, freshly made foie gras or roasted bone marrow, and then hit up traditional favorites such as the Alsatian sauerkraut dish, choucroute, the steak tartar with frites or the cassoulet. Sunday brunch is extra special, as the kitchen turns out the thinnest and most velvety crepes imaginable. The place has the look and feel of a classic brasserie, serving comfort food and decadent brunch fare. And don't forget a glass of French draft beer. After all, it wouldn't be a night at the local brasserie without one.

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