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.

Mojito
Theo Santos
Mojito

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.

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.

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