Zimm's Little Deck
At most restaurants, the calamari is an afterthought. But at Zimm's Little Deck, it's given just as much attention as its fancy po-boys and signature cocktails. Here, fresh — never frozen — squid is battered as lightly as possible and served in a no-nonsense white paper boat that lets the squid shine. The sauces served on the side push this dish into award-winning territory, however: a kicky green Tabasco mash with diced bits of green chile in one ramekin and a creamy lemon aioli in the other. You'll never want to see cocktail sauce again.
Plonk Beer & Wine Bistro
Although you wouldn't expect it from a wine bar, Plonk has one of the best bacon cheeseburgers we've ever tasted. And that's because Plonk is more than just a wine bar: It combines excellent food with expertly chosen wine and beer in a cozy, neighborhood setting. The guanciale burger is the best example of that food. Its buns are toasted in the pizza oven while Swiss cheese melts onto the top bun, and when combined, they sandwich a huge patty that's rampant with beef juices and covered with caramelized onions and "face bacon." The face bacon is that eponymous guanciale that is bacon's fancier and tastier cousin, trimmed from the pig's jowls and cured until delicious.
Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen
Photo by Troy Fields
Danton Nix isn't Cajun, but you'd never know it from his spot-on Cajun and Creole dishes at his namesake restaurant. Tucked into an unassuming building in the Museum District, Danton's always feels like your own secret discovery. Nights spent gulping down fresh Gulf oysters in the mahogany-paneled bar with an IPA or Sundays spent at its laid-back jazz brunches are some of the best dining experiences to be had in Houston. Try the oyster stew with tasso or the crawfish half-and-half for a taste of the Big Easy in the Bayou City.
Moon Tower Inn
You don't just come to Moon Tower for the hot dogs; you come for the sign that says "This ain't fast food. Shut up and wait!" You don't come to grab your dogs and wolf them down in five minutes; you come to share pitchers of Real Ale and throw horseshoes with your friends. You come to watch motorcycle gangs mingle with hipsters arriving on fixies, Second Ward neighbors mixing with downtowners just off work. You come to watch the sun go down over downtown on this otherwise quiet stretch of Canal, then watch the backyard at Moon Tower come to life at night like a beacon in the dark. You come here to come home. Yes, and for the hot dogs, too.
Ibiza
The sangria at Ibiza Food & Wine Bar, with its light and fruity flavors, is the perfect summer drink. Not overwhelmed by the red wine, Ibiza's version has an aromatic sweetness that tastes mildly of melons; a sip, and you'll be transported to summers in Spain. The only improvement we can think of would be for Ibiza to offer this sangria by the pitcher; for now, it's available only by the glass and costs $6.
Gratifi Kitchen + Bar
Deep in the heart of the Gayborhood, Ziggy's has been taking all comers and serving them delicious, healthy food for years, long before the corner of Fairview and Taft became the hot spot that it is today. Ziggy's proudly proclaims that 70 percent of its customers are regulars, and you'll see why so many of them return again and again to the creaky old dining room or well-manicured patio. The rainbow flags hung outside are repeated in the restaurant's multicolored logo, and its Twitter account isn't only a guide to what they're serving that day, but updates on local queer news like helpful Pride Parade tips and links to articles about the new remembrance garden down the street for gay victims of violence.
San Dong Noodle House
The beef soup at Chinatown's San Dong Noodle House (formerly Santong Snack) is a rich, full-bodied potion, dark in color and redolent with the aroma of long-simmered meat. If you order the Roast Beef Soup Noodle, you get the broth plus a handful of baby bok choy, a pile of long, medium-thick wheat noodles, and diced, pickled vegetables. If you order the Roast Beef Noodle (and you should), you get all of the above as well as several large chunks of beef. Make no mistake: The richness of the broth comes from the fattiness of the beef. This is no soup for a diet. But boy, does it hit the spot. The staff can be a bit impatient if you dither at the counter about your order, but in part that's because of the line of hungry people behind you.
Capri Pasta Pizza and More
This little restaurant with a silly name (there's no pizza served here anymore), located in a neglected strip center, is a drive for most Houstonians. But it's worth every mile. Owner Barbara Coglianese hails from Imola and has imported her Bolognese-style Italian food almost part and parcel to this surprisingly authentic spot. The lasagna here verges on indescribable, with improbably fine layers and soft mascarpone playing against a sweetly tart marinara sauce. Handmade gnocchi are another treat, softly covered with a Gorgonzola-brightened four-cheese sauce. BYOB and show up early; Capri gets quickly packed every night thanks to its fine food and equally fine service (keep your eye out for Coglianese's young son, the best waiter in the house).
Pondicheri
There's nothing else like Pondicheri in Houston, not even Indika, Anita Jaisinghani's first and extant modern Indian restaurant in Montrose. Here in River Oaks, Pondicheri shakes up everything you thought you knew about Indian street food, offering Jaisinghani's updated interpretations for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even tea. Breakfast and lunch are counter-service affairs, inexpensive and filling, with items like a breakfast thali with a little of everything, or a frankie to-go (that's an Indian breakfast taco; give it a try). At night, the space is truly alive with a buzzing energy from the busy kitchen and the packed dining room, with table service bringing out immense plates of Texas shrimp chaat and clever wine-based cocktails from the small but inviting bar.
BB's Beef and Hot Dogs
Everything at this tidy little restaurant run by husband-and-wife team Charles and Brenda Rivers is a Chicago specialty, from the pizza puffs to the hot Italian beef. So you know that the Chicago-style hot dogs they serve — dragged through the garden on a steamed poppyseed bun with a thick Vienna beef dog tucked inside — are the real deal. The dogs here are fresh and lively, with just a bit of heat from the sport peppers that is best cooled off by another Chicago specialty: Italian ice.

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