Hillstone
Most chains get a few, or even several, dishes right, but Hillstone manages to nail them all, starting with the spinach artichoke appetizer. The sandwiches are hefty, with cheeseburgers, veggie burgers, fish and a French dip, while the gorgeous salads are meals unto themselves. There's a soup calendar that might make you choose what day to go. The rotisserie chicken, Hawaiian rib-eye and barbecue pork ribs are outstanding entrées, and the French fries, oh, those fries. The room is dark and clubby enough for a special tryst, but boisterous enough for kids. Not too casual, but not too dressy, either. Hillstone has a comprehensive wine list, and if there's a wait for a table (there usually is), the bar will make it an easy one.
Lee's Sandwiches
Baked fresh several times a day, the French baguettes from Lee's Sandwiches are soft and airy on the inside and crispy golden on the outside. The closest thing you'll find to authentic Parisian baguettes, these loaves only cost $1. Stuff with meats and cheeses to make a sandwich, slice and bake with savory toppings for hors d'oeuvres, or do as the French do and spread on butter and jam for a simple breakfast. These scrumptious baguettes at dirt-cheap prices will help you dine like a Parisian right in your home.
Fratelli's Authentic Italian Cuisine Restaurant
The difference between hardened, store-bought pasta and the homemade variety is the difference between receiving a postcard from Rome and standing on the steps of the Coliseum. Fratelli's Chef Teresa Tadeo Wittman insists on authenticity, from sauces seasoned with herbs grown on-site to cracker-thin pizza, bubbly and charred to perfection in a traditional wood-fired brick oven built by her husband Bob. This from-scratch philosophy extends to the pasta, made fresh daily, which serves as a solid foundation for Fratelli's most exceptional dishes — and puts the unassuming restaurant, tucked away in a strip mall off of Highway 290, on par with some of Houston's most celebrated Italian eateries.
Crave Cupcakes
Photo by Houston Press Staff
The cupcakes are dense and richly flavored, and the frostings are so smooth and thick, they taste as good as a piece of fudge. With flavors like white chocolate macadamia nut, peanut butter chocolate, red velvet and mint chocolate, Crave Cupcakes are truly crave-worthy. Handmade with care, each big-enough-to-share dessert is worth every penny of its $3.25 price tag, and people can't seem to get enough, ordering them by the dozen for everything from office parties to afternoon tea. The new Crave location on Kirby is larger, with more seating room, and easier to navigate for a quick in-and-out dessert stop. And if you wake up feeling like you have to have a cupcake to start the day, from Mondays through Fridays they open as early as 8 a.m.
Soma Sushi
It's probably surprising to find that a sushi restaurant excels at desserts, but you won't find anywhere else in town right now that offers the cutting-edge selections found at Soma. Using liquid nitrogen, Chef Jason Hauck has created some exhilarating and exciting dessert items like his Nitro-Bourbon ice cream, which arrives smoking at the table and then is cracked slowly with a spoon. Strange and wondrous, it's unlike anything you've ever tasted, and you may even experience smoke coming out of your nose when you're eating it. The vanilla flan with coconut key-lime "snow" is another smoking creation that's simply delightful. Both are showstoppers that are cool, delicious and surprising — and who doesn't like that?
Wild Cajun Crawfish
One of the most recent Viet-Cajun joints to crop up in southwest Houston, Wild Cajun is currently our favorite (and not just because it also serves sushi and amazing chargrilled oysters). There are only two flavors of boil here: garlic butter and the signature Wild Cajun. You can guess which one is the spicier of the two. The garlic butter, however, isn't overly garlicky and instead subtly enhances the sweet meat of the crawfish tails. The Wild Cajun will set your lips, cuticles and tongue aflame, but it's worth every fiery bite. Just don't seek solace in the potatoes that accompany the crawfish; they're even hotter.
Juice Box
You won't find antioxidant power boosts, protein powder or açaí berries at Juice Box — just an extensive menu of delicious fresh fruit smoothies in almost every conceivable combination. Mango, banana and pineapple? Durian and Chinese yogurt? Apple and avocado? Done, done and done. The fresh-fruit ice tea is also developing its own following, but the secret weapon at this family-friendly Chinatown hangout is the shaved ice: ice cream, sweetened condensed milk and an avalanche of chopped fruit and powdered ice, in a bowl so big it's all but impossible for one person to finish before it melts. But it's sure fun to try. Better yet, share it with a friend.
Latin Bites
Since it opened last August, Latin Bites Cafe, a tiny hole-in-the-wall with just 36 seats inside and 12 seats on the patio, has gotten one rave review after another, receiving mentions in local and statewide news outlets as one of the best new restaurants of 2010. Chef Roberto Castre has created a menu that is as beautiful as it is delicious, infusing dishes that you find in Peru with his own signature flair. Favorites like the causitas (creamy whipped potatoes), lomo saltado (stir-fried beef tenderloin) and pollo a la parilla (Peruvian roasted chicken), along with his signature traditional Peruvian ceviche, are all winners. And it gets even better. For a mere $5 corkage fee, you can bring you own wine, which is why this place is always full and always buzzing with the happy contentedness of satisfied diners.
Perry's Steakhouse and Grille
To call Perry's Steakhouse & Grille's dish a pork chop is almost a misnomer, because it's more like three courses of pork in one. When you order "Perry's Famous Porkchop," it arrives at your table on a cart, and the server uses gloves to break the pork chop into three parts. You'll get four of the tasty, melt-off-the-bone ribs, a leaner center filet and a juicier side portion. Seasoned with Perry's proprietary blend, the flavor is sweet and salty with a slight kick, and utterly delicious. Tasty, impressive, large enough for two and finger-licking good, it easily blows away any competition. On Fridays, Perry's famous pork chop lunch, which is a smaller cut without the cart service, is just $11.95.
Tan Tan Restaurant
Open until 3 a.m. on Saturdays, 2 a.m. Fridays and midnight the rest of the week, Tan Tan is a favorite among the late-night crowd for consistently serving up an extensive menu of Chinese-Vietnamese food ranging from rice plates and pan-fried noodles, to wonton soup and Vietnamese hot pot, to their most popular dish, the banh bot chien, or fried rice patty cakes with eggs. Tan Tan's food is particularly good as a hangover-helper, drawing in the after-clubbing and after-bar crowd. This is a go-to after-hours food destination not just because of the food, but also because of the great people-watching.

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