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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bar at Truluck's may not be the go-to destination for mojitos, but it should be. Strong, with a good dose of lime juice, and the requisite fresh aroma of well-crushed mint leaves that every mojito should have, just one sip will transport you to a beach in Cabo San Lucas. It's even better because it's so unexpected. The bartenders here follow a strict recipe, so no matter who makes it, it tastes the same. During happy hour, the entire bar menu is discounted 50 percent, so if you go during that time, you'll not only get a great-tasting mojito, you'll pay less than $5 for it, too.
This Westchase-area restaurant located in a strip mall has been around since 1999, but the Parsa family has been in the restaurant business going on five generations, and they wisely haven't changed anything about how they cook classic Persian cuisine, such as the beef kubideh and chicken barg. The house-made flatbread called taftoon is a treat all on its own, but is made even better accompanied by a plate of the intense garlic hummus. Kasra will keep getting high praise as long as they keep it all in the family.
It's a bit of a zero-sum game to pick the Bayou City's best West African restaurant, especially considering Houston's already stacked scene for fufu and spicy soups. However, Afrikiko is about as close to a bona fide African experience (an experience, by the way, that usually includes soccer on the eatery's satellite TV) as you're going to get here in the States. Owned by a Ghanaian family, the eatery that's inconspicuously tucked behind a Burger King makes authentic fufu (the thick-paste, doughy-like staple of that particular region of the planet) with goat meat, palm nut soup and jollof rice. If you don't see your favorite dish on the menu, such as red-red stew, the restaurateurs will gladly make it for you. Additionally, if you're an obruni (the Twi language term for "white person"), the cooks are conscious enough to tame down the hot factor. So if you like it spicy, tell them and you'll be sweating like mad, much like you would be on a hot day under the African sun.
El Real was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year, in part because of the star power behind it — celebrity chef Bryan Caswell and former Houston Press food critic and author Robb Walsh. The restaurant has proved that it takes Tex-Mex seriously with its tasty old-school fare. This means queso and refried beans made with lard, enchiladas served with chili con carne, chalupas and puffy tacos. As for seafood, try the "Wholefish" Fajitas, consisting of a whole wood-roasted Gulf Snapper — the dish is a real standout. The best part? This restaurant will only get better with time.

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