Pink's Pizza
Stephanie Meza
The specialty pies at Pink's Pizza include such interesting concoctions as Deuce (goat cheese, mozzarella, spinach, portobello mushroom, roma tomatoes, and garlic with pesto sauce); Double Down (rosemary chicken, bacon, mozzarella, spinach, tomato, and roasted garlic with alfredo sauce); and Santa Monica (gorgonzola, mozzarella, prosciutto, eggplant, artichoke, sun-dried tomato, and cranberry with a garlic-infused olive oil). These unpretentious, gourmet fresh pizzas are already a Houston institution. But perhaps the best item to order is the simple pizza by the slice. The slices are huge — they require two paper plates each — and seasoned with plentiful Italian herbs. Pink's recommends ordering only one topping or just plain cheese for their pizza by the slice — any more weight, and the thin crust may fall apart. The pizzeria is small, with only a few bar tables, so delivery and pick-up orders are preferred.
Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen Restaurant
When it comes to the canon of New York-style Jewish delicatessen food, it ultimately boils down to that old gastronomic proverb: It ain't the meat, it's the motion. Any of the top deli owners in this country — whether in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Palm Springs, or Houston — will tell you the same thing: They all buy their smoked fish from the same group of purveyors based in New York, and they all prepare their meats — pastrami and corned beef — using roughly the same recipes. What sets the great delis apart is not the quality of the raw materials (because they all have access to the same products) but rather in how they slice and dress the fish and meats. Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen on Post Oak is not just the best New York-style deli in Houston. It may be the best sit-down deli in the country right now. That may seem like a very tall gefilte fish tale. But in the age of the dying art of the New York-style deli, when healthier eating habits and changing demographics have shifted the average urbanite's culinary awareness and eating habits and the deli greats of New York and Chicago are struggling to survive, you have to wait for up to 20 minutes for a table for two on an average weekday lunch at Kenny & Ziggy's. Why? The food is that good.
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.

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