Stella Sola
The best salad in town at a place best known as a palace to pork, a monument to meat? Yes. And that's because Stella Sola treats its vegetables with as much care and love as it does its many proteins. The Dal Giardino salad — which translates to "from the garden" in Italian — epitomizes this attitude toward showcasing fresh, local produce. Seasonal lettuce and other vegetables, like curling tendrils of watercress, mingle with pickled carrots in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette that sings brightly through the greens. Its crowning glory? A farm-fresh poached egg, whose orange yolk mixes with the vinaigrette to create a pitch-perfect dressing.
Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse
If you're gonna ball, go big or go home. Vic & Anthony's is all about going big, with its opulent dining rooms, grand central kitchen that's as imposing as a throne room, seductive piano bar and service that will make you feel as if you're a prince among men. Here, you can order an immense Porterhouse steak to feed two people for $80 and a bottle of wine at least triple that amount, just as easily as you can empty your pockets on Chef Carlos Rodriguez's elegant charcuterie plate or a jewel box of Petrossian caviar. An iced shellfish collection of the best and freshest lobster, king crab, shrimp and oysters from across the world looks like a towering work of art on the plate, while the nearly $10 croissant bread pudding with bourbon sauce is worth every dollar and every delicious calorie.
Sushi Miyagi Restaurant
This mom-and-pop sushi restaurant in a slow-paced Chinatown strip mall doesn't look like much from the outside. The only indication of its quality lies in its name: Miyagi is an extremely common name in the Ryukyu Islands, and it serves to let other Japanese know that an Okinawan runs this place. Miyagi himself is the sushi chef, his wife the sole waitress (and creative force behind the restaurant's art). The two of them serve the most honest, authentic sushi in town. The rice is well-vinegared and hand-formed, while the fish is superbly cut, always served at a pleasantly ambient temperature. Best of all, the prices and the atmosphere make it easily accessible, and the Miyagis will always make you feel at home.
Xuco Xicana
The old Midtown location of El Patio has been transformed under Chef Jonathan Jones — he of Beaver's fame — into a raucous, vivacious exploration of modern Mexican cuisine. Between leche de tigre-laced ceviches and kicky carne guisada tacos, you'll find his Jalisco-style wings. An odd item for a Mexican menu, perhaps, but Jones makes the queso fresco-topped wings work wonderfully through a special vinegar-based hot sauce spiked with chile de arbol, allspice, cloves, cumin, pepitas, garlic and toasted sesame seeds. And forget celery sticks — these wings are served with slices of jicama to cool off your palate between bites.
Com Tam Kieu Giang
Photo by Houston Press Staff
For Vietnamese people, eating a broken rice, or com tam, plate is synonymous with eating a burger. Start with a rice plate and add toppings like grilled pork, grilled beef, meatballs, shredded pork, Korean-style beef shortribs, Chinese sausage, fried eggs and more. As the name would suggest, Com Tam Kieu Giang specializes in doing these rice plates, and while many combinations are suggested for you, you can order a rice plate here with as many toppings as you like. The restaurant is family owned and operated, and the owner uses her own recipes, proudly uses no MSG and is always on-site, making sure that your rice plate is excellent every time. Most three-item plates run just $5.95, so it's a bargain as well. Cash only.
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.

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