Samba Grille
Now that it's removed the churrascaria portion of its menu, Samba is a more streamlined South American steakhouse, and Chef Cesar Rodriguez is really allowed to shine. From Peruvian-style steak tartare with peppadew peppers and plantain chips to an amazing dry-aged New York strip, this place knows its way around a cut of beef. A 20-ounce bone-in rib eye is its crowning glory, especially with sides of spicy Spanish potatoes or yucca frites. The adventurous will also love the anticuchos, skewered beef hearts served with a bright huacatay cream sauce.
The Original Marini's Empanada House
Tucked into a strip mall on Westheimer near the beltway, Marini's is a family-run empanada delicatessen offering sweet and savory varieties of the fried pies. The Gaucho is the standard variety, with onions, spices and olives that accentuate the finely ground beef without overpowering it. Vegetarians and omnivores alike will enjoy the Humita — traditional creamed corn and cheese. Add an apple, banana or dulce de leche dessert empanada to your plate for a "balanced" meal. Don't forget to break off a corner and vent the pies before dining to avoid cooking your tongue.
Saigon Pagolac
Vietnamese food is so much more than pho and banh mi. Located in the heart of Chinatown in the back side of Dynasty Mall, Saigon Pagolac specializes in beef cooked seven different ways. There is a beef salad, beef fondue (thin slices of beef cooked in a vinegar broth), grilled beef (thinly sliced beef marinated with lemongrass and cooked over a griddle), beef wrapped in betel leaves, skewered beef meatballs, steamed ground beef pâté with shrimp chips, and beef alphabet soup. Any of these can be wrapped in rice paper along with fresh and pickled vegetables, then dipped in a delicious fermented anchovy and pineapple sauce. (This sauce is extremely pungent, but once the taste is acquired, becomes addictive.) Get all seven beef courses, or order a single dish à la carte. Not in the mood for beef? Saigon Pagolac serves whole grilled catfish — crispy skin and all — also to be wrapped and dipped.
Nguyen Ngo French Cafe
Ask most Vietnamese in town where to go for the best banh mi, and more likely than not, they will point you to Nguyen Ngo French Cafe. It's a favorite destination for out-of-towners, who come here for sandwiches made with the famous family-recipe shredded chicken that the owners brought over from Vietnam. Sweet and slightly addictive, their shredded chicken comes by itself or in combo with French imported pâté and ham and house-made mayo. The baby-size banh mi are a great hit with kids, and for a different sandwich, substitute the banh mi bread with a croissant, and order the house specialty dac biet to taste one of the best sandwiches in Houston for less than $3.50. Cash only.
Pho Danh
When it comes to pho, the secret is in the broth. Pho Danh ladles it daily to discriminating diners from the location in the back of Hong Kong Market. The light yet deep beef flavor in your bowl tells you that some big bones have been simmering for days in large stock pots. Bold souls order the large, with tripe, tendon and fatty beef. Rookies should stick with meatballs and brisket. Doctor your dish with fish sauce, lime and Sriracha as you see fit. Cool your taste buds with a Vietnamese iced coffee.
The new Américas River Oaks is stylish not only in decor but also in its food presentation and menu. Much like the grandiose booths and larger-than-life lighting fixtures, everything is presented with a flourish: Lobster mini corndogs with corn poblano dipping sauce are playfully served lollipop-style on a wooden block; mixed ceviche is presented in a four-compartment glass plate; an impressive three-tiered plate rack is used when more than one appetizer is ordered. Service is always excellent, and the signature Cordúa Churrasco steak is so flavorful and tender, it's been named one of Esquire magazine's top 20 steaks.
Flora & Muse
The Bloody Mary at Flora & Muse isn't the kind of heavily garnished, Clamato-heavy cocktail that you gulp down as a hangover cure. European-style bistro Flora & Muse offers an elegant twist on the standard cocktail. Served in a long-stemmed glass chalice — the same curving sides to it as a Stella Artois glass, sans the gold rim — this Bloody Mary is subtly spiced and wholly invigorating on a Saturday morning, whether you're hungover or not.
Tia Maria's Mexican Restaurant
Batli Joselevitz
Located just outside the Loop, this local spot is always filled with loyal, regular customers who have been coming here for more than 30 years and know it simply as Tia's. You'll find enchiladas, tacos and fajitas on the menu, but the real standouts are the more traditional Mexican fare, such as the carne guisada, the grilled quail served on a sizzling comal and, of course, the homemade tortillas. The food is cheap, the margaritas are strong, the salsa is hot and the roving mariachis are a good time.
The Tel-Wink Grill
Dawn McGee
Tel-wink cranks out breakfast so fast there are stacks of warm toast 18 inches tall at the expediter counter during peak times. Demand like that, and a line of waiting patrons that snakes through the interior, can mean only one thing. The breakfast special rocks: grits, sausage, eggs and toast from the stack. You could go for a biscuit, but don't eat more than two or you'll sleep through lunch.
Dim Sum King
While some may lament its nontraditional choice to serve dim sum all day long, that's exactly the aspect of Dim Sum King we love most. Six days a week (it's closed on Tuesdays), you can get dim sum for brunch, lunch or dinner — and all of it good. There are no carts here, either; just a very cozy room with an à la carte menu. It's good for dim sum neophytes, too, as helpful photos of all the dishes and their English translations are listed throughout the menu. Turnip cakes and beef balls are favorites, but save room for fried bread at dessert.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of