Coppa Ristorante Italiano

Happy hours are best when there's great music, fun nibbles and awesome drinks. Coppa fulfills all these criteria with $5 drink specials, discounts on food, a good-looking after-work crowd, ample seating room at the bar and patio, and an upbeat soundtrack that adds to the overall happy vibe. Order a margherita pizza and some meatballs to munch on while indulging in a $5 glass of wine or a peachy bellini cocktail. Valet parking is complimentary, and the big square stools at the bar are cushy and comfy, which is why the bar tends to be completely full right up until the clock strikes 7 p.m., when the happy hour specials come to an end.

Tony's

Although it's a classic in every sense of the word, Tony Vallone's namesake restaurant is not content to rest on its laurels. A big, bold space reflects the expansive and adventurous menu under Chef Grant Gordon, who is able to cook Elysian Field Farms lamb racks with mint jus for Tony's signature upper-crusty society clientele as deftly as he constructs elaborate tasting menus featuring dishes such as an exciting Italian-Japanese fusion of tuna toro with fedelini alla chitarra, Sicilian bottarga roe, Meyer lemon and celery hearts. As befitting Tony's pedigree, the service and wine list are top-notch here, with both perhaps the finest in the city.

Abdallah's
Photo By Troy Fields

Most people know Abdallah's for its pita bread, which is baked fresh every day and found in many grocery stores and restaurants across the city. And you can pick up some loaves for yourself at its storefront location, along with an array of fresh and frozen food from its kitchens. Its steam-table lunch is a great deal during busy weekdays, offering Lebanese favorites such as shawarma, kibbeh nayyeh, baba ghanoush and stuffed eggplant. Weekend breakfasts find people enjoying hot bowls of foul, and the kanafeh-laden dessert trays are a popular item to grab to go.

La Fisheria
Courtesy of La Fisheria

Chef Aquiles Chavez doesn't serve chips and salsa or fajitas at La Fisheria, because this isn't a Tex-Mex restaurant: It's a true Mexican establishment from a Mexican chef who's more interested in modern, creative interpretations of his home country's food than in serving standards. For appetizers, tender octopus is served over thin slices of confit potatoes with Mexican vanilla oil, and tostadas are topped with raw yellowfin tuna, avocado and fried leeks. Entrées dig even deeper into old-school Mexican ingredients, such as pibil-style red snapper rubbed with achiote paste and served with xnipec.

Philippe

Being one of the few female sommeliers in town doesn't make Vanessa Treviño-Boyd any less of a powerhouse; if anything, this only makes her more fascinating. In what is a typically male-dominated industry, Treviño-Boyd worked her way through some of New York City's finest restaurants before returning home to Houston and heading straight to the top: Philippe, the two-story French restaurant in the Galleria area that's home to a celebrity chef and celebrity clientele. Working out of a very small wine cellar, Treviño-Boyd quickly made Philippe's wine list into one of Houston's best and became notable for her ability to pair the perfect wine with your meal without breaking the bank — a rarity at fancy French spots. She's received plenty of national acclaim for her work at Philippe but keeps her feet planted firmly and good-naturedly on the ground here in Houston.

El Gran Malo

The shrine to tequila near El Gran Malo's entrance should give you some indication as to how seriously this bar takes its spirits. Its signature tequila infusions range from fruits and vegetables (strawberry-cucumber or blueberry-jalapeño-cilantro) to herbs and spices (cinnamon-vanilla or hops) and even meats (a beef jerky-infused tequila makes a great Bloody Maria), each of them making a fascinating twist on the margarita. If a more mainstream margarita is your speed, El Gran Malo has more than 40 excellent tequilas to choose from — none of which are infused with anything except agave.

BRC Gastropub
Photo by Troy Fields

Of all the incarnations of macaroni and cheese served in a miniature cast-iron skillet that have decorated menus in the past few years, BRC's interpretation of this dish is the best. And that's because the gastropub keeps it smartly simple, with elbow macaroni soaking up a sharp cheddar sauce that's silky-smooth and subtly salty. A sprinkling of bread crumbs on top gives each bite a pleasant, crunchy texture, and three other twists are all equally good for those who want to spice it up further: loaded brisket nacho with queso; blue cheese with chicken-fried bacon; and burger-style, which comes with chunks of hamburger and bacon throughout.

Revival Market

As far as food celebrities go in Houston, Top Chef: Just Desserts season two contestant Rebecca Masson is definitely one of our most famous. But her fame isn't just of the TV kind. People familiar with her desserts become devoted fans of everything, from her French-style macarons to her famous fluffer nutters. Her cupcakes at Revival Market, however, definitely take the cake in terms of most delicious cupcake bite ever. The infamous "Veruca Salt" — salted-caramel butter-cream topping with delicious devil's food cake — is decadent, moist, gooey and mouthwateringly good. Other quirky, fun cupcake flavors like Strawberry Quik, red hot red velvet, birthday cake, Irish car bomb and more are also must-haves, but it's the Veruca Salt cupcake that readily inspires rapturous adoration.

Da Marco
Photo by Houston Press staff

Gourmet once called chef Marco Wiles's flagship restaurant, Da Marco, "as close to Italy as you can get without leaving Texas," and this still holds true. Part of that is due to Wiles's insistence on flying in the best Italian ingredients on a weekly basis such as fresh Mediterranean seafood and items for its separate cheese menu — yes, Da Marco has its own cheese menu. And part of that is due to Wiles's deep knowledge of Italian cuisine made modern, seen in dishes such as branzino carpaccio with pine nuts and foie gras or simple, house-made ravioli with ricotta and shaved truffles.

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