Live Oak Grill

Outside, there is a 120-year-old oak tree and a tin roof with a large Texas flag painted on it. Inside, there are burgers, onion rings and a chicken-fried steak that will make you thank your lucky stars you were born a Texan. It's a great place to go if you're catching a Skeeters game, as the stadium is just around the corner. Family-run and always consistent, Live Oak is a great place to spend a warm, summer night with a burger and a cold beer.

The Hay Merchant

The new craft beer bar from Anvil Bar & Refuge co-owners Bobby Heugel and Kevin Floyd is bigger in both size and beer selection, with 80 taps that include five devoted solely to cask selections. Within those 80 taps, you'll find nearly every style of beer conceivable, from Rauchbiers to Russian Imperial Stouts and everything in between.

L'Olivier

Chef Olivier Ciesielski made Tony's into one of Houston's top destinations for years, and finally branched out into a place all his own with the effortlessly chic L'Olivier. Inside what was once a convenience store (among other things), Ciesielski has transformed the space with cool, herringbone marble floors in the bright bar area and a mid-century modern-style dining room and patio punctuated with pops of color. The menu is just as elegant and streamlined: hand-cut beef tartare or homemade pâté to start a meal and a brasserie-like steak-frites or rich boeuf bourguignon to finish it off.

Good Dog Hot Dogs

When you see Good Dog's baby-blue-and-white food truck with cheerful red and gold lettering parked next to a coffee shop, museum or bar, it's hard not to pull over immediately and get your hands on one of its signature hot dogs. All of the condiments are handmade, the soft buns are from Slow Dough and the specially blended franks themselves are a savory mixture of 85 percent beef and 15 percent pork (all-beef and tofu dogs are also available). But it's the combination of all these items into fun, creative hot dogs that makes Good Dog special: Try the Sunshine Dog with cream cheese, dill relish and pickled red onions or the Guac-a-Dog topped with avocado, jalapeño, tomatoes, onions, roasted garlic aiolo, cilantro, cumin and lime.

Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen Restaurant

Step into Kenny & Ziggy's, and it feels like you've landed in the middle of a New York City neighborhood, complete with the Jewish grandmothers, waiters in black-vested uniforms, and red booths with classic brass accents. Order a pastrami sandwich with meat piled high on rye, smoked salmon that tastes like you'd get it in New York, chopped liver like Grandma made, or matzo ball soup, and revel in the certainty of being in a bona fide, authentic New York-style Jewish deli — in the middle of Houston's Galleria area, no less. There's a reason why business is always bustling at Kenny & Ziggy's. It's the respect for tradition, the absurdly large portions, the consistently good food and, most of all, knowing that this is one of the last great delis around.

George's Pastaria

George's Pastaria is the epitome of a friendly neighborhood restaurant, staffed with kids from the local high schools and stuffed with families enjoying old-school Italian food of the red-and-white-checkered tablecloth variety. Beef ravioli bears a mention of being the favorite dish of a nearby resident, while the sign out front frequently mentions customers' birthdays. Try the Rigatoni Campagnolo with sausage and peppers, served under a blanket of creamy ricotta tomato sauce, goat cheese and fresh basil, and come on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday when you can BYOB without a corkage fee.

Thai Gourmet

Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall on Richmond near Hillcroft, Thai Gourmet is one of those places that are authentically Thai yet still accessible to relatively untutored palates. Dishes like Penang Beef ordered "Thai hot" may scorch the tongue in true Thai style, while others, like the basil beef or their excellent tom kha gai coconut chicken lemongrass soup, make room for an exploration of Thai flavors without the requisite spicy sting. The decor of wall hangings with Thai imagery creates an exotic ambience that is well-appointed enough for a nice date or family meal, yet readily caters to clientele wanting takeout. Great Thai food at reasonable prices with a nice atmosphere and courteous waitstaff make this place a sure bet for Thai anytime.

Green Seed Vegan

Green Seed Vegan's all-veggie Dirty Burque burger is so good, we'll put it up against a meat-based burger any day of the week. It's hard to miss the meat, in fact, when there's so much deliciousness between the buns: The patty is mostly buckwheat, a pseudo-cereal that's gluten-free, high in protein and made from scratch. It's studded with colorful chunks of vegetables, from orange bell peppers to green flares of bright cilantro. On top you'll find buttery slices of avocado, peppery arugula, raw white onion, a tangy spread of egg-free mayonnaise and a New Mexican-style green chile sauce that's tart and slightly hot.

Bernie's Burger Bus
Photo by Houston Press Staff

It may look like a school bus, but it's a lean, mean, burger-grilling machine. Winner of the 2012 Houston Press Burger Bracket, Bernie's Burger Bus is the true definition of gourmet food truck, utilizing the freshest ingredients — fresh-ground Black Angus beef, freshly made baked buns, and homemade condiments — to make one of the juiciest, tastiest burgers you'll ever have the pleasure of eating. The school-themed menu features the traditional American burger "The Principal"; the double-patty, Texas-cheddar topped "The Bully"; and the famous "Study Hall" burger, topped with barbecue sauce and crispy-seared, slow-braised pork belly.

Oxheart

With Oxheart, husband-and-wife chefs Justin Yu and Karen Man have created a restaurant that feels everything like and nothing like Houston at once. The bold menus offer only three different tastings nightly — two four-course meals (one of which is vegetarian) and one seven-course meal. They use a fascinating array of ingredients obtained locally and techniques they picked up across the globe, transforming simple potatoes or kale into dishes that look as if they could be installations at the Contemporary Arts Museum. The cozy but airy interior has a similar museum-like feel to it, light and open, that allows you to watch Oxheart's talented team of cooks at work and relax while you embark on a culinary adventure that's simply out of this world.

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