Le Mistral is probably best known for its French cuisine, but lately it has upped the ante in the dessert department, starting with the acquisition of a commercial-grade Italian ice cream machine that produces house-made ice creams easily and frequently. Fruit-based sorbets are outstanding, with a wide array of seasonal flavors like pear, apricot, plum, strawberry and lemon. Staple flavors like vanilla bean and hazelnut are rich, dense and creamy-smooth. When you order a selection of the ice creams and sorbets, you don't just get a few scoops in a cup, either. The frozen dessert is elegantly adorned with handmade sugar sculptures by Pastry Chef Marcos Sacalxot, ensuring that it not only tastes good but looks great, too.

Photo by Troy Fields

Whether it's the "Heart Throb" banh mi with double pork, double chicken, two eggs and bacon; a rice vermicelli bowl topped with freshly grilled chicken and egg rolls; or a bowl of the best vegan curry you'll find anywhere in town, Cafe TH delivers Vietnamese with food that's made with care and fresh, wholesome ingredients. It's the hallmark of owner Minh Nguyen's brand. He has revamped what was once an old sandwich shop in East Downtown into a foodie destination that attracts local chefs and foodie-types from all corners of Houston. Thursday and Friday nights, Cafe TH also offers a BYOB three-course white-tablecloth prix-fixe service with a menu that changes weekly. Nguyen's desserts, like his Cafe du Monde cake, convert non-believers instantly.

Ask anyone where to go for sushi in Houston, and Kata Robata will most assuredly make the list. From traditional nigiri sushi to some of the freshest sashimi and inventive new sushi dishes, Kata Robata has it all. At the core of this restaurant is Executive Chef Manabu Horiuchi, the first-ever Japanese nominee from Houston to be nominated for a James Beard Award, in 2012. Horiuchi's insistence on the strictest of standards when it comes to food quality ensures that customers always have the freshest, and seasonally best, selection of fish money can buy: fresh scallop (hotate), live sea urchin (uni), live giant clam (mirugai), Croatian fatty tuna (toro), octopus (tako), sea eel (unagi), Copper River sockeye salmon and more. Traditional dishes like the hot-out-of-the-oven, special-recipe sweet egg omelet (tamago) are unparalleled as well. No matter what you order, on whatever day you visit, the sushi is always top-notch, all the time.

Chris Shepard is known for his charcuterie and passion for whole-animal cooking, so it's no wonder that Underbelly, the chef's first restaurant of his own, processes all of its meat in its own full-scale, back-of-the-house butcher shop. And the restaurant's ever-rotating, meat-centric menu, inspired by the various cuisines in Houston culture, certainly reflects that. Underbelly's small-plate (and limited-availability), family-style selections showcase top-quality meats from local ranchers that Shepard works closely with. The restaurant suggests ordering several plates to share and pass. And we couldn't agree more; that way, everyone can get a taste of dishes like the Korean Braised Goat & Dumplings, House Cured Salumi or Short Rib Satay. Even the bones make it to the menu (and are well worth a try).

Photo by Joanna O'Leary

Located on Long Point Road between Gessner and Blalock, Bon Ga is a favorite among local chefs, offering authentic, everyday Korean cuisine that can be ordered à la carte for one or eaten family-style. The menu is extensive, with several pages of illustrated dishes, ranging from popular boiling hot pot stews like the kim chi jjigae (kimchi stew) or soondubu jjigae (tofu stew) to appetizer dishes like the haemul pajeon (seafood pancake) or twigim mandu (pan-fried dumplings), to noodle dishes like naengmyeon (Korean cold noodles). Bon Ga wouldn't be a Korean restaurant if it didn't have Korean barbecue on the menu, and you'll find a good selection of popular barbecue cuts like galbi (short ribs) and bulgogi (marinated sliced beef) on the menu as well. Barley tea service is free, and those needing help can always ring the handy bell for service.

The simple chocolate chip cookie is surprisingly difficult to make well, judging from the host of dry, bland discs that regularly pose as America's favorite cookie. Tiny Boxwood's has managed to find the perfect combination of ingredients, prepared with the appropriate timing and temperature, to produce lusciously chewy, soft-but-sturdy assemblages of buttery vanilla dough and rich chocolate pieces. You'll find these cookies sunning themselves just next to the register; needless to say, grab 'em while they're warm.

This artsy neighborhood dive is more than just a laid-back spot to grab drinks with friends; Max's Wine Dive makes some serious fried chicken wings. The wings are butchered daily, soaked in a jalapeño buttermilk batter, and deep-fried low and slow to form the most incredibly crisp, moist and juicy chicken around. You can enjoy Max's wings drizzled with chipotle honey for just $6 during the daily happy hour or enjoy them served atop three larger-than-life cornbread griddle cakes with a side of thick maple syrup at weekend brunch.

There is no better nor more consistently excellent Chinese restaurant in town right now than Mala Sichuan, thanks to the peerless stewardship of owner Cori Xiong and her team of highly trained Sichuan chefs. The flavors in Mala's water-boiled fish or mapo tofu are clean, vibrant and piercing, while less heat-heavy dishes such as the Funky Stick Chicken, Arctic surf clams or Four Joy Lion's Head show off the less spicy — but no less invigorating — side of Sichuan cuisine.

Although there's snazzier fare to enjoy at the Queen Vic, dismissing the fish and chips would be a royal mistake. This classy take on the dish involves a bouquet of spry fries and several thick halibut filets encased in a perky coriander batter. Sides of ketchup and dill yogurt sauce are there to keep the Yanks happy, but just a few squeezes of lemon and dabs of vinegar do just as well. Although the Queen Vic, unlike its beloved namesake, has not reigned for 60 years, the fish and chips just might secure a similarly long tenure in Houston.

Courtesy of Hotel ZaZa

With a view onto sprawling Hermann Park, the beautiful Mecom Fountain and the lush Museum District, dining on the Monarch's shaded patio feels a little like noshing at a swank Central Park spot — especially as you traipse through the elegant lobby to get there. Much of chef Adam West's food seems purpose-built for patio dining, too, with modern picnic-like dishes such as heirloom tomato tartare and roasted chicken with sweet corn maque choux and a lemon/fennel marmalade. An expansive brunch menu amps up the fun on the patio during Sunday Fundays.

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