Jeff Balke

What do you get when you mix Connie's spicy bottled michelada sauce and a cold bottle of beer in a frosty beer mug? One of the best-tasting and refreshing micheladas you'll ever have the pleasure of tasting. Often described as a Bloody Mary made with beer, the tomato-ey, spicy michelada is the quintessential everyman's beer cocktail in Mexico and Latin America, where it's typically made with lime, beer, salt and hot sauce. Connie's has taken that recipe, tweaked it and perfected it so that the micheladas there taste just right every time. Fans can even buy a pre-made bottle of michelada base to take home, but drinking a michelada at Connie's, with a fresh fried snapper or a fresh fish platter, is still the way to go.

The massive, multisensory menu at Uchi can be intimidating — even to hardcore food lovers. Machi cure with yucca crisp and garlic brittle? Walu walu with yuzupon and myoga? It could all be a bit much if it weren't for Uchi's impeccable service. With a waitstaff that knows the menu inside-out and blindfolded, you can allow your server to be your friendly sherpa while you navigate Houston's Mount Everest of restaurants. They'll even custom-design a dinner for you, allowing you to relax and enjoy the food. Not only is your server ready, willing and able to do all of this — you'll come out of your dinner there with a wealth of knowledge and new experiences that far surpass the monetary value of just a plain old meal of sushi.

Jeff Balke

As far as sandwich fillings go, egg salad can often be tame, mild — dare I say, effete? Not so at DaCapo's Pastry Cafe, whose version is genuinely peppy thanks to an infusion of honey mustard in the dressing and a sprinkling of dill. After experiencing this sweet-spicy punch, you'll never again see egg salad as the stuff of staid tea parties. And that's a good thing, because if you go for the sandwich, you'll be licking your fingers. Which is awkward in gloves.

There's a reason Houstonians continue to host their weddings and celebrate their anniversaries at this beloved institution — and it's not just the verdant views onto the lush bayou or the romantic, lodge-like feel imparted by the wood-beamed, fireplace-warmed structure. The food is amazing, too, as is the warm, high-end service. Rainbow Lodge offers a meal well worth paying for in every single aspect. Nibble on rabbit boudin bites or smoked lamb belly between glasses of wine with your beloved, or treat your man to such exotic game as grilled elk chops, chile-rubbed antelope back strap or buffalo short ribs. Either way, everyone comes away happy.

Not only is Vic & Anthony's currently the city's best steakhouse, it's one of the best all-around restaurants in Houston, period. The charmingly old-school service is exemplary, the dining rooms are lushly appointed and lavishly handsome, the food is always impeccable — hell, even the piano player in the dark, loungey bar is fantastic. A trip to Vic & Anthony's always feels like a vacation, especially if food is your destination. Indulge in a beautiful filet mignon or prime rib eye topped with bone marrow bordelaise, or split a porterhouse for two and save room for V&A's equally prime sides such as creamed corn or au gratin potatoes.

Billing itself as "The Story of Houston Food," Underbelly has taken Houston's extremely diverse array of ethnic cuisines and combined them all seamlessly into a modern menu that somehow feels timeless and organic. Chef Chris Shepherd's love for all things Asian shows in dishes like Korean goat dumplings and Peking chicken with crispy eggplant, while Texas's heritage is reflected in cornmeal-cured pork chops and roasted pork belly with pimiento cheese grits. Middle Eastern-meets-homespun in "Lamburger Helper," while Mexican influences come through in green chile soup. And it's all accessible, too, from the prices and easy-to-browse wine list to the come-as-you-are vibe of the dining room and Shepherd's effusively welcoming personality.

Owner and coffee roaster Max Gonzales has made sure that Catalina stays at the top of its game by keeping its baristas well-trained, its coffee selection well-curated and its cortados well-made, every single time. There is no such thing as a bad cup of coffee here, whether it's a flat white or an espresso, and the pastries in the small case from Angela's Oven are reliably good as well. The zen-like, no-frills atmosphere is well-suited to working, reading or just relaxing — leave catching up with your loud friends for the wraparound patio outside.

Natachee's Super 'n Punch's motto is "Sit back and relax...This is real down-home cookin!" They couldn't be more right. Open for breakfast and dinner, the restaurant serves up made-from-scratch comfort food just like your mama makes — that is, if your mama tops her meatloaf with spicy tomato gravy and a fried egg. With live music, an enormous patio and friendly service, this Main Street restaurant manages to mix quirky and classic Southern style in the most charming way. Don't miss out on some of the city's best fried pickles, sweet potato pie or served-all-day breakfast plates. Sit out back, listen to live music and wash down your meal with one of their ice-cold, spiked punches, and — trust us — you'll experience true comfort.

Jeff Balke

Pakistani food is often regarded as a subset of Indian cuisine, but it has an identity all its own. One huge difference between the two types of restaurants: beef, which you're not likely to find at Indian places. No one is doing it better, or more visibly, than Chef Kaiser Lashkari and his staff at Himalaya. Himalaya claims to be the only restaurant in North America that serves authentic Hunter's Beef. The Balochi Resha Gosht is another terrific beef dish, with hunks of tender meat that will remind you of Mom's pot roast, but in a red, savory, spicy sauce of tomatoes, herbs and spices. We were warned that it was "very spicy," but we found it just right. Surprisingly, the other don't-miss category here is dessert. We were amazed by the almond custard, which is similar to flan but denser, like baked rice pudding. The spongy milk cake is utterly delightful as well. Expect portions to provide not only a good meal but great lunch leftovers the next day, or share an entrée and desserts (yes, plural) with a friend.

Pizaro's became an instant classic almost the moment that Bill Hutchinson opened its doors in a Memorial-area strip mall, because there's nothing else like it in town. The Napoletana-style pizza cooks in 90 seconds in a wood-fired 900-degree oven that's the centerpiece of the small, bare-bones dining room. What emerges from the belly of the fiery beast is a pizza with perfectly pillowy crust and wonderfully scorched bottom, topped with fresh mozzarella made on-site daily and San Marzano tomatoes. Bring your own wine when you come and prepare to sit a spell — the rest of the city has discovered Pizaro's, too, but the wait is always worth it.

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