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.

Mongoose Versus Cobra

Midtown has no shortage of bars. But it does have a shortage of bars that are serious about their product — craft beer in this case — while playful and casual at the same time. You don't have to dress up to enjoy a Friday night here. You don't even have to enjoy beer, as the classic cocktail menu is equally solid. But beers are still the advised poison of choice, with a rotating list of more than 40 draft brews that range from quirky local experiments like Buffalo Bayou casks to an array of terrific Belgians. The wood-and-metal-laden interior is cool and loft-like, with a Brooklyn vibe that belies its Bayou City roots.

The Counter
Photo by Troy Fields

Ordering something other than a burger at The Counter may seem akin to going to Long John Silver's for chicken strips. But the Grilled Cheese Trifecta, oozing with robust flavors of cheddar, provolone and American cheeses, all wedged between two slices of crispy, buttery white toast, definitely holds its own against The Counter's meatier options. And devoted carnivores needn't worry; you can always add bacon.

Arturo Boada Cuisine
Photo by Troy Fields

Do residents of the nearby Tanglewood neighborhood know how lucky they are to have Arturo Boada Cuisine in their backyard? Longtime Houston chef Boada could have easily opened his restaurant anywhere else in Houston — certainly inside the Loop — and made a killing. Instead, he chose a very tucked-away location on a quiet side street in a mostly residential area near the Memorial Villages, renovated the space in a cheerful but chic fashion, put together a fine menu of bistro-type dishes in his signature Spanish/Asian/Latin American style and constructed a solid wine list — the place has been packed each night ever since. Mostly with nearby neighbors, it must be noted, so clearly the folks in this area do know just how good they have it.

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.

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