Himalaya Restaurant & Catering
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 Pizza Napoletana

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.

Liberty Kitchen Oyster Bar

This seafood-heavy Heights hot spot consistently turns out some of the best seafood dishes in town, from gumbo to whole-fried trout. But the sleek, marble-topped oyster bar straight out of a New England restaurant is equally ambitious. Here, you can dive into an ocean of different raw seafood dishes: Hawaiian-style tuna poke, ceviche marinated in ginger beer, chiles and sweet lime, salmon carpaccio cured in yuzu, campechana with Gulf shrimp and blue crab, or a retinue of different oysters from across the country. Wash them down with a local craft beer and contemplate how lucky you are to live in a city that respects seafood this much.

Majorca

Named after an island in the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, Majorca in Midtown is creating food that was inspired by those islands: tapas. Chef Hicham Nafaa's extensive menu includes typical Spanish classics like paella, albóndigas (meatballs) and gambas con arroz (prawns with rice). In typical tapas fashion, most dishes are small and meant to be shared. On weekends, Majorca offers no-cover live flamenco music, which can be enjoyed while you're sipping a delicious, cinnamon-spiced, house-made sangria. Sunday brunch here is also one of the best values in town, an all-you-can eat Spanish/Mediterranean spread with bottomless mimosas for just $14.95, which can be enjoyed on the lovely patio with live music.

The Petrol Station

Houston's oldest and best craft beer bar is still going strong since opening in 2007, thanks to the guidance of beer god Ben Fullelove. Of the 30-odd taps that Fullelove has in the bar, all are interesting and dynamic beer selections, whether it be a fruity Dogfish Head Festina Pêche or a hop-heavy Stone Ruination IPA. Petrol also hosts regular cask-tappings and other assorted events for true beer geeks, who keep the bar busy night and day.

Roots Bistro

Chef German Mosquera, who is vegan, takes his greens as seriously as most chefs take their proteins, but has fun with them at the same time. And his restaurant, Roots Bistro (which also features meat on the menu), encourages diners to do the same. In lieu of a stuffy, self-righteous attitude, Roots features fanciful dishes such as quinoa mac 'n' cheese or risotto made with summer squash, morel mushrooms and sweet corn. Roasted kale never tasted as good as it does here, under a light peach vinaigrette. And an heirloom tomato pie from his wood-burning oven is the Texas version of a margherita pizza. On the run? Head next door to its sister juice bar for more vegetarian and vegan treats in a more casual setting.

La Mexicana

This family-run restaurant has been serving Montrose its Tex-Mex since 1982, and the food reflects those years of loving care. You'll find old favorites like entomatadas here that are a rarity on more modern Tex-Mex menus, as well as huge weekend portions of soul-saving stuff like menudo and barbacoa breakfast tacos. If the line gets too long, seat yourself at the bar or grab some tacos to-go; they're made to order and always fresh.

Gatlin's BBQ

The line at Gatlin's never gets any shorter, but the city's barbecue fans keep coming. Could this one day be Houston's answer to Franklin's, outside of Austin? Perhaps, but for now it's our little secret. And the secret lies in Greg Gatlin's ribs, cooked low and slow over pecan wood, his fall-apart-good brisket with a thick smoke ring, his liver-laced dirty rice and his mother's homemade desserts — not to mention the smiles of the people who hand it to you over the counter of the small shack as you receive your bounty of barbecue after a long wait. At that moment, you'll feel victorious.

Fadi's Mediterranean Grill

With locations all around town, family-run Fadi's offers diners wonderful Mediterranean cuisine — always fresh and incredibly tasty — in a cafeteria-style setting. Fadi's offers outstanding fried cauliflower, lamb shanks, kebabs and hummus. The falafel is absolutely a must-try. With the exact balance of crispy outside and soft, airy inside, it somehow transforms simple chickpeas, onions and spices into crave-worthy, crunchy fried goodness.

Anvil Bar & Refuge

Don't go to Anvil looking for a vodka and soda. The name of the game at Anvil is cocktails, and whether it's a Pimm's cup, a French 75 or something mixed with bourbon, gin or another spirit, Anvil's bartenders get it right, every time. What started out as a project among self-professed cocktail freaks Bobby Heugel, Kevin Floyd and Steve Flippo has emerged as the de facto cocktail standard in Houston. Each drink is meticulously handcrafted with specific measurements so that no matter who makes it, your drink will always taste as it was intended to taste. Other details, like the type of ice (crushed or cubed) or the type of glass used, have been planned thoroughly to ensure that every drink is perfect. The menu is updated on a regular basis to introduce seasonal specials, which may include fruit-based preparations like peaches and blackberries, or hand-made bitters, sodas and liqueurs.

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