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.

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.

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