Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine
Photo by Christina Uticone

Located on the corner of Westheimer and Montrose, Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine is one of those places to go when you feel hungry and don't have a lot of cash. For less than $12 (most entrées are $10.99-$11.99), you get a choice of entrée, choice of three side dishes and fresh-out-of-the-oven pita bread. Entrées are usually some type of meat: chicken or lamb kebabs, lamb gyros and lamb shank. Sides are chosen cafeteria-style along a counter. Cold sides, like the dips and salads, can be further split into half portions. An example would be a plate of hummus and baba ghanoush dip, with a cucumber and beet salad, and then one hot side like eggplant or roasted cauliflower. Portions are huge, the food is always fresh and tasty, and there are always plenty of leftovers to take home for the next day's lunch — definitely one of Houston's best bangs for the buck.

The Pass
Photo by Troy Fields

Though Best Chef is technically awarded to one person, in the case of Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan of The Pass & Provisions, it would be impossible to choose between them because these two chefs do just about everything as a team. Together, they've created one of the most inspired restaurants to hit the scene in years. "Restaurant" is actually something of a misnomer. In a single space, they've managed to develop two absolutely distinct concepts that share a single kitchen. On one side, day-to-day fare consisting of artisanal breads, charcuterie, pizzas and pastas rules the house. On the other, dress-you-up fine dining offers the ultimate elevated dining experience with tons of wow factor. Though the two sides are different thematically, the culinary creativity displayed on both menus is remarkable. Whether it's a rooster's crest-shaped pasta or a gigantic piece of just-fried chicharrón that serves as their muse, Siegel-Gardner and Gallivan, as a team, take food from ordinary to ­extraordinary.

Pho Dien

Pho, or Vietnamese noodle soup, is available at just about every Vietnamese restaurant around town. What separates the good from the bad are the broth and the meats, and at Pho Dien, a tiny strip-mall hole in the wall on Bellaire Boulevard outside of Beltway 8, they are the reasons why discerning Vietnamese diners will line up outside the tiny restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. The broth here is rich and well seasoned, never too salty or too diluted, the essence of bones and spices evident with each slurp from the spoon. The rice noodles are of the fresh variety, with good elasticity to them. But it's the meat that's the star; their tai uop, or marinated carpaccio, is gossamer tender and flavorful. Order the dac biet specialty bowl with the tai uop on the side, which you can dip into the steaming broth to eat with each steaming spoonful of noodles, and you'll see why it's one of the best bowls of pho around town.

Roost

There's something about Roost that resonates with Houston's dining public. Maybe it's the unpretentiousness of the setting, with its low ceilings and unassuming, simple furnishings. Or perhaps it's the fact that the restaurant is located smack-dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood, within walking distance of people's homes in the 'Trose. The excellent food by chef and owner Kevin Naderi is definitely one of the reasons Roost has been such a hit since it opened. There's the Slow Dough bread service, which varies from week to week, with a hunk of sourdough one week and a shiny challah the next, served with a choice of flavored butters that includes everything from foie gras to beet. There's that already-famous creamy cauliflower that's insanely delicious. And then there are all those comfortable dishes that eat so well — a simple chicken and dumplings, a well-executed steak frites, a blackened fish over Southern-style greens — dishes that are good and wholesome, uncomplicated and yet gourmet in spirit. From the casual ambience to the consistently great food, Roost definitely deserves the title of Best Bistro.

Brasserie Max and Julie

Bone marrow used to be a delicacy. It was something you'd have to fly to France or French Canada to get a taste of, but not so anymore. Bone marrow dishes abound in all flavors around Houston, many in the shape of a long bone cut in half and sprinkled with this or that. At Brasserie Max & Julie, their bone marrow isn't the fanciest or the most souped-up. Served as a small plate of round bones, the os à moelle are done the classic French way, roasted and sprinkled with nothing more than course Guérande salt. The pure bone marrow and its rich fatty essence can then be scooped out of the center of the bone and spread over a crisp crouton or classic French bread for an experience that is magnifique every time.

Uchi

The Japanese term agemono refers to the selection of deep-fried dishes that are often available alongside traditional raw seafood dishes at sushi restaurants. Add tempura, or light batter, to chicken, and you're presented with karaage, the Japanese version of the wonderful soul food we know as fried chicken. Uchi is perhaps the best sushi restaurant in Houston, but their fried chicken is the city's best-kept secret. The juicy, succulent pieces of chicken melt in your mouth and explode with flavor, causing a "give me more" reaction that is almost insatiable. Frenchy's, Barbecue Inn and Popeye's may be more affordable and accessible, but if you have a few extra dollars to spend and wanna do something fancy, try the karaage. You'll be telling us "domo arigato" soon enough.

E-Tao

You'd think that the best dumplings in Houston would come from somewhere in Chinatown, but you'd be mistaken. Go to The Galleria, park near Nord­strom and go to the small food court just outside of that store on the second floor. There, through a small front-facing window, watch in amazement as white-clothed Chinese staff make quick work of everything from dim sum to fried rice and whole steamed Dungeness crab. Though all the food is solid, what brings people back are the handmade dumplings: plump shrimp har gow dumplings, juicy xiu mai pork dumplings and delectable steamed xiao long bao soup dumplings. Larger than the ones you'll find elsewhere in Houston, they are things of beauty and the best in the city.

Christian's Tailgate Grill & Bar
Photo by Houston Press Staff

There's no dearth of good burger joints in Houston. Christian's Tailgate just happens to be one of the best. Whether it's their "small" one-third-pound burger, "large" half-pounder or their "giant" one-pound burger, the classic burgers with lettuce and tomato are the very word on what an American burger should taste like. The thick-cut patties and soft, white, toasted-on-the-grill bun combine in a way that's always super-tasty. Their gourmet-ish burgers, like their heaped-full-with-mushrooms Swiss mushroom burger covered in melted cheese or their country-fried bacon burger (how could a burger topped with chicken-fried bacon be anything other than amazing?), score points for execution as well. The bottom line is that Christian's always makes a damn good burger. Add to that the big-screen TVs, the pool tables and the air hockey, and you've got a total Burger Joint winner.

Dacapo's Pastry Cafe
Jeff Balke

Though perhaps more famous for its zesty egg salad (Best of Houston® 2012), DaCapo's also garners much repeat business because of its tantalizing, towering club sandwich. With alternating stories of slightly sweet baked ham, juicy marinated turkey breast, cheddar and provolone cheeses, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and herb bread, the "Big Club" is a skyscraper of a sammie that you almost, almost can't finish all in one sitting. Still think this club sandwich isn't tall enough for your taste? Ask very nicely and you can add a layer of avocado, though if you do, be forewarned: The delightful increase in richness comes at the risk of it all tumbling down.

Blacksmith Coffee Bar
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

Fancy a hot cup of joe? How about an espresso, cortado, iced coffee, mocha, hot tea or hot cocoa? Whatever you need to get your fix, Blacksmith on Westheimer is ready to serve you. Why settle for coffee from a drive-through when you can sit inside the newly renovated building that once housed Mary's, enjoying breakfast as the sun pours in, helping you wake up and start your day. The food is just about as excellent as the coffee, with items such as Vietnamese steak and eggs, curried chicken salads, and croque madames on the menu. Montrose has never smelled so good!

Best Of Houston®

Best Of