Fountain View Cafe

The pancakes at Fountain View Cafe are the stuff of legend: as thin as crepes, with a wispy lace of a crust on the outer ring and a soft, dense, vanilla-scented middle that requires neither butter nor syrup (which doesn't stop us from slathering them on anyway). This is one reason there's always a line at the 1980s throwback cafe — that and quick, efficient counter service that delivers your cheesy omelets and crispy hash browns tout de suite while allowing you to kick back over a paper and bottomless cups of coffee for as long as the morning lasts.

Hobbit Cafe
Jeff Balke

Despite the fact that chicken salad isn't a staple food of the Shire, the Hobbit Cafe's version is one of the best things on their menu. Thanks to a hearty infusion of curry powder, their salad sports a sunny hue and a slightly spicy flavor that's further complemented by big slices of almonds and crisp red grapes. Such a diversity of tastes as well as textures, not to mention generous chunks of tender white-meat fowl, make this chicken salad the stuff of picnic dreams. Try it in the Dwalin sandwich or just by the scoopful. Even Samwise Gamgee would forgo a second breakfast of 'tatoes and sausages for this.

Brooklyn Athletic Club
Photo by Troy Fields

Brooklyn Athletic Club doesn't mess around when it comes to burgers, though your juice-soaked chin and hands may disagree. The restaurant's moderately seasoned, loosely packed patty, best enjoyed in pure, medium-rare form, is entirely juicy without being greasy. Along with the simple trio of lettuce, tomato and red onion, a healthy smear of house-made jalapeño and tomato jam brings the perfect balance of sweet and heat to the succulent monstrosity before you. A lightly griddled Slow Dough bun holds its fillings best it can, but don't forget the napkins.

Shanghai Chinese Restaurant

Shanghai Restaurant is possibly one of Houston's best-kept secrets. Owned and operated by the Ng family, this is your classic mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant. Mom and Dad met while she was a waitress and he was a cook. Mom is usually at the cash register or waiting tables. Son and daughter often come in to help out. Dad is in the kitchen making delectable dishes. They've been making Chinese food in Houston — the classic Cantonese kind you'll find in Hong Kong — for more than 30 years. Though Shanghai Restaurant is well-known in the Chinese community, it's still a low-profile place that gets most of its customers through word of mouth. This year that changed. It was recognized by Travel + Leisure magazine as one of the best Chinese restaurants in America. Just watch as the steaming hot plates of glistening sautéed greens, house special lobster, sizzling beef, Peking duck or Shanghai's famous spicy salted pork spareribs come out of the kitchen, and you'll see that the restaurant totally deserves it. Shanghai offers top-notch Chinese food that's well prepared and consistently delicious.

Doshi House Cafe

Vegan restaurants aren't the easiest places to find in Houston, but there is a bevy of excellent eateries spread across the city — often in undertraveled and underserved neighborhoods. Doshi House, owned by Deepak Doshi and settled in the southwest corner of the Third Ward, is the best among them. Functioning as a neighborhood coffee bar (with coffee program overseen by Blacksmith's David Buehrer) and pastry shop by day, at night Doshi House serves up a single dish each evening — from vegan red beans and rice to vegan Thai curry, often for under $7. Here you can find comfort in a simple, hearty meal in a ragtag neighborhood art gallery-turned-cafe. Whether you're vegan or not, Doshi House's food is just plain good.

Fat Bao

Come to Fat Bao for the bao, but stay for the fries. The signature steamed Chinese dumplings are good, but the french fries are out of this world: hand-cut, perfectly fried and excellent all on their own. We recommend dipping them in Fat Bao's homemade kimchi mayonnaise if you're feeling fancy, or ordering the Yummy Fries for a couple of extra bucks: They're tossed with fresh rosemary and a dusting of Parmesan cheese.

Uchi

No two dining experiences at Uchi are exactly the same, because every meal reveals a previously unknown ingredient or a newly conceptualized dish straight out of the imaginations of talented and creative chefs Tyson Cole, Philip Speer and Kaz Edwards. Speer's delicate desserts bursting with combinations of familiar and exotic flavors and textures are miniature works of art, while every ingredient on each plate of sushi is carefully considered and cultivated. Uchi succeeds at drawing diners into unexpected gastronomic territory with playful concoctions like hamachi nabe or uchiviche while still considering local, seasonal and readily available but often unused ingredients.

Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant & Lounge

Ethiopian restaurants are not often described as places "to see and be seen," but at Lucy it's hard not to scan the energetic dining room decorated in deep shadowy reds and soft lighting in hopes of spotting a celebrity (or being mistaken for one). You don't have to go hungry or broke while you stargaze, however, because this isn't some Los Angeles lounge with snobby waiters and lame food. Although its humdrum exterior hardly suggests sophistication, Lucy provides fastidious yesimir watt (red lentils in pepper sauce) plus some specialties like the banatu (chopped lean beef served with homemade cheese and a boiled egg). After dinner, you can even work off all that injera on the in-house dance floor, though sitting back with a Scotch and a dessert sampler (Baklava! Ice cream! Napoleons!) works, too.

Pizza L'Vino

A pizza place that delivers hand-selected, reasonably priced bottles of wine and craft beer. Need we say more? Not only does Pizza L'Vino deliver booze, but they also crank out some fantastic hot and fresh pizza pies. Select whole-wheat, white or gluten-free dough and pick from three kinds of crust. Then fight your roommate over the plethora of toppings. We like the Queen Margherita — with red sauce, roasted garlic, tomatoes and fresh basil — or the aptly named Cheese Bomb — made with six kinds of cheese, broccoli and spinach. If pizza's not your thing, don't fret. There are plenty of salads, sandwiches and pastas to choose from. And c'mon, y'all...they deliver wine.

Lola

We're not entirely sure about that URL, but we certainly know a preposterously fine milkshake when we taste one. While the options aren't as plentiful as Amy's or as boozy as Little Big's, Lola sticks with an unfailingly simple recipe. Served up in a chic diner atmosphere — think greasy spoon meets urban farm — the milkshakes at Lola are as honest and overflowing as you're apt to find. Not too hefty, not too whipped, with a perfect cap of cream and chocolate drizzle to finish you off. And the best part? There's always enough left for seconds.

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