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
Jaff Balke

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.

Bocca Deli
Photo by Houston Press Staff

The sandwiches at Bocca Deli aren't fancy — but they're just fancy enough to make you wonder how the family-run shop in Lindale Park manages to sell them so cheap. Grilled chicken is diced and tossed with roasted red peppers, then topped with melting Provolone cheese. Ham sandwiches are kicked up with mango-habanero sauce and crunchy cucumber. And none of them are over $7. A combo gets you half a sandwich and a cup of homemade soup for $7, too, which is only one of the great deals that Mike Kriticos offers as almost a neighborhood service in this close-knit northside community.

Artisans
Photo by Troy Fields

"It feels like Joel Robuchon's restaurant in Vegas," one might say when dining at Artisans. With its open kitchen and curved 28-seat bar, diners who want to can watch all the kitchen action right as it's happening. From the big whoosh of flames that go up while they're making the steak au poivre (pepper steak) to the meticulous plating of dishes right before they arrive in front of you, sitting so close is just like being at a chef's table in the kitchen, something the owners were striving for. "We wanted to make the chef's table available to everyone," says kitchen veteran and executive chef Jacques Fox, who is often seen visiting with guests during dinner service. His personal touch, combined with the Gallic flair of the decor — artisan-crafted wooden menu boards, bright red rooster motifs and a gorgeous fleur de lys awning above the more intimate velveteen banquette area — gives this restaurant atmosphere and then some. All this while you're dining on well-executed, classic French dishes — it doesn't get much better.

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