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!

Latin Bites

When it comes to ceviche, there is no match for Latin Bites. Chef Roberto Castre delivers authentic gourmet Peruvian-style ceviche (known in Peru as "cebiche") that can easily go head-to-head with the best in Lima. His cebiche de mercado is absolutely inspired. A mixture of seasonal fish and octopus, the tangy rocoto pepper leche de tigre (tiger's milk marinade) is well balanced by the creaminess of the sweet potato puree. Bites are interspersed with surprisingly delightful texture from the addition of crispy calamari and yuca. Traditionalists will appreciate the cebiche de pescado, in which small chunks of lightly marinated white fish are served with large kernels of fresh Peruvian corn and sweet potato puree and topped with a mound of red onions — as authentic as it gets. Castre also offers seasonal specialty ceviches. Beautiful and delicious, his recent offering of cebiche de mora — tuna and scallop bathed in a soup of pink mulberry leche de tigre — was paired with a lychee-infused pisco sour in celebration of National Ceviche Day.

Barnaby's
Photo by Houston Press Staff

At Barnaby's, the Caesar salad is not just something you order to warm up your appetite for a larger, more tantalizing entrée. The Caesar is the main course and not just because it's served in a bowl that would easily feed a family of four. This half-bushel (seemingly) of crisp romaine lettuce; crunchy, buttery French bread croutons; and parmesan cheese shavings with a liberal coating of pleasantly briny anchovy dressing makes for a most flavorful, dense assemblage of greens, breads, protein and dairy. In other words, a salad that eats like a meal. Add some grilled chicken, and halfway through, you'll say, "Hail, Caesar," and flag your waiter for a doggie bag.

Best Neighborhood Spot in the Heights

Down House

Down House

This comfy upscale Heights haunt, housed in a refurbished bank, has one of the coziest atmospheres in the city. Linger over a cappuccino and chicken and waffles on the patio at brunch or grab a couple of pints and a juicy kimchi- and fried egg-topped burger after a bike ride on a gorgeous day. In the evenings, the friendly restaurant becomes a late-night hot spot where the bartenders sling impressive cocktails and local brews.

Arco Seafood Restaurant
Photo by Nikki Metzgar

Arco Seafood is smaller than your traditional dim sum restaurant. In fact, it's so small that there is room only for tables and not for pushcarts. No matter. When you order from their dim sum menu (offered daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), you'll receive piping-hot, fresh-off-the-steamer har gow or xiu mai dumplings; pan-fried turnip cakes with crispy edges; tasty chicken feet (if that's your thing); plump pork spareribs in black bean sauce; and shrimp balls that'll make you want to order more. The dim sum menu itself, presented in laminated pictures, is not the most extensive in town, but the quality of the product is undeniable. At Arco you get authentic Cantonese-style dim sum worthy of Hong Kong, the reason it takes the prize as this year's best place to get dim sum.

Pondicheri

If you want to impress your dining companion, suggest Pondicheri for brunch. The Upper Kirby hotspot offers a modern take on classic Indian fare and a whole lot of baked treats for good measure. For a little taste of everything, try the Morning Thali, a traditional Indian variety plate filled with delights like spiced beef keema; saffron-laced yogurt; carrot paratha; and a bright, yolky fried egg. While grabbing a bold-roasted coffee, check out the lineup at the bakery lab, where you'll find delicate pastries, scones and brioche buns made with cardamom, pistachios and hints of orange.

Mambo Seafood

Mambo's Seafood is the classic "You buy, we fry" restaurant, a place where you can pick out your seafood before you order, selecting whole fresh fish, lobster, scallops, shrimp and other seafood by the pound to be prepared to your personal preferences. Seafood purchased to order is usually market price, but the prices are never steep. A regular fish platter, complete with Mambo's famous fried rice, will usually run less than $10. One of the best things to get is the whole fresh snapper, which can be fried, grilled whole or filleted, with a sauce of your choosing (grilled with just salt and pepper is usually best). Their shrimp cocktail is also exemplary, as is their pulpo, or octopus, which is delicious with the garlic butter scampi sauce and an order of house special fried rice. In truth, this is one of those places that do so much volume that the seafood is always fresh. The fact that it's easy on the pocketbook is just icing on the cake.

Coppa Ristorante Italiano

If pasta is your thing, Coppa is the way to go. The kitchen turns out incredible upscale takes on Italian classics with flair — like their porcini-flavored pappardelle with slightly sweet braised brisket sugo or the supremely delicate house-made gnocchi, swimming in a rich broth with notes of fresh sage and dollops of ricotta. Not to mention the bright-yolk-topped spaghetti carbonara with wisps of pink salami dancing throughout; it's a must-have. We suggest going with friends so you can try them all. When in Rome...

The Hay Merchant

With about 80 beers on tap and five cask selections each day, this hip Montrose joint is a craft beer lover's dream. But it's oh so much more than that. Grab a cold pint with friends and munch on bar snacks like the sweet and spicy fried pig ears and the sticky Vietnamese chicken wings. Come in for Tuesday Steak Night, when the bar is packed and the kitchen sears off cuts of locally raised beef to perfection. Or if you're a night owl, pop in for "Fatty Hour," their reverse happy hour offering $3 food selections from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. There's never a bad time to have a good time.

Best Of Houston®

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