Photo by Mai Pham

There's perhaps nothing that says Houston more than a Vietnamese crawfish restaurant. And while there are plenty of places that serve them, Crawfish & Noodles' Cajun-spiced, garlic-­butter-soaked critters take the cake. The mudbugs don't soak in their own juices for too long, allowing you to experience the true crawfish flavor of the fresh, tender meat inside the spice-dusted shells. Enjoy them by the pound alongside cua rang muoi, whole fried blue crabs, or the restaurant's house noodles, simmered in a rich broth with plump shrimp and pork. We're not kidding when we say the giant roll of paper towels on each table will come in handy. Oh, and you'll want to suck those mudbug heads. Trust us.

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Some of the more intriguing offerings at Rocket Fizz.

Addicted to carbonated drinks? Your next fix (and the next one and the next one and the next one) can be found at the newly opened Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop, where almost every variety of sweet sparkling beverage imaginable is available in singles and six-packs. There's Cheerwine for North Carolina natives, British ginger beer for Anglophiles and Melba's Fixins Key Lime Pie Soda for those who literally like to drink their dessert. Rocket Fizz is the perfect place to pick up unusual mixers for your next theme party or a birthday gift for that friend who has everything (because I bet even she doesn't own bacon Coke).

Is anything as good as lobster steamed with a spritz of lemon and a splash of butter? The answer is "yes" and "yes" at Jonathan's The Rub, where executive chef Jonathan Levine defies tradition and impresses even the most ardent lobster purists with his innovative crustacean creations. Lovers of lobster rolls will find themselves swooning over the open-face lobster sliders on buttery grilled Hawaiian buns. Tex-Mex enthusiasts likewise will clamor for the lobster tacos with tomatillo salsa, avocado and Aleppo chili on corn tortillas. In both entrées, the meat is sweet and substantial; Jonathan's The Rub understands that when it comes to lobstah, it's all about the claw and tail.

When a restaurant serves all-day breakfast, you know it's legit. Walk up to the counter at this old-timey cafe and order up a heaping breakfast plate with all the fixin's or, better yet, a build-your-own omelette with fillings like jalapeño, cream cheese and house-made chili. Also a must? A short stack of some of the best pancakes in town. They're pure ecstasy — vanilla-laced, crisp, delicate and smothered in butter. While you wait for your grub, pour yourself another cup of joe and drool over the lunch items on the larger-than-life chalkboard menu. Pastrami melt, fresh-cut fries and coleslaw, anyone? Looks like you'll be coming back soon.

Kenny & Ziggy's has won for Best Deli before. But it speaks to quality and consistency when a restaurant keeps on winning, and that's what Kenny & Ziggy's always offers: quality. Just spend an hour with Ziggy Gruber and you'll lose count of the number of times people come up to him to thank him for his food. It's your grandmother who's come all the way from New York City, raving about the chicken liver mousse. It's your aunts visiting from California, praising him for the matzo ball soup. There's gigantic stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce, flown-in-from-New-York smoked salmon, cheese blintzes that'll make your mouth sing and, of course, their famous hot pastrami sandwich. Kenny & Ziggy's is the quintessential New York deli that will always be a timeless classic.

Photo courtesy of Artista

Empanadas. The South American equivalent of American pot pies, the hand-size, crescent-shaped meat-filled pies are considered common street food throughout South America. The secret to a good empanada, whether it's fried or baked, lies not only in the dough used to make the crust but in the filling. At Artista in downtown, the empanadas are a master class in what an empanada should taste like. The fried crust — not too thick and not too thin — is spongy yet flaky, crispy yet soft. When you bite into it, the hot, flavorful mixture of onions and peppers and meat will want to spill over. You can dip your empanada in the accompanying chimichurri sauce or eat it alone. Either way, Artista's are total winners.

Dawn M Simmons

Most fine-dining restaurants around town serve some sort of foie gras on their menu, but in size, style and execution, Charivari's is totally awesome. At some places, the foie gras portion is so small that you're finished eating it almost as soon as you start. Not so at Charivari, where the serving is generous enough for two. Each slice is pan-seared until the outer layer is almost caramelized in its own juices. When you cut into it with your fork, the rich, hot center that spills forth is good enough to make you swoon. It's served with brown sugar-glazed apples in a deep-red marsala reduction, and you'll want to lap up every dollop of sauce and every morsel of this "Budapest-style" foie gras by chef and owner Johann Schuster, one of the most popular items on the menu and so delicious that any restaurant in town would be proud to serve it.

There are few things in life as enjoyable as that perfect slice of right-out-of-the-oven, bubbling-hot pizza. At Dolce Vita, it's happening every day. Their Neapolitan-style crust — light as air, super-thin yet almost fluffy — is a thing of beauty, something you'll be loath to leave on your plate once you've finished the pizza's innards. You can stick with something classic, like a margherita, with just tomato, basil and bufala mozzarella, or the calabrese, a spicy salami pizza akin to a pepperoni. Gourmet options like the prosciutto e rucola, or arugula and prosciutto, or the taleggio, with arugula, pears and truffle oil, are always fantastic, and for picky eaters, you have the option of building your own and adding an egg to any pizza. Rest assured that no matter what you order, it will be absolutely, unequivocally ­delicious.

This isn't the first year The Davenport has won "Best Martini," and it probably won't be the last, either, so long as they continue to serve incredibly well-balanced cocktails in frosty, finger-numbing glasses. Classic gin and vodka martinis are straight-up successes, as are the more creative variations such as the Lady in Red, Mango Tango and Dear Old Cranny. Fussy aspiring mixologist types may initially scoff at this selection of more than 30 "martinis," but no one rolls her eyes after one sip of these icy-cold, knock-your-boots-off libations. After drinking the whole thing, however, your eyes may roll back in your head.

"Damn good food. Cold ass beer." That's Moon Tower Inn's motto. And it's spot-on. Loyal fans of the East End dive were heartbroken when it shut its doors for renovations in late 2011. But no worries: Houston's favorite beer-and-hot-dog yard is now back...and with a vengeance. Gone are the old amenities, making way for a shipping container-enclosed service counter, a 60-plus tap wall of beer and an even larger kitchen for pumping out some serious wild game creations. Like the ghetto bird — a sausage made with pheasant and cognac, or the velvet elkis — with apple, pear, port and, you guessed it, elk. Add a pretzel bun, the open air and a pint of locally crafted brew, and you've got yourself a damn good time.

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