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.

Taqueria La Macro

"Tacos" is the answer to many of life's important questions. And if one of those questions is "Where am I going to eat my next plate of delicious tacos?" then La Macro is the ideal spot for you. This small taco shop just north of downtown offers real trompo tacos, complete with grilled pineapple chunks on top and your choice of creamy green or fire-red salsa. Burritos, quesadillas and hamburgers are also available to satisfy your hunger. The innovative and impressive Trompi-Burger will make just about any tummy happy. The space has just been expanded to include a full-service bar, so stop in for a cerveza or two. You're gonna need it after eating some of the best tacos in the city.

Crawfish and Noodles
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.

Some of the more intriguing offerings at Rocket Fizz.
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).

Jonathan's The Rub

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.

Fountain View Cafe

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.

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