Mandola's Deli

This family-run neighborhood restaurant located near the University of Houston has been serving classic Italian fare since 1975. The space itself may be little, but the family? Not so much. You may have heard of the Mandolas — that is, unless you've been living under a rock. Stop by for a meatball po-boy, a traditional red-sauced chicken parmesan, and a chat with father-and-son team Frank and Joseph. Afterwards, you'll feel just like one of the family.

Fat Cat Creamery

While the storefront is new to the scene, Fat Cat Creamery is no stranger to serving its crave-inducing homemade ice cream all over town. Using fine-quality local ingredients, these cats dream up and scoop out flavors like Maple and Candied Bacon, the eggnog-flavored Railean Rum and Brandy, and the not-so-old-fashioned Cat's Meow Mexican Vanilla. No matter what you get, it'll be ultra-creamy and ultra-delightful.

Pi Pizza Truck

Good news! You don't have to make it to your car for outstanding late-night grub; Pi Pizza Truck has got you covered. The truck, available for delivery till 3:30 a.m., is slinging some serious pies, from the wild-game-topped Outdoorsman — with venison sausage and port-wine-syrup-coated cherries — to the massive bacon-mac-and-cheese-topped Who's the Mac. Of course, it's not just available for delivery. If you can make your way to the truck itself after a night out, the massive slices just may aid in soaking up that booze. At least it's a start.

Dessert Gallery Bakery & Café

You can debate ad infinitum as to the "proper" composition of carrot cake (is coconut really always necessary?), but it's hard to argue that Dessert Gallery's version is anything but absolutely spectacular. Alternating layers of moist spiced cake (chock-full of raisins and pecans) and dense cream cheese frosting make for the sweetest striations found on this side of the Mississippi. A dessert, that is to say, that will make you forget about chocolate.

Trader Joe's

When Trader Joe's opened up in the old Alabama Theater in September 2012, foodies, hipster parents and bargain shoppers squealed with delight. Not only is the store known for its good deals and unique eats, it has an amazing wine selection — and it's cheap as all get-out. Its famous Charles Shaw wines, more commonly known as Two-Buck Chucks, are incredibly easy on your wallet but also taste like they cost you triple the price. Trader Joe's has a wide variety of sparklings, reds, whites and summer's favorite wine, rosé, that won't put a dent in your wallet but will impress your friends at your next dinner party.

Kata Robata Sushi & Grill

You're always in for a treat when you dine at Kata Robata. There's a reason this restaurant is a two-time winner for Best Sushi in Houston. Chef Hori doles out spectacular and stunning sushi masterpieces each day (he's a 2011 James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best Chef: Southwest, after all). Sure, the menu items aren't the cheapest, but they are of the highest quality. Kata Robata gives you the opportunity to try the best of the best, like uni (sea urchin), amaebi (sweet shrimp), maguro (tuna) and aji (horse mackerel). You can see Hori's passion in his plate presentation and the quality of the fish he uses.

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.

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