Uchi

The Japanese term agemono refers to the selection of deep-fried dishes that are often available alongside traditional raw seafood dishes at sushi restaurants. Add tempura, or light batter, to chicken, and you're presented with karaage, the Japanese version of the wonderful soul food we know as fried chicken. Uchi is perhaps the best sushi restaurant in Houston, but their fried chicken is the city's best-kept secret. The juicy, succulent pieces of chicken melt in your mouth and explode with flavor, causing a "give me more" reaction that is almost insatiable. Frenchy's, Barbecue Inn and Popeye's may be more affordable and accessible, but if you have a few extra dollars to spend and wanna do something fancy, try the karaage. You'll be telling us "domo arigato" soon enough.

E-Tao

You'd think that the best dumplings in Houston would come from somewhere in Chinatown, but you'd be mistaken. Go to The Galleria, park near Nord­strom and go to the small food court just outside of that store on the second floor. There, through a small front-facing window, watch in amazement as white-clothed Chinese staff make quick work of everything from dim sum to fried rice and whole steamed Dungeness crab. Though all the food is solid, what brings people back are the handmade dumplings: plump shrimp har gow dumplings, juicy xiu mai pork dumplings and delectable steamed xiao long bao soup dumplings. Larger than the ones you'll find elsewhere in Houston, they are things of beauty and the best in the city.

Christian's Tailgate Grill & Bar
Photo by Houston Press Staff

There's no dearth of good burger joints in Houston. Christian's Tailgate just happens to be one of the best. Whether it's their "small" one-third-pound burger, "large" half-pounder or their "giant" one-pound burger, the classic burgers with lettuce and tomato are the very word on what an American burger should taste like. The thick-cut patties and soft, white, toasted-on-the-grill bun combine in a way that's always super-tasty. Their gourmet-ish burgers, like their heaped-full-with-mushrooms Swiss mushroom burger covered in melted cheese or their country-fried bacon burger (how could a burger topped with chicken-fried bacon be anything other than amazing?), score points for execution as well. The bottom line is that Christian's always makes a damn good burger. Add to that the big-screen TVs, the pool tables and the air hockey, and you've got a total Burger Joint winner.

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.

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