House of Bowls

Chinatown is awash in restaurants, but there are those you go to sometimes and those you can go to just about anytime, any day. House of Bowls fits into the second category. The unassuming restaurant, located in a strip mall off the main Bellaire drag in Chinatown, serves delicious, no-nonsense Hong Kong-style food that's great for takeout, dine-in, a quick stop, a family outing and everything in between. The menu is simple and clear-cut, composed primarily of rice plates or noodle dishes in the sub-$10 range. Their dry-style beef chow fun, with its smoky wok flavor and fresh, flat noodles, is a must-order every time. Simple rice plates, topped with everything from spicy mapo tofu to beef with broccoli or salted spicy pork chops, come steaming hot right off the wok and to your table. Soup bowls filled with noodles are also excellent, and the peanut butter-stuffed Hong Kong French toast is a dessert that adults and kids will fight over.

El Real Tex-Mex Cafe

A little bit of Mexico and a lotta bit of Texas, the national food of the state is represented at its best inside the restored Tower Theater in the heart of Houston's Montrose neighborhood. El Real offers all the hits: cheesy enchiladas, fat puffy tacos, sizzling fajitas and thirst-quenching margaritas, all of which rival the best offered by any restaurant this side of the Rio Grande. The beans are made with real manteca, or lard, which gives them a distinct taste that when combined with the freshly made tortillas makes for an exquisite complement to any meal. Try the delicious bacon enchiladas for brunch, and if you like them, then you better put an egg on them!

Bartender Sherrel Lemon-Williams
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Bartender Sherrel Lemon-Williams

Here's the thing about expense accounts: They are meant to allow you to entertain, and at Eddie V's in West Ave, from the moment you step in the doors, it's like entering a world where money is no object, where the whole point of being there is to wine and dine. Guests and colleagues will want to start their indulgences at the lively bar area before proceeding to the warm and understated, elegant dining room. Once you're seated and a bottle of wine has been ordered, begin with a slew of appetizers: a decadent shellfish tower of Maine lobster, shrimp, oysters and lump crab; the Maine lobster tacos; the truffled steak tartare; and the hand-formed, panko-crusted jumbo lump crab cake. For the entrée, the seafood is just as enticing as the steak, with dishes like the Hong Kong-style steamed Chilean sea bass in light soy broth or an off-menu premium Black Angus tomahawk bone-in rib eye. Accompaniments like the truffled mac and cheese or the lobster fried rice are also a must before the meal winds down with dessert or a glass of port. Any experience at Eddie V's is worth it, but when it's on your expense account, the enjoyment of it is all that much sweeter.

Provisions

The bread service at Provisions is must-try, each freshly baked loaf mindfully paired with a mouthwatering spread and fine-quality cheese. Our suggestion? Dine with friends so you can try each and every one. After all, you wouldn't want to miss the pretzel bread with black garlic mostarda and nutty cow's-milk Gruyère, or the bone-marrow brioche alongside tomato jam and goat's-milk Gouda, would you? Even the crusty, warm baguette with simple salted butter is a little piece of heaven.

While CorkScrew BBQ has been making waves with locals up north and among barbecue enthusiasts for some time now, we like to consider this year's inaugural Houston BBQ Fest to be CorkScrew's coming-out party. The relatively new outfit from husband-and-wife team Will and Nichole Buckman is in the process of making the move to a permanent brick-and-mortar setup. In the meantime, the Buckmans are churning out award-winning barbecue from a bright pink trailer with a small, picnic-style seating area. If you want this brisket, plan your day around it; CorkScrew sells out each and every day.

Bodegas Taco Shop
Photo by Houston Press Staff

The margarita seems like such a simple drink, it's a wonder so many places get it wrong. Whether it's too sweet or too sour or too light on the tequila, we have all experienced a margarita gone south. But at Bodegas, you'll find an almost perfect concoction of the Tex-Mex favorite, whether frozen or on the rocks. The taste, temperature and tequila levels of the margaritas found at this Museum District gem will have you ordering a round or two as an escape from the Houston heat. Plus they're only $3 on Sunday Funday. Enjoy the wonderful tacos, wings and pizza while you're there for the full experience of Bodegas.

If some of the best jalapeño- and buttermilk-soaked fried chicken in town isn't the ultimate comfort food, we don't know what is. Perhaps it's Gulf Coast oyster-topped wontons, dancing playfully with habanero salsa and garlic aioli, or a roasted red-pepper-laced grilled cheese dipped into a cup of tomato soup. Or how about a rich-as-all-hell veal bolognese lasagna, complete with creamy mascarpone and house-made pasta? We're missing something, aren't we? Oh, yes! The retail-priced beer, wine and champagne to wash it all down. Consider us comforted.

Wouldn't it be great if your favorite food truck was always there when you needed it to be? At Koagie Hots, you can trust that they'll be parked outside of Boondocks late at night when you're totally drunk off your you-know-what and need grub quickly. Like Old Faithful, they'll be there for you from around 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., serving made-to-order cheesesteaks with that house-marinated Korean bulgogi beef. If you want an egg on top, they can deliver that, too, along with your choice of toppings like kimchi or Cheez Whiz. Barbecue pork, tofu and breakfast Koagies are available as well. Don't want a Korean hoagie? Their kimchi fries come to you piping hot, salty and spicy, and easy to share. And their Koagie Dog and Avo Dogs — huge all-beef hot dogs with toppings like a fried egg and Korean barbecue rib eye or avocado and bacon — are seriously delicious. Yep, as far as food trucks go, Koagie Hots is a total winner.

Hugo's

When we talk about Mexican food in Houston, Hugo Ortega is not just one of the most highly regarded pioneers in town, but also the most recognized. For two consecutive years, he has been a semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef Southwest. At his eponymous restaurant, the menu is a celebration of the regional cuisines of Mexico — we're talking traditional foods that your Mexican grandmother would make. From mole poblano to pozole verde, roasted suckling pig lechon to octopus, or pulpo, the menu at Hugo's offers a sampling of foods from Puebla, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Guerrero, Michoacan and beyond. The preparations are authentic, the flavors deep and rich with tradition — true Mexican food at its finest.

Liberty Kitchen Oyster Bar

Liberty Kitchen Oyster Bar may offer a full menu of comfort food that includes burgers and hot dogs and mac and cheese, but the star is definitely the oysters. On the chalkboard menu, you'll find fresh daily selections ranging from Gulf oysters to those flown in from New England. The list changes almost daily, and the quality is superb — beautiful, plump oysters with varying degrees of salinity and creaminess are just a joy to eat. Liberty Kitchen offers both fried and grilled oysters as well. For the best of both worlds, the grilled Gulf oyster with bacon jam, topped with a fried oyster, is insanely delicious.

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