Photo by Houston Press Staff

When your server at Christian's Tailgate asks if you want fries or onion rings, there's only one defensible reply. The rings, giant circles of sweet white onion coated with a batter so dense you might think it was savory cookie dough, are deep-fried but never greasy, crisp but not crumbly. And with a luscious oily brown sheen and rich consistency, the rings are also, as you might expect, deliciously distracting. Two-thirds of the way through an order, you may pause and think, "Wait, didn't I come for the burger?" Well, that's what you can tell the folks at home, but we know better.

Photo by Troy Fields

If the entire restaurant smells like frites, you know you're in for an outstanding Belgian meal. Café Brussels offers all the authentic and classic Belgian dishes, including the best selection of Belgian beers. Whether you're in the mood for mussels and frites paired with flights of wine or beer, or just want a simple croque madame or savory potato, sausage and onion crepe (definitely the best choice), Café Brussels has got you covered. Start any meal — brunch, lunch or dinner — with a warm cup of la soupe à l'oignon au gratin, onion soup au gratin, with stringy, melted cheese covering a delectable, soft baguette slice. The perfectly crispy, salty frites can (and should) be eaten with every dish; you won't be able to stop after just one. Don't forget the tangy housemade mayonnaise, which will seriously rock your world.

MF Sushi arrived quietly on the Houston food scene. Located in a nondescript strip mall, with nothing more than a modest black awning to signal its presence, it's a place that's easily overlooked. Step inside on a busy Friday or Saturday night, however, and you'll find aficionados taking up every single seat in front of the sushi bar, groaning in food ecstasy at the omakase, or tasting-menu creations, served by chef and owner Chris Kinjo. Sporting spiky hair, black-rimmed glasses and a shiny Gucci cravat beneath his chef's whites, Kinjo, who came to Houston by way of Atlanta, is elevating the standard of sushi served in Houston with exotic fish flown in from Japan's famed Tsukiji fish market. Expert renditions of nigiri and meticulously plated sashimi dishes are his signature, and they're breathtaking. His fish quality is unsurpassed, his sushi rice a thing of beauty. The quality speaks for itself, and it's why patrons are driving outside of their comfort zones inside the Loop to this modest sushi restaurant just outside the Galleria. On September 29, there was a significant fire that closed the restaurant, and the owner reportedly said they were assessing the damage.

Like the little engine that could, the Castre family started from modest means, struggling to open a catering company that would go on to become a small 30-seat restaurant. They later upgraded to a newer, swankier location in Tanglewood, which is now one of the best dining spots in that neighborhood. In the evening, guests can indulge in chef Roberto Castre's beautifully plated tiraditos and ceviches, order a pisco cocktail, and then finish their meal with the signature lomo saltado (Peruvian cubed beef stir fry) or an entrée like the simple but delicious pollo a la parilla, taking time to enjoy a leisurely meal. During the lunch hour, fresh fruit juices and health-conscious options like Latin Bites's quinoa pasta salad, incredibly tasty quinoa sliders or unbelievably scrumptious roasted chicken club on toasted brioche make an appearance. What makes this place a great neighborhood spot, however, is that you can stop in any time and meet the Castre family — Rita, Roberto, Carlos, Maggie. You can see their little ones, party with their chef and DJ Masaru Fukuda (Deejay Masaru), enjoy a cocktail during their great happy hour or get together with your girlfriends on ladies night.

"Chris Leung is a freak genius," says L.J. Wiley, one of Leung's executive chefs from back in the day, before Leung went to Tomball to work with Randy Rucker at Bootsie's, before he took on a position as pastry chef to Azuma and Kata Robata, and before he decided to open his own ice cream shop. Though Leung isn't making pastry on a day-to-day basis these days, instead spending time making ice cream for his soon-to-open storefront in Rice Village, the legacy of his creations lives on at Kata Robata and Azuma in items like his deconstructed strawberry shortcake with coriander ice cream, lychee and sesame; his toasted rice crème brûlée; or his warm pear cake with vanilla bean yogurt ice cream, cream cheese, buckwheat and almond. It's his ability to combine disparate ingredients on the fly, creating specially composed sweet somethings out of traditionally non-dessert ingredients like hay or buckwheat, that makes this guy a pastry rock star. His ice creams at Cloud10 Creamery are pretty dang delicious, too.

Perbacco is a magnet for the downtown lunch set. The place gets filled to the brim with Italian-seeking diners during the midday rush, but come dinnertime, it's the place to be for pre-theater-goers. Located conveniently across the street from Jones Hall, Perbacco is two blocks away from the Alley, two and a half blocks from the Wortham and about four blocks from the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Dinner is offered only on Thursdays through Saturdays, but seating starts at 5 p.m., leaving ample time for a leisurely meal before a typical 7 or 7:30 p.m. showing. Tables always book up early during the pre-theater rush. Reasonable prices (most dishes fall in the under-$20 range) and fresh Italian dishes — lasagna, vitello al marsala (veal in marsala) and gamberi al limone (shrimp with garlic-lemon sauce) — are a great way to begin any evening in the theater district.

There are great pork chops in Houston, and then there's Perry's Famous Pork Chop. There's nothing else around that can top this seven-finger pork chop, so called because its height is the width of seven fingers put together. The hunk of beautiful meat comes to the table sizzling on a cast-iron platter, where it's broken down table-side into three parts: the eyelash (the juiciest part), the tenderloin and the ribs. The chop is served with the restaurant's house-made applesauce, and its flavors are smoky and sweet. The just-crisped caramelization of the rub on the outer layer of the meat, whether on the ribs or just the edge of the eyelash, is downright sinful.

Photo by Troy Fields

Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen is like one of those seafood places you'll find up in New England. Fresh oysters are served at the oyster bar. Fried clams, boiled shrimp, steamed crab and fried fish are offered aplenty. But what separates it from those New England establishments are the Southern influences that chef and owner Danton Nix incorporates into his food. Cajun dishes like his amazing seafood gumbo or a crawfish étouffée with dirty rice. There's also the legendary Crab Danton, a simple crab salad made with a garlicky white rémoulade that'll knock your socks off, and the cayenne-spiced seafood campechana topped with crab fingers. The food is always fresh and super-tasty.

Del Frisco's is not a small, intimate restaurant. And yet it's the type of place where everyone knows your name, where you're made to feel like a VIP from the minute you step through its doors. It starts with a genuinely warm greeting by the hostess, who might accompany you upstairs as you're led to your table. It continues with the dinner service — where the servers are always available but never hovering, helping you with your menu choices, then disappearing so that you can enjoy your dining experience. Your water glasses are filled discreetly, entrées served with alacrity, plates removed with efficiency, and through it all, you'll want for nothing. Not a fork or spoon or napkin or sauce. If your cocktail has been sitting too long, someone might even appear tableside to freshen it with a shaker of ice. It's as if everyone on the service team is attuned to your one special need.

Photo by Joanna O'Leary

Entering Bon Ga from the steamy beige concrete of its strip-mall home is like the Korean version of stepping through C.S. Lewis's wardrobe; you emerge in another world, one that seems increasingly preferable to your own. Consistently attentive service; an inviting assortment of banchan; and fresh, straightforward takes on classics such as bibimbap, tofu stews and beef gui are enough to make you a regular. It's everything else (especially the grilled mackerel, marinated octopus and zucchini pancake) that makes it difficult to go anywhere else. Further ensuring your complete delicious immersion in Bon Ga land is a television streaming the Korean version of C-SPAN. You'll swear you're eating dinner in a mom-and-pop joint in Seoul rather than Spring Branch.

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