"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.

Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg

13 Celsius is a favorite among restaurant industry employees, and especially among sommeliers, not just because it's a cool place to hang out but because of sommelier Adele Corrigan, who serves as the bar manager and co-curator of the wines served there. With a penchant for selecting wines that are not well known, Corrigan has the innate ability to choose them for every palate, pouring unexpectedly exciting wines that you wouldn't expect to love but do. Her claim to fame is her ability to source out-of-the-way, lesser-known wines from obscure regions. This spring, she cited the Grosjean Freres Torrette Petite Rouge, from Vallee d'Aoste, in the farthest northwestern corner of Italy, as one her favorites. She was also one of the first to bring the Frank Cornelissen natural wines from Mount Etna in Sicily to Houston. To this end, Corrigan is helping to expand the palates of wine lovers all over the city, teaching us to look beyond the Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, to think outside that box of Chardonnay or Pinot Gris. This is what every sommelier should aspire to, and Corrigan does it impeccably well.

Their signature Churrasco steak will always be a home run, but dine at Churrascos in Sugar Land and you get so much more. You get the gorgeous ambience created by design guru Jordan Mozer, who juxtaposed looming wooden trees against softly glowing chandeliers to make diners feel as if they're sitting in the middle of a magically lit tropical jungle. You also get superbly executed food: fresh tilapia ceviche served in pineapple half shell; melt-in-your-mouth Coca-Cola-braised short ribs; incredibly smoky, wonderfully flavored chuletas de borrego, achiote- and chimichurri-rubbed lamb chops smoked in corn husks; and pollo encamisado, or plaintain-crusted chicken over smoked black-bean sauce with seared panela cheese, avocado and tomato. The Sunday brunch buffet is also the best you'll find in Sugar Land, a true celebration of South American cuisine that includes bottomless Bloody Marys, margaritas, screwdrivers, mojitos, mimosas and, of course, the famous tres leches dessert.

Photo by Troy Fields

BRC Gastropub's classic mac and cheese has garnered many accolades and die-hard fans over the years, but the traditional golden noodles recently got a revamp that makes them the undeniable best in town. The foie gras macaroni and cheese is made with Swiss raclette, which melts into a thick, creamy coating and duck fat to give the crescent-shaped pasta an extra rich, meaty flavor. Top that off with three large servings of seared foie gras, and you have a mac and cheese fit for a king.

There are few places in Houston that can consistently deliver a mind-blowing experience. Uchi Houston is one of them. The avant-garde style of elevated Japanese is artistic, composed, and complex and is designed to hit your senses from every direction, from sight to taste, smell to touch. Consider something as simple as a leaf of hydroponic baby romaine. Each verdant leaf sits tall in a small container drizzled with crispy somethings, so that there are layers of crispiness you experience as you taste each bite of romaine with the savory-spicy edamame dipping sauce. The signature machi cure, Uchi's version of nachos, is also built with style, with crispy yuca chips piled on top of each other in an alternating star pattern, interlaced with smoked baby yellowtail, lightly crisp and sweet Asian pear, and marcona almonds. You get texture and layers of flavor that never cease to surprise and delight. Order the six-course or ten-course omakase, or tasting menu, at Uchi, which varies in price according to the dishes served, and you'll experience the very best of what Uchi has to offer.

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