Uchi

No two dining experiences at Uchi are exactly the same, because every meal reveals a previously unknown ingredient or a newly conceptualized dish straight out of the imaginations of talented and creative chefs Tyson Cole, Philip Speer and Kaz Edwards. Speer's delicate desserts bursting with combinations of familiar and exotic flavors and textures are miniature works of art, while every ingredient on each plate of sushi is carefully considered and cultivated. Uchi succeeds at drawing diners into unexpected gastronomic territory with playful concoctions like hamachi nabe or uchiviche while still considering local, seasonal and readily available but often unused ingredients.

Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant & Lounge

Ethiopian restaurants are not often described as places "to see and be seen," but at Lucy it's hard not to scan the energetic dining room decorated in deep shadowy reds and soft lighting in hopes of spotting a celebrity (or being mistaken for one). You don't have to go hungry or broke while you stargaze, however, because this isn't some Los Angeles lounge with snobby waiters and lame food. Although its humdrum exterior hardly suggests sophistication, Lucy provides fastidious yesimir watt (red lentils in pepper sauce) plus some specialties like the banatu (chopped lean beef served with homemade cheese and a boiled egg). After dinner, you can even work off all that injera on the in-house dance floor, though sitting back with a Scotch and a dessert sampler (Baklava! Ice cream! Napoleons!) works, too.

Pizza L'Vino

A pizza place that delivers hand-selected, reasonably priced bottles of wine and craft beer. Need we say more? Not only does Pizza L'Vino deliver booze, but they also crank out some fantastic hot and fresh pizza pies. Select whole-wheat, white or gluten-free dough and pick from three kinds of crust. Then fight your roommate over the plethora of toppings. We like the Queen Margherita — with red sauce, roasted garlic, tomatoes and fresh basil — or the aptly named Cheese Bomb — made with six kinds of cheese, broccoli and spinach. If pizza's not your thing, don't fret. There are plenty of salads, sandwiches and pastas to choose from. And c'mon, y'all...they deliver wine.

Lola

We're not entirely sure about that URL, but we certainly know a preposterously fine milkshake when we taste one. While the options aren't as plentiful as Amy's or as boozy as Little Big's, Lola sticks with an unfailingly simple recipe. Served up in a chic diner atmosphere — think greasy spoon meets urban farm — the milkshakes at Lola are as honest and overflowing as you're apt to find. Not too hefty, not too whipped, with a perfect cap of cream and chocolate drizzle to finish you off. And the best part? There's always enough left for seconds.

Bocca Deli
Photo by Houston Press Staff

The sandwiches at Bocca Deli aren't fancy — but they're just fancy enough to make you wonder how the family-run shop in Lindale Park manages to sell them so cheap. Grilled chicken is diced and tossed with roasted red peppers, then topped with melting Provolone cheese. Ham sandwiches are kicked up with mango-habanero sauce and crunchy cucumber. And none of them are over $7. A combo gets you half a sandwich and a cup of homemade soup for $7, too, which is only one of the great deals that Mike Kriticos offers as almost a neighborhood service in this close-knit northside community.

Artisans
Photo by Troy Fields

"It feels like Joel Robuchon's restaurant in Vegas," one might say when dining at Artisans. With its open kitchen and curved 28-seat bar, diners who want to can watch all the kitchen action right as it's happening. From the big whoosh of flames that go up while they're making the steak au poivre (pepper steak) to the meticulous plating of dishes right before they arrive in front of you, sitting so close is just like being at a chef's table in the kitchen, something the owners were striving for. "We wanted to make the chef's table available to everyone," says kitchen veteran and executive chef Jacques Fox, who is often seen visiting with guests during dinner service. His personal touch, combined with the Gallic flair of the decor — artisan-crafted wooden menu boards, bright red rooster motifs and a gorgeous fleur de lys awning above the more intimate velveteen banquette area — gives this restaurant atmosphere and then some. All this while you're dining on well-executed, classic French dishes — it doesn't get much better.

El Real Tex-Mex Cafe

Of all the menu items offered at this wonderful Tex-Mex restaurant, the enchiladas are far and away superior to any others anywhere in Houston. There is something special about the combination of tortilla, meat and cheese that El Real bakes to delicious perfection, with each bite seemingly better than your last. Try the bacon enchiladas for brunch, or el gallo verde, chicken enchiladas in green salsa, or, for the vegetarian in the family, go for the amazing enchiladas de hongos (mushroom). Wanna be bold? Add a fried egg on top to round up the fantastic flavors.

Liberty Kitchen Oyster Bar

Okay, the phrase "best clams" in conjunction with "oyster bar" inspires a certain amount of cognitive dissonance. Get over it. Oysters may be center stage at Liberty Kitchen, but littleneck clams are getting increasing attention for their supporting role at dinnertime. Shipped farm-fresh from Mattawoman Creek, Virginia, the steamed clams are immersed in a bath of the restaurant's own wheat beer and dressed with shallots, Italian sausage and spicy mayonnaise. The combination of fatty pork, pepper, sweet mollusks and hoppy broth makes this dinner entrée more like a festive stew, so grab a large spoon and some extra bread to slurp and soak up every delicious drop.

Bismillah Restaurant
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

Hot french fries and a burger, chicken wings, pizza — there's just something everyone loves about good old-fashioned comfort food. Now take those favorites and imagine them with a distinctly Pakistani twist. That's exactly what second-generation restaurateur Inam Moghul is doing at Bismillah Cafe. Located just doors down from the original — and much larger — Bismillah Restaurant, the small cafe forgoes formality for quick, Pakistani-style snack food, or chaat. Ten-spice chicken wings and curried french fries share the menu with more traditional South Asian favorites like samosas and dahi puri. This melding of styles makes Bismillah one of Houston's very best places to have a casual bite.

Nazif's Turkish Grill & Deli

Nestled in one of the hundreds of shockingly similar patchwork strip centers on Westheimer, Nazif's stands out by offering exceptional authentic Turkish fare that goes beyond the simple Americanized kebabs and hummus you may be used to. With a focus on baked goods, Nazif's serves up Turkish-style pizza called pide topped with scrambled eggs, meats and cheese as well as myriad fluffy wraps stuffed to the gills with chargrilled meat and vegetables. The windows advertise lunch specials at a great value, but the perfect time to visit is on a Sunday for the brunch, when large Turkish families gather to take in the stellar (and surprisingly inexpensive) buffet of fresh veggies, ezme, pilaki and more.

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