Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse

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.

Bon Ga Korean Restaurant
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.

13 Celsius Wine Bar
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.

Churrascos

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.

BRC Gastropub
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.

Uchi

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.

Taconazo
Photo by Robb Walsh

A good salsa adds life and flavor to a taco, but a great salsa makes that combination spectacular. This is true of the spicy smooth tomatillo and avocado salsa that accompanies your order of tacos or quesadillas at the Taconazo truck located in the heart of the north side. The fajita tacos from this unassuming food truck in the parking lot of a vulcanizadora (or tire-repair shop) are served hot and delicious but a bit dry. Open it up, douse it with green goodness, eat and enjoy. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying combination of meat, tortilla and salsa this side of the Mexican border.

Tony's Thai & Sushi Restaurant

Tony Thai, located on Bellaire Boulevard in the Saigon Houston Plaza, is definitely one of the most well-appointed Thai restaurants in town. But the ambience is just one part of the equation at this place, where both the front and the back of the house are Thai in origin. What that means is that you get the full experience — recommendations for dishes by real Thai servers, dishes prepared by real Thai cooks. The food is undiluted in flavor. Beware of the spice level in the tom yum soup. Enjoy the taste of umami in their julienned papaya salad. The spicy, sweet and sour chicken wings are to die for, and the staple noodle dishes, like pad Thai or pad-see-ew, always tasty. Their beef tiger cry, with its lime-infused chile dipping sauce, is outstanding, as is their impressive whole crispy garlic fish. The laminated picture menu makes it especially easy to order as well. If you don't know what you want, you can always just choose the picture that appeals to you the most and point your finger to place an order.

Reserve 101

Despite the fact that Texas retains some of the most antiquated liquor laws in the country, Houston is not hurting for good whiskey bars. The Four Seasons offers curated whiskey flights starting at just $10 while places like Poison Girl and Downing Street have some of the widest selections in Texas if not America. All are trumped, however, by the knowledge and selection available at Reserve 101. Tipping the scales at nearly 230 whiskeys from around the globe, the array of booze here cannot be matched. Not content to simply offer up a great selection, the downtown bar also prides itself on its whiskey tastings as well as a curated cocktail list.

Best Place to Skip Dinner and Get to Dessert

Ruggles Cafe Bakery

Ruggles Café Bakery

This counter-service restaurant in Rice Village may offer a solid menu of fast-casual items. It may be BYOB, and it may also have a great little patio, but the real killer here, the reason you just have to swing by whenever you're in the neighborhood, is the dessert case. For dessert lovers, it's riveting, with a mouthwatering selection of huge cakes, pies and other treats perfect for any mood. Ruggles's white chocolate bread pudding is legend, their tres leches ginormous, their red velvet and carrot cakes stellar. This is definitely a place where you can skip dinner and go right to dessert, and with so many choices, you don't need to stop at just one.

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