Photo by Mai Pham
Charcuterie service is fun and interactive.

It happens every single time there are new people who haven't yet been to Kris Bistro: When the charcuterie comes out, presented on a hanging display with the different cuts of meat dangling from clothespins, heads turn, cameras whip out and collective gasps erupt all around. And that's just for the presentation. When time permits, Executive Chef Kris Jakob will bring the charcuterie to the table himself and explain each of the meats, which vary from day to day. Usually there's a German sausage, a duck pastrami and a Parma ham — everything cured in-house and absolutely delicious. At the bottom of the charcuterie plate, house-made pickles and a small ramekin of house-made pâté usually complete the order, which is accompanied by French bread baked fresh daily by the students at the culinary school upstairs. Jakob, who is German by descent and grew up in a family involved in the restaurant business, learned how to cure meats from the age of five. He's now a culinary instructor and executive chef at the restaurant, and his charcuterie is second to none.

You have to go out of your way to find Thai Gourmet, a place almost hidden away in a strip mall on Richmond between Hillcroft and Fountainview. And yet it still gets packed. The reason? The food. You can get something as simple as a pad Thai noodle dish or the classic sweet and sour shrimp tom yum goong, or go deeper and get items like Penang beef, duck curry, basil beef and massaman curry. The best part is that you can specify the level of heat in each dish, and if you go with Thai hot — buyer beware — you'll break into a sweat, but it will be oh so right.

In addition to having one of the most affordable steak nights around, MKT Bar at Phoenicia Specialty Foods downtown has the distinction of making the deal available twice a week — every Tuesday and Thursday. For the staggeringly affordable price of $12.99, you get to feast on a fresh and crisp Mediterranean side salad, a chef's choice steak topped with chimichurri sauce and a side of twice-baked potatoes. It's a veritable embarrassment of riches, and one that's so popular, people start packing in as early as 2 p.m., when it starts being offered, straight through to 10 at night, when MKT Bar closes.

Photo by Troy Fields

Its name may be Regal Seafood, but the place might as well be Regal Peking Duck. This new Cantonese restaurant, owned by the same folks as E-Tao in the Galleria, specializes in Peking duck carved tableside, and it's a sight to behold. The golden, crispy-skinned duck is wheeled out on a custom-made cart. Protruding from the cart at an angle is a long metal rod holding the entire bird. A gloved waiter holding a butcher's knife meticulously carves rectangular pieces of the Peking duck skin onto a plate, which are served with house-made pancakes, hoisin sauce and chives. As you stuff the pancakes with duck, chives and sauce, each bite is an explosion of flavor — just amazing. But that's not all that makes this one helluva Peking duck. Regal will make you an entirely new dish for a small fee from the remaining meat on the carcass. Now that's a winner.

A slew of new Peruvian restaurants have been popping up all over Houston, but Latin Bites is still the place for an authentic take. Though the menu has been changed to incorporate dishes from other South American countries, chef Roberto Castre's Peruvian roots shine through in his creative ceviches and beautiful causas, not to mention his veal-heart anticucho skewers, pollo a la parilla (grilled chicken), aji de gallina (chicken stew) and the signature lomo saltado (stir-fried beef). Castre has a deft touch with modern Peruvian cuisine as well, with dishes like duck confit over cilantro rice, Andean risotto topped with beef tenderloin and the altogether spectacular volcano rice. As for the pisco sour, the national drink of Peru, Latin Bites has that down as well, with an ultra-smooth, foam-topped libation as authentic and strong as any you'd find on the streets of Lima.

Located way outside the Loop in a remote strip mall on Bellaire near Kirkwood, Hai Cang Harbor Seafood is one of those places where it's all about the food. Entering the restaurant, you'll notice the tanks of live seafood just off the left of the hostess stand. Peer inside, and you'll see freshwater fish, eel, shrimp, lobster, abalone and whatever special is on offer at the moment. The menu is vast and varied, but the seafood is where Hai Cang excels. The two-lobster special is always a steal, ringing in at just about $20. And there are endless other options: black pepper clams, steamed whole fish, whole Dungeness crab in lotus leaf, deep-fried fish and much, much more to satisfy anyone who wants to feast on fresh, well-prepared seafood.

Photo by Troy Fields

The fact that Fogo de Chão, one of Brazil's most famous chains, is right down the street hasn't stopped Chama Gaúcha from making a name for itself. This Brazilian steakhouse, which serves its meat in the traditional rodízio style, has been winning hearts since it first opened in September 2011 — and with good reason. You start with the salad bar, which is hyper-fresh and restocked regularly so that it always looks full and lush, and comes with a wonderful selection of cheese, olives and bread. Dinner starts with Brazilian cheese bread and sides of mashed potatoes, fried polenta rectangles and roasted plantain. Push the button to signal your server, and the meat procession starts, with skewers of top sirloin, garlic beef, garlic pork, lamb and more coming hot off the grill to your table, and sliced onto your plates. The quality of the meats is superb, and you can get them cooked as bloody as you prefer. The service is excellent and courteous, and you'll leave so full you can hardly breathe, marveling at all you were able to fit in your belly.

When you're looking for one of those gourmet hot dogs that'll knock your socks off, leave it to food truck Koagie Hots to do the job. The brainchild of chef-turned-food-truck-proprietor Matt Pak, Koagie Hots parks every night outside of Boondocks in the lower Westheimer area, offering a formidable menu of Korean hoagies and hot dogs. The best? The Koagie dog, in which a challah hot dog bun is filled with a quarter-pound kosher Hebrew National beef dog topped with Korean beef rib eye bulgogi, spicy mayo, Asian slaw and a fried egg. Over-the-top? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely.

Pastry chef Francis Reznik creates beautiful cakes every day at Rustika Cafe & Bakery for weddings, birthdays, holidays and every other type of celebration. But it's what's on the inside that counts, and Rustika's cakes are not only gorgeous, but delicious. Rustika offers dozens of flavor combinations, which makes choices difficult. No matter which one you pick, be it the sweet and smooth white chocolate raspberry filling between layers of delicate and crumbly white cake, or a rich chocolate cake with chocolate dulce de leche filling and chocolate buttercream icing (a chocolate lover's dream), you won't be able to put your fork down.

Photo by Troy Fields

You'll never ask for more chocolate in Common Bond's chocolate chip cookies. As you break open one of the large, firm yet soft treats, you'll discover a hidden treasure of giant, slightly melted chocolate chunks; even after several hours, each chocolate chipper tastes as if it just came out of the oven. The sugary cookie base is balanced by a hint of saltiness. Just as with potato chips, it's hard to stop after just one bite. A single cookie is big enough to share, but where's the fun in that? Pair it with a glass of ice-cold milk for the ultimate dessert.

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