BRC Gastropub
Photo by Troy Fields

BRC Gastropub's chicken-fried steak is a heart-stopping breakfast for dinner and is anything but traditional. The tender steak is coated in a jalapeño and potato chip batter, creating a greasy, crispy, spicy and salty crust. It's then topped with a paprika-seasoned cream gravy and two eggs (medium over easy is your best bet), and served with a side of diced potatoes, a whole roasted jalapeño and a big-ass cheddar biscuit plus bacon jam. Poke your fork into the egg yolks to add an extra-creamy element to the CFC. If you "accidentally" get some bacon jam on the steak, consider yourself lucky.

Bismillah Restaurant
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

Just a few doors down from Bismillah Cafe is Bismillah Restaurant, the slightly more upscale and traditional sister to the Pakistani-American fusion cafe. The restaurant is known for majorly spicy food, from beef nihari thickened with bone marrow to tawa keema, a ground-beef cake sure to set your taste buds ablaze. While the (limited) decor at the restaurant is a little fancier and the prices a little higher than at the cafe, the dishes are served in the same plastic or Styrofoam bowls and tinfoil wrappers, reminding you of the food's authenticity. Bismillah Restaurant also serves breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays, so you can start your day with a spicy omelette and curry, which is sure to wake up even the most tired patron.

Best Neighborhood Spot in the Galleria

Big Woodrow's

Big Woodrow's Bar & Grill

This neighborhood bar and grill has everything you could want in a chill hangout spot. Come here to share a bucket of beer with buds, then chow down on beefy burgers, fried pickles and Gulf Coast specialties such as oysters on the half shell and crawfish étouffée. With weekly steak nights, karaoke and live music on weekends, you're always sure to find a good crowd — especially on game nights, when the TVs are loaded with drama from the diamond, the gridiron or the hardwood.

Chicken Florentine Benny
Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Chicken Florentine Benny

The Big Spoon Bloody Mary at this Louisiana import is a feisty two-hander made your way. Fill out a custom sheet and choose from 12-plus vodkas — from standard Tito's to bacon and pickle-infused; then load it up with veggies like pickled okra, sweet peppers and blue-cheese-stuffed olives (they'll let you pick five without upcharge), and meats (choose two) such as smoked tasso and shrimp cocktail. Add-ons like eggs, fresh herbs and wasabi will cost you extra, but not much. Finally, make it fragile (mild), tempered (medium) or brick (that's hot, son!), and add a salt or pepper rim. The result is a Mary with some Gulf Coast soul.

MF Sushi

Back in September of 2013, a kitchen fire shuttered MF Sushi for an indefinite amount of time while chef Chris Kinjo and his partner, brother Alex Kinjo, worked with contractors and the city to restore the popular restaurant to its former glory. In May, eight months after it closed, MF Sushi reopened with a new look but the same great menu. Upon MF Sushi's reopening, chef Kinjo reported that customers said they hadn't eaten sushi since the restaurant closed down — an assertion that might seem mad until you consider the quality of MF Sushi's food. Exotic fish is flown in from Japan for many of the chef's dishes that make up the 18-plus-course omakase dinners, and his agile fingers create some of the most interesting and top-notch platters of sushi and sashimi in town. Chris Kinjo is back, and he's better than ever.

Camerata at Paulie's
Photo by Jeremy Parzen

When wine bar Camerata opened next to Paulie's a little more than a year ago, it was an immediate hit, thanks in large part to partner David Keck, who brings a winning combination of knowledge, customer service and humor to the swanky establishment. A former opera singer, Keck knows how to work a crowd, encouraging guests to try new and unusual wines while regaling them with the history and characteristics of the region. One of Keck's wine classes is as much a comedy show as it is a lesson in wine, but he maintains a sense of professionalism befitting an Advanced Sommelier, even while cracking jokes. He does his best to keep the classy wine bar unpretentious, making it a favorite meeting place for industry professionals and wine neophytes alike. Keck is one of the founders of the Houston Sommelier Association, and as such, encouraging a love of wine and a thirst to learn more is something he readily imparts to both visitors and his talented staff.

Green Seed Vegan

Originally a popular (and Houston's first!) vegan food truck, Green Seed Vegan launched a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2012 to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant serving the same great food, only with much more seating. Though the restaurant is devoutly vegan, the food appeals to a wide range of Houstonians because the owners, Matti Merrell and husband Rodney Perry, emphasize quality, flavorful ingredients. There may not be any meat or dairy in dishes such as the popular Dirty Burque burger, but the seasonal local produce and the fresh juices will make you forget you were ever craving animal products in the first place. Those who scoff at the notion of vegan fare as more closely resembling cardboard than actual food should give Green Seed Vegan a shot. It's bound to make converts of us all.

Etoile Cuisine et Bar
Photo by Troy Fields

French chef Philippe Verpiand knows what it's like to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant — he's worked in several. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Étoile, which he opened with his wife, Monica, quickly gained a reputation as one of our city's finest French restaurants. The great thing about Étoile is that it doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is: an establishment dedicated to French classics. In the winter, you'll see boeuf bourguignon and cassoulet. In the summer, you get roast chicken and Provençal preparations of fish. His pâté is hand-made. His duck confit is deeply savory and très délicieux. Even his desserts are worth noting, like his signature apple tart. Thin, crisp and drizzled with caramel, it's a patisserie worth the calorie splurge. Verpiand has a hand in almost everything — he's one of those rare chefs whom you'll find working the line each night — and it shows, because his food is superb.

Eleven:Eleven Restaurant & Bar
Photo by Troy Fields

Even in a city known for its massively delicious Gulf Coast oysters, this Montrose hot spot's sexy oyster appetizer shines. Grilled in the shell, the half dozen bivalves are terribly messy and completely decadent, with chunks of bacon, Texas pecan pesto, pico de gallo and lightly browned Parmesan smothered on top. The oyster meat is only enhanced by the tasty toppings, as it remains as briny, sweet and succulent as ever. Of course, if you're a purist, a stellar selection of raw oysters are available by the dozen and half dozen as well.

Tiger Den

There's a reason Tiger Den was so heavily mobbed when it first opened. The tiny shop in Chinatown's Dun Huang shopping plaza was one of the first places to actually deliver on the promise of scratch-made tonkotsu pork broth and house-made noodles. Though it has quieted down a bit, owner and chef Mike Tran has made great strides in consistency, delivering authentic Hakata-style thin-noodled ramen in four flavors and at prices that won't break the bank. At its most basic, tonkotsu ramen runs just $8 and comes with three slices of melt-in-your-mouth pork chasu, wood ears, onions, egg and bamboo shoots. The spicy miso, which comes with similar toppings, is fantastic, as is the garlic black bean ramen, ringing in at a mere $9. At those prices, you'll even have plenty of money left over to order a beer or sake, or several appetizers from Tiger Den's robata menu, to make a truly fine meal.

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