Evidence that Mala Sichuan is the best Chinese restaurant in Houston: It's always packed with local chefs hanging out in the small, unassuming space, ordering everything on the menu and hoping to pick up some tips or ideas for how to improve their own food. Sichuan is, of course, a province in China, while "Mala" refers to the tongue-numbing hot sauce present in a number of dishes. The owners, Heng Chen and Cory Xiong, bring the food of South Central China to Houston in an atmosphere that even more uppity Houstonians enjoy, thanks in large part to the wonderful wine and beer list curated by Justin Vann. In spite of great food and alcohol, the restaurant remains very casual and a great spot to dine with large groups, so you can order everything and share it all.

If there were an award for longevity, Mytiburger, the no-frills drive-through serving Oak Forest since 1967, would win. Of course, you can't stay in business that long without making a "myti" fine burger, and Mytiburger does just that. At $3.50 for a basic burger, the vintage joint still has some of the best values in town, but the menu has expanded since it opened to include hot dogs, chicken baskets and sides such as stuffed jalapeños and sweet potato fries. Don't forget to grab a thick, creamy milkshake or hand-breaded onion rings for a little something extra, and be thankful that, in an age of foie gras and fried-egg-topped burgers stuffed with extra cheese, Mytiburger makes a standard, roadside-style Texas burger worthy of a bit of fast-food nostalgia.

Is there anything more comforting than hot dogs, fries and shakes? How about overloaded hot dogs, fresh-cut fries, and decadent, flavor-packed milkshakes that are so wacky and delicious they could only have been born in Houston? Last year when this former food truck morphed into a brick-and-mortar spot in the Heights, we couldn't have been happier. Now we know exactly where to get our fill of snappy, beefy wieners like the Picnic Dog (piled with chorizo chili, creamy potato salad, zesty house-made mustard and dill pickles) or the Ol' Zapata (a food-truck favorite loaded with bacon, tomatoes, sweet caramelized onions, jalepeño relish and muenster cheese). Of course, we'll tack on some crisp fries, bacon-braised collard greens and a rocky road chocolate milkshake made with ice cream from the neighboring Fat Cat Creamery. There's a fine selection of craft beer, too. When it comes to Houston comfort, this laid-back eatery is best in show.

If you're looking for an obscure Asian vegetable or candy you haven't seen since your last trip to Tokyo, chances are H-Mart has it. The Korean supermarket carries all manner of Asian produce, prepared dishes, seafood, candy and drinks in addition to other things neighborhood folks might need, such as eggs, milk and bread. The prepared kimchi selection rivals what you'd find at a market in Seoul, and the food court puts every American mall food court to shame. The Korean fried chicken is some of the best in town, while the hot bibimbap bowls draw crowds of people not even looking to shop. Best of all? There are free samples all over the store. Try any kimchi or dried fish before you buy it, but don't fill up on samples. You're going to want to come back for dinner.

All the sandwiches at Kraftsmen Cafe are simple yet bursting with flavor. The lunch menu features a few classics, like the croque-madame, with delicate slices of ham, melted Swiss cheese, a creamy béchamel and, of course, a perfectly fried egg on top, and then there's the Krafstmen BALT, a traditional BLT with the addition of avocado and avocado dressing. But the Jive Turkey has some of the best ingredients you'll find between two slices of bread. Kraftsmen uses fresh-baked, crusty ciabatta for this hot-pressed sandwich, inside of which you'll discover sweet in-house smoked pecan turkey, a slice of thick Provolone, soft avocado slices, chewy caramelized onions and a spread of spicy chipotle mayonnaise. It's sweet, salty, savory and spicy — what more could you ask from a sandwich? Especially when the bread is baked in-house.

Though Houston is becoming increasingly known for its gourmet food trucks, it's the classic trucks that boast the best values and some of the best food. Taco Keto has been serving the same corner of Cullen Boulevard in the Sixth Ward for years, and it doesn't need to innovate with crazy ingredients or over-the-top preparation. It makes do with simple corn tortillas bathed in roasted guajillo chile sauce before being tossed on the hot griddle and topped with your choice of meat. Each taco is served with a side of sautéed onions and potatoes and a roasted jalapeño with a generous sprinkle of cilantro. One taco with all the sides and fixings is only $1.50, so try not to go overboard and order a dozen. After one bite, you'll be tempted.

Photo by Troy Fields

Visiting Common Bond is an experience. The bright white cases are filled with a beautiful array of croissants, baguettes, scones, macarons, mudslide cookies and three brioche pastries: kugelhopf, sticky buns and cinnamon rolls. One glance at the gorgeous kugelhopf, shaped like a miniature bundt cake, and you won't be able to resist the brioche bread soaked in an orange-blossom juice, spiked with kirsch-soaked raisins, then rolled in sugar. But that's not all. You can take home a few baguettes to make an incredible sandwich, or sit down with a creamy latte and some PB&J macarons, or share a tiramisu or lemon ricotta pistachio entremet for an afternoon dessert. Common Bond's bakers also whip together a buttery caramelized pastry called kouign amann, not to mention classic baguettes, chocolate chip cookies, coffee cake and pecan sandies.

Now with two locations (in Rice Village and Upper Kirby), this homegrown eatery serves up some of our favorite sandwiches in town. Try the truffled egg salad, piled high on a pretzel bun, or the corned beef on rye, topped with beer mustard and 'kraut. But it's not just between the buns that these guys shine; stop by for a small selection of spectacular soups, hearty salads and plentiful sides, all made with goods and produce grown locally, of course. There's really nowhere else we'd rather be at lunchtime.

Uchi's tasting menu changes nightly, yet somehow the servers are always ready to tell you exactly what you're eating, where it came from and why the flavors work in such perfect harmony. The training they go through is intense and rigorous and requires a lot of memorization about seafood varieties, species and provenance, not to mention molecular gastronomy. Regular and even occasional diners are recognized by the hostesses, bartenders and servers — many of whom have been there for years — but even first-timers are given fantastic service. Whether you're lined up outside the door at 5 p.m. for happy hour or you've reserved a private room for a pricey meal, each member of the staff will treat you with respect but not too much formality. The food may be fancy, but the atmosphere is tremendously welcoming. Need a further testament to Uchi's stellar service? Many former Uchi employees have gone on to work elsewhere or open their own restaurants, and they maintain the same standards they learned at Uchi.

Jeff Balke

At Himalaya Restaurant & Catering, chef Kaiser Lashkari cooks up the best (and spiciest) Indian and Pakistani food around in a no-frills environment. Until recently, there was a desk in the middle of the dining room from which Lashkari took phone calls and conducted business. The desk is now gone, making room for more tables in the restaurant, which is good because it's packed practically every night of the week, even though it's located a stone's throw from other well-known Indian restaurants on Hillcroft. The secret is in Lashkari's complex and dynamic dishes, such as spicy grilled fish masala or earthy garlic naan. Not sure what to order off the immense menu? Just ask Lashkari to start sending things out. He guarantees you'll be satisfied.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of