Good Dog Houston

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.

Kraftsmen Cafe

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.

Common Bond
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.

Local Foods

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

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.

Himalaya Restaurant & Catering
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.

Common Bond
Photo by Troy Fields

This bakery from pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel — whose résumé includes Bouchon, elBulli and Cyrus, to name a few — may have opened only this year, but it has already gained a cult following. One bite of the salted caramel macarons, rich and chewy chocolate chip cookies, decadent chocolate éclairs and extraordinary kouign-amanns (caramelized, sugar-laden butter cakes) and you'll know why. Go here to indulge in an excess of chocolate-glazed, cream-dolloped, sugarcoated and butter-soaked delights. Trust us, it's worth the inevitable line out the door.

Il Me Jung Korean Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Google maps

Often overshadowed by more popular spots like Korea House or Bon Ga, Il Me Jung is a small, unassuming restaurant nestled in a cozy space on Long Point Road. It's popular for its Korean seafood dishes, prepared with fish so fresh you can pick them out of tanks up front before you order. Unlike most such places in Houston, which focus on grilled meats as befits Texas crowds, Il Me Jung is about as authentic a Korean restaurant as you'll find, with dishes like al-bap and Korean-style sashimi trumping the barbecue every time. The owners and servers are all exceptionally friendly, but most speak very little English, so for non-Korean speakers, every meal at Il Me Jung is an adventure.

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