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.

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.

There are many places in town that serve ceviche, but none do it with as much swagger as chef Roberto Castre of Latin Bites. Castre always has at least three kinds on the menu, each one created with confidence and consistency. His Market ceviche comes alive with textures and flavors due to the addition of crispy calamari and the use of an aji amarillo leche de tigre. His Asian ceviche shows off his grasp of the chaufa (Chinese) style of cooking so prevalent in his country. And his regular fisherman ceviche tastes as authentic as if you'd dined in Lima. Castre goes the extra step to keep things fresh and new by introducing new dishes throughout the year. For National Ceviche Day each year, he creates exotic versions that use different seafoods and flavors, like scallop paired with blackberry or salmon combined with watermelon and basil. And regardless of whether you try the traditional or experimental, ceviches at Latin Bites are always fantastic.

Photo courtesy Pho Binh by Night

Open until midnight on weekdays and 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Pho Binh By Night serves the same amazing pho that started the Pho Binh sensation in a trailer on Beamer Road south of Hobby Airport. The pho empire has since expanded, and the late-night outpost on Bellaire gleams like a beacon after hours, enticing a motley crew of hospital workers, families, teens and bar-hoppers to the brightly lit restaurant for a soothing bowl of pho. The specialty at Pho Binh By Night is the unctuous, decadent bone marrow pho, ordered as a supplement along with any regular-size bowl. It's so rich that it shouldn't be eaten by itself but mixed in with the thinner broth of rare beef and tendon to make a soup so special it will satisfy any pho craving — and cure any potential hangover.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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