Downtown's historic district is once again becoming the place to be, and you could say it was this popular charity bar that spawned the 'hood's party-scene revival. Stop by the striking, always-bustling saloon for a selection of classic cocktails, local beer and wine, as well as top-notch bar bites. We loveOKRA's cornmeal-crusted, pickled and fried okra and three — count 'em, three — kinds of waffle fries just as much as we love the house panini. Each crispy sandwich is named after a different partner of the Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs,such as the salami, olive salad and mozz-stuffed Hay Merchant, or the succulent smoked pork, mustard and Gruyère-smothered Revival. You should probably finish the night with some freshly baked cookies and$3 shots of Fernet. It is for charity, after all.

Photo by Troy Fields

It takes only one step into this spunky Rice Village eatery to feel that Southern charm, so you sort of already know the fried chicken's going to be good. But you'd still be surprised by just how good it actually is. Piled high on an old-fashioned tray with paper to soak up any excess grease, the fried bird comes craggly, crisp as all hell and fall-off-the-bone tender. That's because it's brined before being dunked in buttermilk and lightly dredged in an expertly seasoned flour mixture — meaning each piece will be juicy and flavorful all the way through. Come with friends to share half or a full bird alongside hot buttermilk biscuits, mashed taters and collard greens.

With a big back patio and stage for live music on the weekends, there's never a shortage of good times at this down-home neighborhood hangout. It's the kind of place where you can grab a punch, sit back and waste the day away. Come for Southern cooking just like your ma made, from all-day breakfast and some of the best fried pickles in town to hand-spanked burgers and red gravy-smothered meat loaf. All ages, and even dogs, are welcome.

Photo by Troy Fields

Scorched Neapolitan-style pies are the name of the game at this Upper Kirby 'za joint. The slightly charred crust — cooked in a 900-degree wood-fired oven in a matter of minutes — reaches that ideal balance between thin and crisp and soft and chewy, with just enough bite to hold up a slathering of high-end toppings. Get the Parma 600, a pizza bianca (white pie) with creamy and milky fior di lattemozzarella, 600-day-aged prosciutto, fresh arugula and a drizzle of truffle oil for good measure. Of course, classic pies like the margherita or sweet sausage are just as enthralling. An impressive wine list and selection of local beer make this one pizzeria not to be missed.

With offerings both Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, Fadi's has the veggie-centric dishes and mounds of meat to please people of any dietary persuasion. Though the restaurant is set up like a cafeteria with buffet lines and plastic trays, the food goes far beyond typical cafeteria fare. From the hummus to the juicy rotisserie chicken to the flaky baklava, everything is prepared fresh daily. With a huge range of options, there are dishes for everyone from the connoisseur of Mediterranean food to the newbie. Those craving traditional items like falafel and tabbouleh will be just as delighted as those seeking more unusual moghrabieh or molokhia.

Just a short walk from Houston's best performance halls, this stunning, dark and sultry speakeasy nestled in the historic Foley building is the perfect pregame for a night of theater. Sit under downtown's prettiest chandelier as you munch on starters like Peruvian ceviche and a bright ginger beet salad before moving on to more indulgent entrées such as goat cheese-stuffed chicken and center-cut filet in a shiitake and port wine reduction. A few classic craft cocktails will only further enhance the drama.

This Third Ward cafe is a triple threat: one part art space, one part coffeehouse and one part fantastic vegetarian eatery. The menu is small, but so is the amount of pain you inflict on your wallet. Stop by for breakfast and lunch to indulge in a curried potato and Muenster cheese panino, some creamy garlic and mushroom soup, or a selection of locally baked pastries and sweets. Weeknight dinners feature one entrée per night — anything from a richly spiced Thai red curry to a fan-favorite Creole red beans and rice — for just $6.95. Both dishes also happen to be vegan, though you would never know.

If you're in any way familiar with the Houston food scene, you know by now that a nondescript strip-mall location and shabby sign are in no way indicators of a restaurant's quality. Proving this rule once again is Safari, which has a small but loyal following of diners who come for solid Nigerian staples such as fufu and egusi, a melon-seed soup with beef and fish. As Houston's first Nigerian restaurant, Safari was a quiet trailblazer for African cuisine, and even though flashier places serving similar fare now pepper the city, there's something about Safari's straightforward flavors and home-style presentation that suggests your food was made in small batches with love. Safari will make you long for the Nigerian grandmother you never had.

At Hubcap Grill, the fries are delicious — thick, crispy and, if you like, dusted with garlic or feta cheese. You'll forget all about them, however, if you also order (and why wouldn't you?) one of the restaurant's specialty burgers. There are terrific though comparatively pedestrian options such as a mushroom Swiss burger and a triple cheeseburger. Where Hubcap really shines is in its selection of creative patties, like the Cheetos burger (topped with — you guessed it — Cheetos and cheese sauce), the Sticky Monkey (crowned with a molten mélange of sweet-salty crunchy peanut butter, bacon and American cheese) and the Hangover Burger (whose layers of grilled ham, American cheese and cream gravy will cure all post-Saturday-night woes).

For more than 20 years, Sylvia Casares has consistently proven that quantity and quality are not mutually exclusive, at least when it comes to enchiladas. Her ever-expanding menu of enchilada varieties (19 and counting) is overwhelming not simply because of the number of options, but because each and every one boasts different dimensions of vibrant flavors representative of different geographical regions. What's the best of the best? Well, we can't pick just one...and neither should you. Go with a friend and order "South of the Border" and "North of the Border" combination platters for an eight-enchilada play.

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