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.

Latin Bites

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.

Pho Binh By Night
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.

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.

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