Hearsay Gastro Lounge

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.

Doshi House Cafe

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.

Safari Restaurant

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.

Hubcap Grill

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).

Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen

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.

Cloud 10 Creamery
Courtesy of Cloud 10 Creamery

In a city dense with cookie-cutter chain ice cream outlets, the arrival of Cloud 10 Creamery and its finely crafted flavor selection (which has included red currant mascarpone, gingersnap and buttermilk chai) was a breath of fresh air. Among creator Chris Leung's many unique spins on traditional treats is Cloud 10's fantastic banana split, composed of three plump mounds of chocolate, vanilla and Nutella ice creams dressed with fudge, jam, milk chocolate, caramelized plantains, whipped cream and Nutella powder. Whew! With confections like that on offer, here's hoping Cloud 10 continues to expand.

Vinoteca Poscol

At Poscol it's easy to get distracted by the many, many masterful dishes, but resist filling up on bruschette and salumi, and save room for the succulent risotto with chicken livers and squash. Autumnal vegetables and rich bits of poultry offal mingle in each bite of supple, plump rice saturated in oil and broth. Painstakingly prepared, this risotto deserves to be consumed just as conscientiously, so savor your forkfuls for the full flavor experience. Almost as delicious is the price, a mere $10, which means no need to share.

Harry's Restaurant & Cafe

You can't help feeling right at home when you walk inside Harry's. The entire cafe smells like maple syrup, bacon, pancakes and French toast, just as a diner should. And speak of the delicious devil, the baklava French toast is a must-order meal. Rather than simply being topped with butter and syrup, this Greek version is smothered in agiant scoop of Greek yogurt ice cream and stuffed with nuts and honey. The fluffy, creamy challah bread, provided by Three Brothers Bakery, brings this dessert breakfast together. There's something for everyone at Harry's. Whether you're simple and want plain pancakes, or fancy yourself adventurous and prefer a spitiko greek omelette filled with feta and Monterrey cheese, green onions, spinach and tomatoes, you'll find the dish for you.

Mikki's Soul Food Cafe
Jeff Balke

This is not your high school cafeteria. At Mikki's Soul Food Cafe, staples such as fried chicken, smothered pork chops, macaroni and cheese, and the infamous sits-like-a-brick-in-your-belly beefsteak with "40-pound gravy" are done in superior fashion. Look no further than the consistently long lines and blissful faces of exiting customers for proof. The turkey necks, chitterlings and oxtails are required eating for any diner looking to become a soul-food connoisseur. There's also a rotating daily menu of entrées that come with a choice of three sides and complimentary cornbread. Portions will challenge the capacity of your stomach, but don't worry, that's what the sweet tea is for. Just sip, take a breather and dig back in.

Givral's Sandwich & Cafe

To make a great banh mi, a restaurant must have great bread, and Les Givral's, once a bakery in Paris and Saigon, certainly does. It has a thin, crispy crust and a soft inside that soaks up the juice from the meat, veggies and sauces. Les Givral's keeps it simple with the veggies — carrots, cucumber, half a fresh jalapeño and a whole heckuva lot of cilantro — which are a constant no matter which protein you order. The best meat option is the thit nuong pâté, loaded with chargrilled pork, a Vietnamese specialty, and a bit of pâté, which adds a creamy element to the spicy, crunchy sandwich. But be warned: This banh mi is so good, the line for a sandwich is often out the door.

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