Mala Sichuan Bistro

You might not expect to find an awesome wine list at a small Chinese restaurant on Bellaire, but there's a lot about Mala Sichuan that's surprising. Sommelier Justin Vann, who runs his own wine and beer consulting company, called PSA Wines, created the wine list for the small bistro after noting the dearth of decent booze along the Bellaire strip. Most restaurants in Chinatown are BYOB, but Vann changed that with the introduction of wine and beer that pairs perfectly with the often-spicy and always incredibly flavorful cuisine at Mala. The true measure of a great wine list is that it makes the food better as well. If you thought it was impossible to improve upon the food at Mala Sichuan, order a bottle of Treveri Brut Chardonnay and think again.

Tacos Tierra Caliente

These are the cheapest breakfast tacos in town, and also the best. For only $1 (no tax), you get a thick, fluffy flour tortilla packed with the only option Tacos Tierra Caliente usually offers: eggs, potato, ham and chorizo. What the cooks make is what you get, and what they make at this unassuming but wildly popular taco truck across the street from West Alabama Ice House has become the stuff of legend in Houston. The breakfast tacos, served until 11:30 a.m., have a slight griddle flavor from the meat and eggs cooked to well done somewhere in the dark recesses of the truck. That flavor and the numbingly spicy green and red salsas seem prepared specifically to express Tacos Tierra Caliente's morning goal: Are you awake yet? Now you are!

Best Neighborhood Spot in Upper Kirby

Hobbit Cafe

Hobbit Cafe
Jeff Balke

This cozy house tucked away off Richmond sure serves up some fantastically non-hobbit-size fare. Grab a few pints from the rotating selection of local and craft beer out on the deck shaded by oak trees, then dig into some seriously good burgers and sandwiches topped and stuffed with all manner of goodies, including avocado, jalapeño poppers, tabbouleh and more. Big and small plates feature everything from blackened tilapia and Thai shrimp rolls to spinach and mushroom enchiladas, ensuring this casual neighborhood hangout has something for everyone.

LA Crawfish

The original location of LA Crawfish, the Viet-Cajun joint that expanded recently to meet increased demand for spicy mudbugs, is tucked into the food court of a Chinese grocery store. The spot doesn't look like the purveyor of the best crawfish in town, but one bite of the crawfish pho is sure to change your mind. During the offseason, LA Crawfish boils all manner of seafood, but the crawfish boils are definitely the best. Three sauces are available: classic garlic and butter, spicy Cajun, or chile lime. Order two pounds with two different sauces and a side of fried tails for the ultimate crawfish experience.

Benjy's on Washington

Gone are the days of the standard slices of French baguette with pats of butter. Nowadays, many restaurants offer a bread basket filled with an intriguing array of crackers, flatbreads and other doughy items, sometimes for an additional fee. At benjy's on Washington (and also in Rice Village), you never know what you'll get. Essentially it's a modern interpretation of the bread basket, where bread can be absolutely anything. One day you might munch on a basket full of cornbread and muffins with apple butter, and another you'll savor moist and fluffy cheddar chive biscuits. Maybe it'll be a trio of cheesy shortbread crackers, candied nuts and pickles. Sometimes you'll get a bowl of spiced popcorn. You're always in for a surprise. And the best part? It's free.

MF Sushi

When MF Sushi closed because of a fire in late September 2013, Houstonians mourned the loss of the restaurant helmed by chef Chris Kinjo. Thankfully it reopened in May, and Kinjo got back to doing what he does best: incredible sushi. The most authentic experience is had at the sushi bar, where the chef creates an omakase, or tasting menu, tailored to your likes. The raw fish is top quality and as fresh as can be, and the rice is the ideal texture and temperature. Watching Kinjo create sushi is like watching a master sculptor at work. His fingers move quickly, and almost before you know what you're looking at, a beautiful, jewel-like piece of sashimi or nigiri has manifested before your eyes. They don't call him "Magic Fingers" for nothing.

Mala Sichuan Bistro

Evidence that Mala Sichuan is the best Chinese restaurant in Houston: It's always packed with local chefs hanging out in the small, unassuming space, ordering everything on the menu and hoping to pick up some tips or ideas for how to improve their own food. Sichuan is, of course, a province in China, while "Mala" refers to the tongue-numbing hot sauce present in a number of dishes. The owners, Heng Chen and Cory Xiong, bring the food of South Central China to Houston in an atmosphere that even more uppity Houstonians enjoy, thanks in large part to the wonderful wine and beer list curated by Justin Vann. In spite of great food and alcohol, the restaurant remains very casual and a great spot to dine with large groups, so you can order everything and share it all.

Mytiburger

If there were an award for longevity, Mytiburger, the no-frills drive-through serving Oak Forest since 1967, would win. Of course, you can't stay in business that long without making a "myti" fine burger, and Mytiburger does just that. At $3.50 for a basic burger, the vintage joint still has some of the best values in town, but the menu has expanded since it opened to include hot dogs, chicken baskets and sides such as stuffed jalapeños and sweet potato fries. Don't forget to grab a thick, creamy milkshake or hand-breaded onion rings for a little something extra, and be thankful that, in an age of foie gras and fried-egg-topped burgers stuffed with extra cheese, Mytiburger makes a standard, roadside-style Texas burger worthy of a bit of fast-food nostalgia.

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.

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