Photo by Phaedra Cook
An assortment of barbecue meats and sides at Brooks' Place

Brooks' Place in Cypress made quite the media stir when it said it was getting static from neighbor Dunkin' Donuts over its new breakfast tacos. Area residents thronged to the little trailer to see what all the hubbub was about. A place that already makes stellar barbecue just doesn't have far to go when it comes to making top-notch breakfast tacos. Smoked meat such as pulled pork, sausage or brisket is stuffed into tortillas on top of scrambled egg. Cheese can be added upon request. The tacos are usually offered Wednesdays through Saturdays, and sell out every day. As if more incentive were needed, owner Trent Brooks just added a breakfast platter, too, with slices of smoked brisket, diced potatoes and scrambled eggs.

READERS' CHOICE: Torchy's Tacos

Super-crispy, golden duck skin with all the fat rendered, with hoisin sauce and shaved chives on the side. When you want a no-fail Peking duck experience in Houston, Fung's Kitchen is where it's at. A specialty that's available every day at this spacious Cantonese restaurant, the Peking duck is a point of pride for chef Hoi Fung, who boasts that all his cooking staff is trained to prepare and carve the bird. This ensures that when several hundred people show up for a banquet, the dish that arrives at each table is perfect. It also ensures that when a party comes in and requests Peking duck, the diners will have an experience worthy of any establishment in Hong Kong. Traditional Peking duck is served with thin pancakes, but the Americanized version comes with fluffy white buns. At Fung's you can request either or both, a total win.

Jeff Balke

In Houston, the name "Himalaya" has become synonymous with the best in Pakistani fare. A great deal of that success is due to Kaiser and Azra Lashkari's tireless efforts, which started back in 1993. That was when they opened their first restaurant, a tiny affair with only six seats. These days, they feed dozens of Houstonians six nights a week in a much larger place off Hillcroft. No one leaves hungry after dining on huge platters of saffron-tinged lamb biryani, shredded hunter's beef sautéed to a frizzled crisp and spicy green curry that is not for the meek. Bonus: It's BYOB most times of the year (which is discouraged only during Ramadan), and if you haven't experienced a glass of Riesling alongside a pepper-laced helping of chicken karhai, well, you just haven't lived.

Photo by Troy Fields

Be it a great hot dog, burger, chicken-fried oyster, foie gras mac and cheese, or braised and grilled beef belly, BRC Gastropub's recipe for over-the-top comfort food is always eminently satisfying. Consequently, the chicken-fried steak, available on the menu as an "evening breakfast" or on the brunch menu in a half order portion, is everything you could want and then some. The huge order of beef cutlet, delivered in two large pieces, is breaded in potato chips and then deep-fried until heartily, wonderfully crisp, topped with creamy gravy, and served alongside two eggs over easy, a heaping mound of smoked paprika potatoes, and BRC's famous bacon jam. The restaurant's legendary buttermilk biscuit comes with it so that you can lap up every last bit of bacon jam and gravy left on the plate.

READERS' CHOICE: Hickory Hollow Restaurants & Catering

What started out as a brother and sister catering business has flourished and grown into Houston's best Peruvian restaurant. Here is a place where you can experience the true essence of Peruvian cuisine. Chef Roberto Castre's dishes shine with authenticity as well as artistry. His simple trio of three causas, pastel-hued mounds of whipped potato flavored with different types of aji (pepper), and his beautiful tiradito tres sabores (thinly sliced fish made with three flavors of sauces) are the kinds that inspire imitators. His ceviches — especially the ceviche de mercado, or market ceviche — immediately whisk you to the streets of Lima with their strident acidity and melange of fish and seafood. Castre and his partners — sister Rita and brother-in-law Carlos Ramos — are also constantly innovating, making Latin Bites the destination for a taste of contemporary Peruvian. Start with a perfectly constructed pisco sour made with the highest-quality branded Pisco Portón, marvel at the consistency of no-fail entrées like the lomo saltado and complete your meal with a scratch-made dessert of alfajores (dulce de leche sandwich cookies).

Walk into Pho Dien on a Saturday at 9 a.m., and you'll undoubtedly have to put your name on a list to get a table. But not to worry; the wait won't be too long. Pho Dien is the restaurant that Vietnamese know to frequent when they want a high-quality bowl of pho. The specialty here is the pho tai uop, which translates to "rare steak marinated special." It's beef carpaccio that has been marinated in a special sauce, and the meat is ultra-tender and flavorful. Another specialty is pho nam cuc, which comes with small chunks of beef brisket. But seriously, all you need to order is the pho dac biet — which comes with everything in it, including rare steak, flank, brisket, tendon, tripe and meatball — to know that you've found the best bowl of pho in the city. The broth is clear but rich with spices and aromatics and the flavor of long-simmered beef bone. Bowls come with your choice of bean sprouts blanched or raw and a side of veggies. Add a glass of cafe sua da, or Vietnamese iced coffee, and your meal will be complete.

You wouldn't expect to find the best Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches in Houston on Gessner in the Spring Branch area near the city's Korean community, but that's exactly what you get. Owned by Ronnie and Linda Nguyen, a young Vietnamese couple in their late twenties, the fast-casual cafe offers banh mi as well as rice and noodle dishes. Though the other items are perfectly good, it's the banh mi that definitely stands out. Served on a crispy oblong roll, the Vietnamese sandwich is filled with the perfect ratio of protein to pickled vegetable, cilantro, cucumber and jalapeño. For proteins, you get a choice of barbecue pork, pork belly, gogi (Korean-style) beef, barbecue chicken, crispy tofu or combinations. You also have the option of adding an egg or avocado. All of this is finished off with a generous smear of the restaurant's house-made garlic aioli, the secret weapon that ties it all together. First timers would do well by choosing the pork belly or the gogi beef banh mi, the restaurant's two best-sellers.

Tucked away in the corner of a strip mall on Bellaire in Chinatown, One Dragon Restaurant is as unassuming as it is special. This one-room hole-in-the-wall with no more than ten tables is presided over by a husband and wife who barely speak English but whose mission is to serve up Shanghai cuisine like you'd find in China. You can have an entirely solid family meal here made up of several family-style entrées, and it will be excellent, but the thing that everyone comes here for — the reason there's often a one-hour wait during the lunch hour on weekends — is that One Dragon has mastered the delicate and mysterious craft of making the most delicious xiao long bao, or soup dumplings. Not a single table goes without an order or two or three of these beauties. They come six to an order, the outer dumpling wrapper elastic but ultra-thin. Grab one softly with your chopstick, and it will sag with the weight of the soup inside. Bite into the dumpling and it will gush pleasantly with flavorful broth before you bite into the small pork patty inside. It's an absolute thing of beauty that is well worth the wait.

Don't drive past this modest Independence Heights eatery without stopping in for a plate full of rib-sticking, soulful Cajun fare. The brothy bowls of chicken and sausage gumbo have a hot pepper bite, and the shrimp and crawfish étouffée is thick and bright with cayenne. The red beans cook for hours and are laced through with andouille sausage. There's a selection of rotating daily specials, so check the menu on the web site before you go see what's in store. There's also a soul food side of the menu and it's worth delving into, especially the tender oxtails covered with thick, beefy gravy. It's BYOB, and cold lager goes really great with the food. Pick up a bag full of homemade cracklins at the counter to take home.

There is no dearth of steakhouses in Houston, but for a quintessentially local experience that couples the finest meat with delicious sides and impeccable service, you've got to give it to Killen's Steakhouse. Under the direction of newly named executive chef Joe Cervantez, the restaurant founded by Ronnie Killen is the place to experience an exquisitely prepared piece of USDA prime beef, sourced from top-of-the-line Allen Brothers and Strube Ranch. Whether you choose a New York strip, tenderloin, filet mignon or the infamous 32-ounce dry-aged bone-in Wagyu rib eye — a sight to behold — you can't go wrong. Add well-constructed sides such as the award-winning creamed corn, starters such as a lump crab cake chock-full of crab, and desserts meant to seduce, such as Cervantez's bread pudding or hot carrot cake, not to mention a thoughtful and well-curated wine list by DeeDee Killen, and you have one of the best steakhouses not just in Houston but in the entire country.

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