Robert Z. Easley

Ask anyone what his neighborhood Montrose pick is, and Paulie's will usually top the list. The casual, friendly, moderately priced counter-service Italian restaurant is the place to stop (it's open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays) for sandwiches, pastries, cookies, coffee, salad or the daily comfort-food special (meat loaf on Monday, lasagna on Tuesday, eggplant parmigiana on Wednesday, osso buco on Thursday, fettucini and mussels on Friday or pasta con sarde on Saturday). Portions are ample and execution is consistent, making this a place where parking is often scarce and there are often lines out the door. Standouts include the house-made pasta dishes, such as the spicy bucatini Amatriciana or the canestri alla funghi (pasta with mushroom cream sauce). The fact that Paulie's opened the wildly popular Camerata at Paulie's next door adds to the allure.

Photo by Troy Fields

A stellar Brazilian steakhouse may start with the quality of the meat, but to truly separate itself from the pack, it also needs to deliver when it comes to the salad bar and the service. Chama Gaúcha, located on Westheimer near The Galleria, succeeds in all three criteria. Want quality meat? Take your pick from among cuts like their picanha (top sirloin), charred at the edges and so full of flavor. There's also rib eye, lamb and beef costela (beef ribs), not to mention sausages, chicken and bacon-wrapped chicken breast or filet mignon, and more. The salad bar is enough to fill you up in one sitting. You can choose from fresh cheese and charcuterie; hot items like the Brazilian black bean feijoada stew; fresh cuts of roasted beets, artichokes, asparagus, seasonal fruits and marinated eggplant; and composed salads of pasta, cucumber, beans and more. All this, with as much roasted bananas, fried polenta, mashed potatoes and Brazilian cheese bread as you could want at the touch of a finger. Chama Gaúcha adheres to the Brazilian rodizio format, which means the servers come to your table when you set the button at your table to green, slicing meat at your table. So, when it's on, it's on. They come quickly and serve you generously, ensuring that you leave thoroughly satiated yet hungry for a return visit.

Chuck Cook
BCN Taste and Tradition

There are few restaurants that fulfill the promise of "you get what you pay for" better than BCN Taste & Tradition. Chef Luis Roger came to Houston from Spain, and he does his best to import fine Spanish ingredients — such as jamón Ibérico — or comparable domestic ones to execute the fare of his homeland. He started his own garden at the restaurant so he'd have fresh herbs literally outside the door. The resulting dishes are not cheap, but they are beautiful and pleasing. If the goal is to impress, dishes like poached quail eggs in potato foam with seasonal truffles and sous vide rabbit loin with porcini rice and sautéed artichokes will put anyone in fine standing with dinner companions.

Tucked away on the side of the road off Longpoint near Gessner is this small, humble, mom-and-pop Korean restaurant called Korean Noodle House. Walk up a wooden plank to the yellow-painted facade and you are immediately greeted when you enter. Service is friendly, and laminated menus offer Korean language on one side and English on the other. Dishes are homey and comforting. This is a place you can go to multiple times a week for items such as haemul pajeon (seafood pancake), kimchi soondubu jjigae (spicy kimchi tofu stew) or jjamppong kalgooksoo (spicy seafood dumpling noodle soup). Noodles are hand made and the portions are huge. What makes Korean Noodle House stand tall above the rest is its secret recipe house-made kimchi. Every table gets its own earthenware urn at the start of the meal, and the kimchi is fiery, delicious and unforgettable.

Andes Cafe's ceviche is not only one of the most complex in Houston, it may also be the best value for the price. The portion size is huge and the seafood included is both interesting and exquisite. For $18, you get a big bowl full of corvina (delicate, white South American fish) and shrimp. Cubes of sweet potatoes add pops of sunset orange while slivers of red onions bolster with pleasant pungency. The black clams included are especially rare and hard to get. Chef David Guerrero has to make special arrangements to import them from Ecuador. Finishing off the dish are giant kernels of choclo corn from South America, lime juice and a pop of heat from aji limo Peruvian pepper. There's one problem: After experiencing such a carnival of flavors, you'll find it impossible to be satisfied with anything less.

Overseeing the pastry programs at both Revival Market and sister restaurant Coltivare is Alyssa Dole. This under-the-radar pastry chef cut her teeth at establishments such as Corner Table and Recipe for Success before taking on her current role, which involves overseeing the desserts at both restaurants, as well as the pastry case at Revival Market. At Coltivare, her creations include seasonal fruit crostatas and chocolate panna cotta topped with toasted meringue, or a rhubarb mascarpone semifreddo served with semolina cake, brown sugared pine nuts and figs. At Revival Market, she does everything from breakfast items such as scones, coffee cakes and cinnamon rolls to a plethora of sweet snacks ranging from cookies to cupcakes and the seasonal cobbler. But her pièce de résistance is definitely her buttermilk pie. The traditional pie looks and tastes like Grandma's homemade heaven — delightfully light and topped with fresh whipped cream on a flaky, buttery crust — completely decadent and unforgettable.

Jeff Balke

For all the fine restaurants that make their own fried chicken, there's still not one of them that can beat Houston fast-food icon Frenchy's. The Scott Street location is still the best. For some reason, the coating there just seems to be slightly more flavorful and crispy than the rest. The other locations are quite good, though and, thankfully — after years of shutting other locations down — Frenchy's is back on a rapid expansion track (mostly through franchising). There are now 29 locations in the greater Houston area, plus one in Beaumont. The hot, crunchy crust and perfectly moist chicken underneath are superb. To get the full experience, dirty rice, collard greens and red beans and rice are the must-have side orders.

READERS' CHOICE: Max's Wine Dive

Photo by Christina Uticone

Located in the heart of lower Westheimer on the corner of Montrose, Aladdin is a humble mom-and-pop operation that easily wins hearts. The cafeteria-style restaurant provides an excellent bang for the buck. Select a protein and the sides you want, grab a cafeteria tray and then choose from a smorgasbord of delicious, freshly prepared delights ranging from hummus to Greek salad and hot items such as roasted cauliflower, stewed green beans or roasted eggplant. From the oven, you get freshly baked pita bread to go along with everything, and to wash it all down, choose from a selection of fresh-pressed juices (strawberry, mango and orange are usually on offer). It's a recipe for a casual and delicious meal, which can be enhanced by the fact that it's BYOB. Total win.


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.

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