Foreign Correspondents
Photo by Chuck Cook

This collection of deep-fried, traditional Thai herbs, such as water celery, rice paddy herb, fish mint and sweet leaf, is not only one of Houston's most unusual appetizers, but also one of its most compelling. The crunchy green treats are drizzled in a bold, creamy sauce of pork and shrimp paste. Chef PJ Stoops works with a local Cambodian farmer who grows the hard-to-find herbs fresh for the restaurant. The Crispy Fried Herbs is the kind of appetizer that incites a craving for more, days and weeks later.

READERS' CHOICE: B&B Butchers & Restaurant

Southern Goods
Photo by Troy Fields

Southern Goods was pretty much constructed to be a neighborhood hangout. The architecture practically screams it, from the open-air bar and patio to the backyard and small stage set up for live bands. Residents of the Heights have definitely responded to the good intentions, since Southern Goods is busy most nights. The late-night hours, stellar craft beer list and great food don't hurt a bit. The SG burger is one of the can't-miss dishes in Houston. Beyond that, the menu is as seasonal as it is Southern. Don't fail to visit during peach or tomato season.

Designed to emulate an Amazonian rain forest, the restaurant Américas is bold yet whimsical, drawing you in for a dinner experience that takes you on a ride from Argentina to Peru to Nicaragua. For something playful, start with the lobster corndogs or the smoked lamb lollichops, then move on to one of the many ceviches. The signature churrasco steak — butterflied, marinated, grilled tenderloin served with chimichurri sauce — is always a home run. But then so are a myriad of other dishes, from the pollo encamisado (plantain crusted chicken) to the paella mariscada (seafood paella) for two, not to mention the legendary tres leches. Sunday brunch buffet is not to be missed, and the daily happy hour is one of the city's best.

READERS' CHOICE: Fogo de Chão

Bernadine’s
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

The name of the game at Bernadine's is Gulf Coast cuisine, so of course there's an excellent selection of oysters from the region. They are available by the dozen, either raw on the half shell or chargrilled. The shuckers at Bernadine's don't limit themselves, though, and they often have oysters from the East Coast as well, including Prince Edward Island and Virginia. Accented with a dash of Bernadine's housemade hot sauce or mignonette, these bivalves make for a mighty fine ride. Get there early because the rarest oyster varieties often sell out long before closing time.

Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe

This classic neighborhood haunt off Airline is old-school in the best possible way. Teotihuacan serves three varieties of vintage Tex-Mex nachos, and our favorite just may be the nachos rocio. Served simply with beans, cheese and borderline greasy ground beef, the chips are best eaten with sour cream, guacamole, pickled jalapeño and a giant, seriously boozy frozen margarita for good measure.

Rice Village welcomed an outpost of the fast-growing Liberty Kitchen empire at the beginning of the year, and Little Liberty quickly became a favorite among locals, mostly thanks to its cozy atmosphere and refreshingly good grub. Get sloppy double burgers smothered with Thousand Island dressing, hickory-grilled Gulf fish and weekend brunch plates piled high with Southern eggs and heirloom cheesy grits, all of which pair nicely with local suds and craft cocktails. Be sure not to miss Little Liberty's latest hit, a customizable Hawaiian poke menu.

Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar
Chuck Cook
Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar

If your brunch plans don't involve at least some sort of seafood, you're doing it wrong. At his namesake restaurant, veteran chef Mark Holley wows with coastal fare inspired by a tapestry of Southern flavors, from the Lowcountry and Gulf Coast to the bourbon-centric tastes of Kentucky. This year the restaurant and oyster bar upped its game with the introduction of Sunday brunch. Start with a smoky Scotch Bloody Mary, then slurp up East Coast and local Gulf oysters on the half-shell. Next try the citrus-cured smoked salmon with crispy potato latke, and sorghum-glazed shrimp and grits. Of course, there's non-seafood stuff too. No one will be mad at you for smashing a Wagyu cheddar burger or roasted pork debris eggs Benny. You can order à la carte or off the special prix fixe menu.

READERS' CHOICE: benjy's

Stephanie Hoban knows her way around vegetables, so much so that her vegan food truck can serve up convincing caprese melts made with vegan cheese and pulled-pork-esque sandwiches made from jackfruit. Brunch options range from superfood acai bowls to delicious gluten-free cornmeal pancakes and baked doughnuts. If you can't catch the truck during its sojourns outside of Inversion Coffee House or at various farmers' markets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, Ripe Cuisine also offers vegan catering services and cooking lessons.

READERS' CHOICE: Pepper Tree Veggie Cuisine

Coltivare Pizza & Garden
Photo by Troy Fields

The only thing bad about the thoughtfully composed pastas at this garden-to-table Italian spot is that your favorite may leave with the change of the season. But that's okay, because the genius team at Coltivare will likely come up with something new and equally favorable. And if nothing seasonal tickles your fancy, the pastas that stay on the menu — including heaven-sent ricotta gnocchi and perfectly al dente spaghetti with black pepper — are equally as satisfying. Come with friends so you can mix and match the dishes alongside fresh backyard salads and bubbly pizzas.

Jinya Ramen Bar
Photo by Troy Fields

Despite Houston's less than cool climate, locals take no issue slurping this modern Japanese spot's hot ramen all year round. On weekends you'll likely find a slight wait for a table even on the hottest days. Once you taste the intensely flavored, 18-hour slow-cooked pork bone broth and toothsome, from-scratch noodles, you'll know why. Go for the signature Tonkotsu Black and round your meal out with a refreshing local craft pint and some green tea mochi ice cream. You may need to cool off a bit.

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