Previously known as Vietnam Poblano, Roostar Vietnamese Grill is the brainchild of owners Ronnie and Linda Nguyen. It's a humble mom-and-pop hole-in-the-wall you can easily fall in love with, not just because the owners are always there and remember you by name after your first visit, but also because they put care into making their food from scratch. Red-rimmed pork belly, chargrilled pork and garlicky aioli are all made with recipes passed down from generations. The banh mi sandwiches are filled to the brim with protein and topped with brightly colored pickled carrots, round slices of spicy jalapeño, fresh sprigs of cilantro and a few dashes of mayo for a unforgettably tasty bite. The chopped rib eye is to die for, but in truth, all the banh mi here are excellent, including the unusual smoked salmon and the vegetarian crispy tofu.

READERS' CHOICE: Les Givral's Sandwich & Café

The Hay Merchant

The Hay Merchant's 80 taps — 75 on draft and five on cask — are reason enough to make it a great neighborhood spot. That does not, however, take into account that the $10 burger is one of the best in Houston. There's a food menu overseen by James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd, and even late-night visitors won't go hungry. Dishes range from family-style meals (even half a roasted pig's head!) to bar snacks such as wings and cornmeal-crusted pickled green beans. On weekends The Hay Merchant even serves brunch. All those offerings together constitute the best in full-fledged service.

Kenny & Ziggy's Delicatessen Restaurant

Is there a better New York-style deli in Houston than Kenny & Ziggy's? After years of being named the Best Deli by both our professional critics and beloved readers, Kenny & Ziggy's is undeniably top of its class. Third-generation deli owner Ziggy Gruber's appearance in the 2014 documentary Deli Man has further cemented his restaurant's stronghold as the place to go for classic, New York-style deli sandwiches such as the Fiddler on the Roof of Your Mouth — a triple decker killer of a sandwich layered with corned beef, house-made pastrami and Russian dressing. Other Jewish classics include his homey matzoh ball soup, his famously creamy chopped liver, his Hungarian stuffed cabbage and, of course, his housemade lox and bagels. Beyond the food is the ambience — always bustling, with generations of Jewish families gathered over dishes made with recipes passed down for generations.

READERS' CHOICE: Phoenicia Specialty Foods

Pho Dien

Pho restaurants in this town come and go. But Pho Dien has gained that word-of-mouth fame that has people lined up for a steaming bowl of beef noodle soup every afternoon. This place serves the real deal, with broth simmered for hours to give it that fragrant aroma and smooth, deep flavor that wins every time. The toppings here are of consistently high quality, especially the tai uop (marinated carpaccio). Service is fast and efficient, and though a wait is the norm during peak lunch hours, it never exceeds 30 minutes and is always worth it.

When you want a good vegetarian meal that's affordable, healthy and delicious, Duy Sandwiches in Chinatown is hard to beat. Open for seven years now, this humble hole-in-the-wall serves up tasty banh mi subs made with faux-meat fillings that taste pretty darn close to the real thing. A full menu of traditional Vietnamese dishes — from ca ri chay (vegetarian yellow curry) to bun rieu (Vietnamese crab and vermicelli soup) — are also made in house using the owner's personal recipes. Service is fast casual, with an extensive selection of pre-packaged grab-n-go items for you to take home and enjoy. Cash only, but totally worth it.

Best Neighborhood Spot in the Galleria Area

Arturo Boada Cuisine

Arturo Boada Cuisine
Photo by Troy Fields

Chef Arturo Boada's place, tucked into a humble strip center, has hidden-gem status but it's packed nightly with nearby residents who are well aware of what it has to offer. Boada long ago shook off any sense of cultural boundaries when it comes to his menu, so outstanding carnitas pizzas sail out of the wood-fired oven and land on tables already covered in plates of sashimi-grade tuna tartar and simply prepared farfalle with garlic, tomatoes, basil and housemade mozzarella. The range and flexibility mean this is a great place for families and can work equally well for couples who don't mind a bustling environment.

It's all about the beef at this high-end steakhouse. You get a nice look at the goods in the meat case in the entrance, but the real view is inside the enormous, temperature- and humidity-controlled cooler that the restaurant uses to dry-age its beef. The aging process takes at least 28 days and sometimes up to 45 or 50, and the resulting beef-forward, almost nutty flavor is nothing short of incredible. Order your favorite cut and preferred temp and let the kitchen work its magic as you await your flawlessly seared, mouthwateringly juicy steak. And for best results, you may want to consult the 2,000-plus bottle wine list too.

READERS' CHOICE: Taste of Texas

The Hay Merchant

Make Tuesdays great again by heading to The Hay Merchant, where the beefy scents begin wafting through the bar starting at 5 p.m. You'll want to get there sooner than later, as these in-demand steaks often sell out. Made with eight ounces of Angus sirloin from 44 Farms, the stunners are aggressively seasoned and sizzled just to your liking, along with in-season veggies and sauce accoutrements. Get it all for an incredibly reasonable $15.50, but bring some extra dough to sip craft suds from beer guru Kevin Floyd's incredible roster of taps.

Don't come to this Rice Village charmer expecting guilty pleasures like deep-fried falafel and greasy shaved lamb. We promise you won't miss those Mediterranean staples once you get a taste of chef William Wright's refreshing take on Greek fare. Start with a greens-and-cheese pie, in which buttery phyllo gets layered with three kinds of funky Greek cheese and finished with micro greens. Entrées include feta-brined and wood-grilled chicken, a stunning charred octopus, and a Black Hills pork build-your-own gyro that you'll likely dream about long after your visit. All these inspired dishes pair flawlessly with wines curated by well-respected sommelier Evan Turner. The list just so happens to be the second-largest all-Hellenic wine list in the country.

READERS' CHOICE: Niko Niko's

BB's Cafe
Photo by Houston Press Staff

It looks like the higher powers have shone down upon us, because last year the already poppin' Montrose location of everyone's favorite Tex-Orleans cafe moved from being open late-night to being open all night. Now you can get Maw-Maw's Gumbo and a bevy of po-boys served on authentic Leidenheimer French bread 24 hours a day. May we also suggest sharing an order of the Tex-Cajun fries, which come absolutely dripping in queso, roast beef and gravy? That'll definitely to put you right to sleep.

READERS' CHOICE: House of Pies

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