Etoile Cuisine et Bar
Photo by Troy Fields

Since its 2012 debut in Uptown Park, Etoile Cuisine et Bar has steadily gained a loyal clientele, and with reason. This cozy, upscale French restaurant is helmed by chef-owner Philippe Verpiand, and he's on the kitchen line almost every night, cooking the food himself. What you get, then, is not food prepared by a cook who has never lived in France, but cuisine that is made by a French-born, award-winning chef who has been surrounded by Gallic tastes and flavors all of his life. Foie gras au torchon, escargots à la bourguignonne, magret de canard à l'orange and filet de boeuf au poivre are all masterfully executed. An affordable wine list and excellent bar menu overseen by Kimberly Paul enhance what is always a wonderful experience.

READERS' CHOICE: Brasserie 19

Connie's Frozen Custard
Photo by Houston Press Staff

Drive-throughs for hamburgers and tacos are standard, but driving through for creamy frozen custard is awesome. Connie's Frozen Custard is a classic gem in northwest Houston, serving up shakes, floats, concretes and sundaes. There are many options to choose from, including the decadent Almond Delight concrete. It's essentially an Almond Joy in a cup with coconut, melted chocolate chips and roasted almonds. There's also the J.B.'s Texas Turtle sundae, topped with hot fudge, caramel, roasted pecans and cherries. The truth of the matter, though, is that even just the plain ol' vanilla custard is divine.

Huynh
Stephanie Meza

Yes, the word is out on this humble family-run Vietnamese restaurant. It will be bustling whenever you come, and there can be a wait, but you'll know why when you taste the food. There's the goi vit (duck salad), nothing more than a simple jumble of shredded cabbage and duck and herbs that's so good you could come just for that. But there's so much more: Bowls of steaming hot bun bo Hue (beef and pork hock noodle soup), delicious pho (beef noodle soup), tasty bo luc lac (shaking beef) and delicate rolls of freshly steamed banh cuon (steamed rice cakes), not to mention satisfying rice plates and pan fried noodles. The fact that you can BYOB just makes us love it all the more.

READERS' CHOICE: Mai's

Mockingbird Bistro

Whether piled up next to a legendary Wagyu burger or alongside a steaming pot of mussels and chorizo in white wine sauce, the pommes frites at Mockingbird Bistro are thin, lightly crisp and highly addictive. If you love the pungent richness of truffle oil, this place has you (and the fries) covered. Or, skip the truffle oil and go simply with wisps of shredded Parmesan. Even plain, these are the best fries in town.

This is "moist" brisket at Killen's Barbecue.
Photo by Mai Pham
This is "moist" brisket at Killen's Barbecue.

The barbecue scene in the greater Houston area just gets better and better. Over the past two years, new and improved barbecue joints have set down roots in the Heights, Tomball, The Woodlands, near Memorial and even in downtown. Yet when it comes to across-the-board value and quality, Killen's Barbecue is still the one to beat. Consistency is a demon when making barbecue, but the ribs, brisket and sausage at Killen's are always smoky, tender and flavorful.

READERS' CHOICE: Killen's Barbecue

Rice Box Truck

Over the past few years, many gourmet food trucks have washed out, but The Rice Box has proven its staying power, even opening a small storefront in the food court at 5E Greenway Plaza. On Friday and Saturday nights, the truck is optimally positioned across the street from Montrose mainstay Poison Girl, ready to dish out American-Chinese food to any drunken denizens in need of ballast. The General Tso Chicken is as good here as at any restaurant (even better with the fried rice), and so are the dumplings filled with chicken and napa cabbage. Housemade dumpling sauce is served alongside.

Fielding's Wood Grill
Photo by Molly Dunn

Why have one Bloody Mary when you can have four? The Bloody Mary flight at Fielding's Wood Grill includes four variations on the delectable hangover cure. There's the Fielding's Mary, made with vodka and housemade Bloody Mary mix then garnished with an olive and housemade pickle. There's also one with candied bacon and a smoky-spicy seasoning mix, and another that comes with a pickled egg. The fourth is a riff on caprese with basil-infused vodka and mozzarella. It's really hard to pick a favorite, so go with the flight and have them all.

READERS' CHOICE: Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar

Underbelly

Underbelly is just a quick drive for the downtown lunch crowd, and parking is easy thanks to multiple lots and valet. Lunchtime dishes range from light and healthful to downright meaty. The menu changes often, so it's never boring, but there are always a few continuing, tasty standards, including the acclaimed Korean braised goat and dumplings. Underbelly buys produce directly from farmers, so whether that day's Crispy Farmer's Market Vegetable is okra, broccoli or something else, it's always interesting. In addition, there's always an outstanding burger on the menu, as well as fresh seared Gulf fish and a chicken dish. In other words, everyone ought to be able to find something to love at lunchtime.

There's no place better equipped to create outstanding margaritas than The Pastry War. After all, it has one of the most renowned collections of tequila and mezcal in the United States, and it stocks both Persian and Key limes. The house margarita, available both on the rocks (with Pueblo Viejo Blanco tequila) and frozen (with Cimarrón Blanco), is only $8 (and a mere $5 during happy hour). The mezcal margarita is made with Del Maguey Vida. As if that's not enough, there are three flavor options that add only a dollar to the cost, including strawberry and balsamic vinegar with a rim of damiana sugar. If you love margaritas, why wouldn't you drink here?

READERS' CHOICE: El Tiempo Cantina

In the mornings patrons crowd the ridiculously charming cottage that houses Jane & John Dough for pastries, coffee cake, egg sandwiches and lattes made with care. Light sandwiches with in-house baked bread and housemade mayonnaise satisfy afternoon hungers. A slice of the unique honey pie is not to be missed — unless the incredible peanut butter cookie with a scoop of chocolate-covered peanut butter on the side is more your speed. Jane & John Dough is not a huge place and the furniture is kind of worn, but for those who can find a seat, it sure is homey.

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