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.

El Big Bad
David Rozycki

How hot is too hot when it comes to hot wings? Don't bother asking at El Big Bad. The chile de arbol sauce on the Jalisco Hot Wangs is spicy enough to satisfy chile-heads and complex enough to intrigue the rest. The base is apple cider vinegar, which lends tanginess, and it's thickened with ground pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds), which gives depth of flavor. These wings make traditional hot wings seem like they're just not trying hard enough.

READERS' CHOICE: Pluckers Wing Bar

Shri Balaji Bhavan Pure Vegetarian Restaurant
Jeff Balke

Long a mainstay of Houston's Mahatma Gandhi District, Shri Balaji Bhavan continues to thrill both newcomers and lifelong customers with its picture-perfect spins on Indian street food classics. The place is as much a snack shop as a restaurant, but it's easy to cobble a meal together from platters of chaat. These include the dahi puri, whose airy-crisp shells brim with chutney, yogurt, chile and wisps of fried sev (fine noodles of chickpea flour). There are also the finely fried and fiery green onion pakoras (fritters studded just so with whole spices). Don't pass up the lace-edged dosas (huge half-moon crepes of fermented batter stuffed with spiced vegetables) or the delightfully chewy chole bhature (fried bread served alongside a bowl of spicy chickpeas).

READERS' CHOICE: Pondicheri

Little Matt’s

Little Matt's feels like it's stuck in a time warp. The restaurant sits on a little stretch of Edloe that bears a decidedly old-school, small-town feel. Diagonal street parking in front of American flag-bedecked storefronts, a town hall and postage-stamp fire station just down the street, and the cheerful din of a Little League baseball game in the adjacent park — these all lend the place a homey charm even before you pass the row of bright red picnic tables out front. Once you're inside, the time warp speeds up, with kids skittering for the rows of mounted gaming tablets lining the front wall, shoving crumpled dollar bills into the change machine in back and angling for their spot on a favored arcade console. While the children run gently amok, the grown-ups have a shot at a normal-feeling meal in the comfortable dining room, which feels worlds apart from the sticky-floored plastic nightmare of typical eat-and-play soul suckers like the mouse house. Stick with comfort classics and grab a glass of wine; it's on the house.

READERS' CHOICE: Willie's Grill & Icehouse

Zydeco Louisiana Diner

As if to prove an old dog can indeed learn new tricks, after 28 years Zydeco decided to finally add dinner service instead of just lunch. Downtown workers and residents have long been making pilgrimages to this casual diner setting for warm bowls of étouffée and gumbo, as well as platters of fried seafood. Now, night-time diners can also partake in the deliciousness of fried shrimp and catfish. Adorned in an abundance of antiques and restaurant relics, Zydeco is something of a mini-museum that's also a feast for the eyes.

READERS' CHOICE: BB's Café

If you're looking for what's fresh and seasonal on the Gulf Coast, you can do no better than the Eastside Farmers Market from Urban Harvest. More so than any other market in the city, this is where the chefs shop. You'll spot them talking strawberries with the folks from Atkinson Farms, picking up some freshly made goat cheese from goatherd-to-the-stars Lisa Seger, testing their mettle with chiles from Finca Tres Robles or thumping watermelons from Gundermann Acres. All of the vendors are friendly and knowledgeable, willing to dole out cooking advice for unfamiliar produce, and an array of prepared-food vendors keeps you from shopping hungry.

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