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).


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

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.


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.

Stephanie Meza

Sure, other Brazilian-style steakhouses have opened (and closed) in Houston since Fogo de Chão appeared 17 years ago, but this international chain is the one they're all trying to beat. When it comes to sumptuous salad bars, with everything from cold cured meats to warm black beans and rice, and skewers of deeply roasted meats that just keep coming, Fogo de Chão still rules. Favorites include the signature picanha cut, or top part of the sirloin, bacon-wrapped tenderloin and Parmesan-encrusted pork loin.

Photo by Troy Fields

When the bakeshop opens at 6 a.m., the folks at Weights + Measures get their neighbors off to a good start by serving espresso drinks that pair nicely with their many flaky pastries and muffins. Then, they segue into lunch service, offering interesting soups, juicy burgers and full-fledged pasta, chicken and steak entrées. Dinner starts at 5 p.m., and late visitors can enjoy a bar food menu "until the last patron leaves." Why would anyone want to, though? Weights + Measures is as much of a full-service neighborhood spot as anyone could ever wish for.

Shopping at the giant Korean-centric HMart is an absolute delight. In the food court, you'll find quality food stands selling everything from Korean fried chicken to Japanese pastries to Korean noodles and soups. The produce is bountiful, with exotic and in-season fruits and vegetables aggressively priced so they won't break the bank. Whole aisles are dedicated to sauces and condiments from all around Asia — fish sauce, soy sauce and gochujang. Noodles, candies, cookies and canned goods allow you to stock your pantry with specialties from Japan, Vietnam, China, South Korea and Malaysia. Then there is the fresh seafood counter, one of the city's best for fresh-catch whole fish, lobster and oysters, and the butcher's counter, which offers ready-marinated meats and thinly sliced offerings that you can grab for an at-home session of shabu-shabu (Japanese hot pot). And don't get us started on the free samples.

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

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.


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