Stepping into Korea Garden is a bit like entering another world. It starts with the heavy wooden door with iron accents, straight out of a period Asian movie. Inside, tables and booths are arranged around a lush green garden, making you feel like you're eating on a Korean patio somewhere far away. The main event here is the Korean barbecue, which always satisfies. You have the option of ordering barbecue to cook at the table, or having the kitchen cook it for you. Either way, your bulgogi (marinated beef), kalbi (marinated short rib) and dwe ji gui (spicy marinated pork) will be accompanied by a huge assortment of some of the best banchan (side dishes) in the city. Other traditional Korean dishes, such as the hot stone pot rice and the seafood pancake, are also excellent, so come hungry.

READERS' CHOICE: Korean Noodle House

You can get soft, succulent meatballs three ways at this urban Italiano joint in Uptown's BLVD Place. A cool ten-spot will get you braised meatballs swimming in classic red sauce with a side of grilled bread to sop it all up, a rich and flawless shared plate that you have every right to keep all to yourself if you so choose. At lunch, the braised meatballs come in sandwich form, stuffed inside a crisp roll along with a healthy dab of scarmoza (a milky Italian cow's-milk cheese similar to mozzarella). For a full-on meal, stick your fork in the al dente, scratchmade spaghetti and meatballs, tossed with a just-sweet tomato sugo and finished with earthy olive oil and nutty pecorino cheese.

For 26 years, Fung's Kitchen has been serving Hong Kong-style Cantonese cuisine to generations of discerning Asians. In fact, it's quadrupled in size since Hoi and Nancy Fung first set up shop on the Southwest Freeway. Through the years, the Fungs have rarely been away from their beloved restaurant, and it shows in the quality of the food they offer. Their Peking duck is a prime example, beautifully arranged on a large platter. The color of the duck skin is a honeyed brown with hints of orange. Glistening yet crispy, the fat is fully rendered. You get to choose whether you want pancakes to go with your duck or steamed buns. And the best part about it? The duck is available every day for lunch and dinner.

Unpretentious and family-friendly, Lupita's has been serving up fine Tex-Mex to Sugar Land for more than a decade. In the kitchen, mama Lupe and her crew prep ingredients in the morning and in the afternoon so that everything is fresh for both lunch and dinner service. In the front of the house, papa Jaime or son Rigo oversees the main dining room, which is festively decorated with hanging piñatas and colorful tablecloths. The prices are lower than at chain restaurants in the area, and the food is consistently delicious: Sizzling beef fajitas are second to none; the house chips and salsa, served with a side of smoky charro beans, are addictive; and the margaritas are large and strong.

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'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.

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 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

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.

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