Cafe TH
Photo by Troy Fields

An institution in the East Downtown area since its days in the '80s as just a banh mi shop, Cafe TH, now owned by the friendly and outgoing Minh Nguyen, is like Eado's version of Cheers reincarnated as a restaurant. Regulars come here for a fix of everything from Nguyen's Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches to his vegan curry and his pho. There are also killer egg rolls and one of the best versions of grilled pork and rice vermicelli you will find anywhere in the city. What's more, several combos — Abby's Uncommon Combo, Trifecta Sanjay and Ironman Jay — are named after patrons who visited so often that they were inducted into Cafe TH's family.

If you're going to spend someone else's money, you may as well do so with beef. At Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, you'll be treating yourself to what is easily one of the best steaks in the city. The barely year-old location in the heart of downtown is impeccably classy, with an open dining room showcasing handsome wood paneling and a gorgeous marbled-topped bar with seating facing an open kitchen. The steakhouse continues to wow with beautiful cuts of prime beef (many of which are dry-aged onsite), luxurious seafood towers, and incredibly satisfying sides and desserts, like the über-sweet gooey pecan pie, which you most definitely want to tack onto the tab. Order some bottles — you're not paying, after all — from the standout collection of 2,000 wines overseen by advanced sommelier Bill Elsey, or have an incredible cocktail from Matt Tanner, formerly of Anvil Bar & Refuge. (Don't miss a selection from his cherry-picked whiskey cart.)

READERS' CHOICE: Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

Himalaya Restaurant & Catering
Jeff Balke

We've crowed over chef-owner Kaiser Lashkari's chicken curry. We've praised his dense, sweet take on flan. His housemade pastrami, in both fried and cold-sliced form, was one of our favorite dishes of 2015. This year, however, he blew everyone away with his Pakistani take on fried chicken, which includes brining the chicken ahead of time with ginger and garam masala. It's Lashkari's continual culinary exploration that keeps Himalaya on top — not just as a Pakistani restaurant but as one of Houston's best restaurants, period.

Oporto Fooding House
Photo by Troy Fields

No matter when you visit Oporto Fooding House & Wine, there's something about the vibe that feels oh so right. Meant to channel a coastal Portuguese cafe, the restaurant's design is chic and stylish yet approachable. Octagonal-shaped terra cotta tiles imbue the space with warmth. Hanging woven chandeliers and copper accents give it character. Come nighttime, these same chandeliers cast a dreamy, golden glow over the entire space. Meanwhile, bossa nova and samba beats intermingle with the thrum of dinner conversation, setting the perfect tone for the evening. Add fantastic food, an excellent cocktail list and a very reasonably priced wine list for a wonderful experience all around.

You can visit just about any crawfish restaurant to get a simple Cajun boil. But when you want an added burst of flavor, go to Cajun Kitchen, which specializes in Viet-Cajun crawfish. This award-winning spot leaves its competitors in the dust with a trio of unique flavors that will have you literally licking your fingers. The hardest part is deciding between garlic butter, Thai basil or the Kitchen Special. Take some friends and order all three.

Korea Garden Restaurant

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

North Italia

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.

Fung's Kitchen

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.

Lupita's Mexican Restaurant

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

Best Of Houston®

Best Of