Soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, are a deliciously delicate type of Chinese steamed bun with soup trapped inside. The best ones are crafted one-by-one using a thin, preferably hand-rolled wrapper, then filled with a dollop of marinated meat and a block of gelatin, before being quickly closed with tiny pleats that end with a pinch at the top. The gelatin melts when the dumplings are steamed, which results in a treat with a savory broth surprise. One Dragon Restaurant, more than any other Asian eatery in Houston right now, has perfected the delicate craft of xiao long bao. The dumpling wrapper is very fine and thin without breaking. The soup gushes when you bite into the dumpling, and the meat inside is tender, juicy. There's a reason why the dumplings are the first item on the menu, and also why this restaurant is usually packed with over an hour's wait on weekends.

READERS' CHOICE: Auntie Chang's Dumpling House

Melange fans rejoiced when the beloved Montrose crepe cart announced it would have a full-time spot at the underground food hall and beer garden, Conservatory. That's because the Parisienne-style creperie slings out what is easily considered the best version of the classic French street eats in town. Get the incredibly delicate crepes stuffed with high-quality ingredients, from the traditional banana and Nutella to the more creative additions such as chicken satay with peanut sauce. Rumor has it chef-owner Sean Carroll is still working on opening his own brick-and-mortar, so we can only expect even bigger, better things from Melange Creperie in the future.

Photo courtesy of Bernie's Burger Bus

With locations in both Bellaire and Katy and a soon-to-open Heights spot under its belt, this new-school burger joint continues to draw crowds of patty aficionados. That's because the very talented chef Justin Turner focuses on all things house-made, with from-scratch buns, daily ground Angus beef patties, and homemade condiments ranging from mustard and ketchup to a chipotle blackberry barbecue sauce. Hungry patrons can go for the beastly Detention burger, a monster beef bomb with two cheddar-topped patties and all the fixins packed inside two buns made of bacon grilled cheeses. And burger purists can take solace in the flawlessly prepared Principal, an old-fashioned cheeseburger with mustard, mayo, ketchup and house pickles. Add on classic milk shakes and hand-cut fries for extra credit.

Photo by Troy Fields

Coastal Mexican restaurant Caracol is more than a nice place that happens to sell seafood. It's a celebration of seafood in all its forms, from raw oysters to wood-roasted fish. The warming blue crab soup with rich, chile-infused broth and masa dumplings is a good beginning; or start off on the cold side with the namesake caracol (conch) ceviche with pineapple, ginger and red jalapeño. From there, Caracol offers a dozen or more different seafood dishes to try. The camarones encamisados (bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with poblano and Chihuahua cheese and accented with roasted pepper mole) and the atún a las brasas (coal-roasted peppered tuna with charred yellow bell pepper escabeche and avocado salad) are just a few worthy seafood adventures.

READERS' CHOICE: Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

The Flying Saucer beer bar in downtown Houston has been around for 16 years and still feels like a real original, no matter that there are 15 locations across five states and ours wasn't even the first — Fort Worth holds that honor. The Houston outpost has 85 beers on tap, with everything from local favorites, like Brash and Saint Arnold, to the best of Belgium, such as Maredsous and Westmalle. New, interesting brews arrive daily and are posted to the website so that beer nerds can keep up. (The list is even searchable by name, location or style.) A big part of the company's success is its community outreach and customer loyalty program, which includes getting a free beer party and their name on the wall after trying 200 brews. In 2016, Draft magazine named Flying Saucer one of the top six chain beer bars in the United States for being a company that "has set the standard since 1995.

READERS' CHOICE: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Photo by Troy Fields

The desserts at both the fine-dining and casual sides of The Pass & Provisions change regularly. What doesn't change is that the sometimes fanciful — even improbable — ingredient combinations always end up tasting even better than they sound. Maraschino cherry soft serve with cocoa nibs and chile makes perfect sense: Cherries and chocolate go hand in hand, as do chile and chocolate. However, what other place would come up with combining a pistachio financier, yogurt ice cream and bitter chocolate with prune-infused Armagnac? Such combinations exemplify the overall brilliance of executive chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan. Yes, they are, in fact, the pastry chefs, too. When asked who was responsible for the dessert program, Siegel-Gardner told us, "We just found that it's another outlet that we really enjoy the creative process with."

READERS' CHOICE: The Chocolate Bar

Photo by Troy Fields

When El Cantina Superior closed, it did so under the gaze of disappointed and underwhelmed diners. Really, it was for the best. The death of that concept made room for the birth of Ritual, helmed by Delicious Concepts' Ken Bridge and Black Hill Meats' Felix Florez. The latter is well known for providing locally raised meat to many of Houston's top restaurants. Suffice it to say he's got that covered at Ritual too. The food perspective is fiercely Texan, as exemplified in dishes like Smoked Lamb Bacon & Tomatoes with Deep Ellum blue cheese and the Red Eye Chop rubbed with coffee from local roaster Katz Coffee. There's a small but satisfying brunch menu as well: Try the Butcher's Breakfast, with house-cured bacon, a link of coarsely ground sausage, a petite steak, fried potatoes, outstanding grits and a fried duck egg.

READERS' CHOICE: State of Grace

Though it is a food truck, Taconmadre on Edgebrook has a separate building that serves as a dining room. There's even a patio. That makes for a relaxed atmosphere for dining on classic Mexican tacos, tortas, quesadillas and more, stuffed with your choice of fajita, pastor, barbacoa, chicken, chicharrón or even tripitas. The trompo — stacks of pork grilling on a rotating skewer with pineapple dripping tenderizing juices over the top — is the real deal.

Steakhouses are simply expected to have an excellent, rich macaroni and cheese, but Del Frisco's takes it a little further than usual. Topped with breadcrumbs, this decadent offering is loaded with chunks of lobster tail meat. The dish is broiled until the blend of fontina and Parmesan cheese bubbles and the crumbs make a toasty topping. The pasta choice is brilliant. It's pipette, a tube similar to macaroni but narrowed at one end, which means it captures and holds the creamy cheese sauce. Talk about gooey luxury.


Photo by Troy Fields

Any restaurant can dish out food, but few places provide guests with a sense of being truly valued and taken care of during a meal. La Table, managed by Invest Hospitality, the same company that oversees L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas, understands how. It's all about good training that emphasizes the power of observation. The trained eye knows when it's time to offer a purse stand, or take someone's jacket, or fill a wine glass. (That last part might be the most important.) Houston has never lacked good food but we sure could use more places with outstanding service like La Table.

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