Stephanie Hoban knows her way around vegetables, so much so that her vegan food truck can serve up convincing caprese melts made with vegan cheese and pulled-pork-esque sandwiches made from jackfruit. Brunch options range from superfood acai bowls to delicious gluten-free cornmeal pancakes and baked doughnuts. If you can't catch the truck during its sojourns outside of Inversion Coffee House or at various farmers' markets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, Ripe Cuisine also offers vegan catering services and cooking lessons.

READERS' CHOICE: Pepper Tree Veggie Cuisine

Coltivare Pizza & Garden
Photo by Troy Fields

The only thing bad about the thoughtfully composed pastas at this garden-to-table Italian spot is that your favorite may leave with the change of the season. But that's okay, because the genius team at Coltivare will likely come up with something new and equally favorable. And if nothing seasonal tickles your fancy, the pastas that stay on the menu — including heaven-sent ricotta gnocchi and perfectly al dente spaghetti with black pepper — are equally as satisfying. Come with friends so you can mix and match the dishes alongside fresh backyard salads and bubbly pizzas.

Jinya Ramen Bar
Photo by Troy Fields

Despite Houston's less than cool climate, locals take no issue slurping this modern Japanese spot's hot ramen all year round. On weekends you'll likely find a slight wait for a table even on the hottest days. Once you taste the intensely flavored, 18-hour slow-cooked pork bone broth and toothsome, from-scratch noodles, you'll know why. Go for the signature Tonkotsu Black and round your meal out with a refreshing local craft pint and some green tea mochi ice cream. You may need to cool off a bit.

Hugo's

When you talk about regional Mexican cuisine in Houston, the conversation inevitably turns to Hugo's. One of Houston's finest restaurants since 2002, chef Hugo Ortega's eponymous venue has been a critical hit from the get-go, a reason why he has been a James Beard Foundation finalist in the Best Chef Southwest category for the last five years. What's wonderful about this restaurant is its adherence to Mexican culinary traditions. It takes you on a journey through Mexico's vast geography with dishes like cochinita pibil (slow roasted suckling pig) from the Yucatan or huachinango a la Veracruzana (whole snapper from Veracruz). There are deep, richly flavored moles that hail from Puebla or Oaxaca; tart ceviches one might find in the Baja; not to mention killer churros and hand-churned Mexican drinking chocolate. A bountiful and undeniably fantastic Sunday buffet brunch is one of the city's best. Delicious cocktails utilizing Mexican spirits and a thoughtfully curated wine list complete the picture.

Tony's

All of the bread at Tony's is baked in-house, including the long, spindly breadsticks called grissini. Dig in the basket and you'll find a treasure trove of other wonders, including Parmesan-sprinkled focaccia and sesame white pumpkin bread. It's such a lovely assortment that it seems possible to dine simply on bread and wine alone, but to miss out on the beautiful pastas, roasted meats and fishes would be a shame. It's this kind of elegance that extends even to the bread course that makes Tony's one of Houston's best fine dining destinations.

Best Neighborhood Spot in Upper Kirby

Pondicheri

Pondicheri

With the upstairs bake lab adding to the excitement of the downstairs cafe, this Indian street food spot is a full-on powerhouse located in West Ave. (The cafe is so popular, it even expanded operations into NYC.) At breakfast, the Morning Thali is an absolute must. The traditional Indian variety plate offers a tapestry of flavors, from a spiced potato curry and rich lamb keema to bright saffron cucumber raita, plus a yolky egg and carrot paratha that you can use to dip and top as you please. The thalis carry on into dinner, with varieties including earthy butter chicken and smoked eggplant, as well as a vegetarian yogi platter. There are curries, frankies, dosas and plenty of cardamom-spiced, sugar-coated and whipped-cream-dolloped sweets, too. Each is more addicting then the next, which you'd know if you've ever tried the mind-numbingly good chai pie.

Walk into this unassuming blue- and white-painted house on any morning but Sunday, and you will find a line of patrons waiting patiently for their fix. Follow the line and the smell of fresh tortillas, and you will be led, cafeteria style, to a hot-plate counter with that morning's offerings. You choose from standards like egg and chorizo, bacon and egg, or potato and egg, but there is also barbacoa (shredded lamb or beef), lengua (beef tongue) and a selection of guisados (stews) made of pork ribs or beef. There are sautés made of nopales (cactus paddle) or calabaza (pumpkin) — approximately 20 selections in all — everything made fresh daily. This place is magic.

Kuma Burgers
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

Kuma Burgers, an excellent joint located in an unlikely spot — the food court at Greenway Plaza — has some of the most interesting milkshakes in town. There's a rotating selection of seasonal offerings, including the sweet corn shake, which is a can't-miss when it's available. But you can get the Milo Shake all the time. Milo is a mix of chocolate and malted milk powder, so this delight is actually a malted, and it hits the sweet spot between being drinkable through a straw while being thick enough to satisfy.

Hubbell & Hudson Bistro
Photo by Troy Fields

When Cureight by Hubbell & Hudson opened last summer in The Woodlands, many questioned whether there would be enough demand to fill its 25 seats. One year later, the restaurant is sold out on most nights, and requires a minimum of a week's advance booking for patrons to secure a spot at what has become one of the most coveted tables in the greater Houston area. A restaurant within a restaurant, Cureight is tucked away inside the larger Hubbell & Hudson Bistro. To get there, you are led by a hostess down a hallway to a small, intimate dining room where the backdrop is executive chef Austin Simmons's kitchen, located just feet away and clearly visible through a glass partition. When you dine there, it's as if you're a personal guest of the chef. An amuse-bouche of Hokkaido scallop and torched uni (sea urchin) is sublime. A milky soup course of geoduck is spectacularly presented. A meat course of A5 Wagyu from Japan is taken to another level with the addition of dumplings stuffed with kimchi. On paper, you are supposed to get eight courses, but the reality — when you factor in the amuse bouche, the mignardise and the take-home gift from the pastry chef — is so much more.

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.

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