Huynh
Stephanie Meza

Yes, the word is out on this humble family-run Vietnamese restaurant. It will be bustling whenever you come, and there can be a wait, but you'll know why when you taste the food. There's the goi vit (duck salad), nothing more than a simple jumble of shredded cabbage and duck and herbs that's so good you could come just for that. But there's so much more: Bowls of steaming hot bun bo Hue (beef and pork hock noodle soup), delicious pho (beef noodle soup), tasty bo luc lac (shaking beef) and delicate rolls of freshly steamed banh cuon (steamed rice cakes), not to mention satisfying rice plates and pan fried noodles. The fact that you can BYOB just makes us love it all the more.

READERS' CHOICE: Mai's

Mockingbird Bistro

Whether piled up next to a legendary Wagyu burger or alongside a steaming pot of mussels and chorizo in white wine sauce, the pommes frites at Mockingbird Bistro are thin, lightly crisp and highly addictive. If you love the pungent richness of truffle oil, this place has you (and the fries) covered. Or, skip the truffle oil and go simply with wisps of shredded Parmesan. Even plain, these are the best fries in town.

This is "moist" brisket at Killen's Barbecue.
Photo by Mai Pham
This is "moist" brisket at Killen's Barbecue.

The barbecue scene in the greater Houston area just gets better and better. Over the past two years, new and improved barbecue joints have set down roots in the Heights, Tomball, The Woodlands, near Memorial and even in downtown. Yet when it comes to across-the-board value and quality, Killen's Barbecue is still the one to beat. Consistency is a demon when making barbecue, but the ribs, brisket and sausage at Killen's are always smoky, tender and flavorful.

READERS' CHOICE: Killen's Barbecue

Rice Box Truck

Over the past few years, many gourmet food trucks have washed out, but The Rice Box has proven its staying power, even opening a small storefront in the food court at 5E Greenway Plaza. On Friday and Saturday nights, the truck is optimally positioned across the street from Montrose mainstay Poison Girl, ready to dish out American-Chinese food to any drunken denizens in need of ballast. The General Tso Chicken is as good here as at any restaurant (even better with the fried rice), and so are the dumplings filled with chicken and napa cabbage. Housemade dumpling sauce is served alongside.

Fielding's Wood Grill
Photo by Molly Dunn

Why have one Bloody Mary when you can have four? The Bloody Mary flight at Fielding's Wood Grill includes four variations on the delectable hangover cure. There's the Fielding's Mary, made with vodka and housemade Bloody Mary mix then garnished with an olive and housemade pickle. There's also one with candied bacon and a smoky-spicy seasoning mix, and another that comes with a pickled egg. The fourth is a riff on caprese with basil-infused vodka and mozzarella. It's really hard to pick a favorite, so go with the flight and have them all.

READERS' CHOICE: Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar

Underbelly

Underbelly is just a quick drive for the downtown lunch crowd, and parking is easy thanks to multiple lots and valet. Lunchtime dishes range from light and healthful to downright meaty. The menu changes often, so it's never boring, but there are always a few continuing, tasty standards, including the acclaimed Korean braised goat and dumplings. Underbelly buys produce directly from farmers, so whether that day's Crispy Farmer's Market Vegetable is okra, broccoli or something else, it's always interesting. In addition, there's always an outstanding burger on the menu, as well as fresh seared Gulf fish and a chicken dish. In other words, everyone ought to be able to find something to love at lunchtime.

There's no place better equipped to create outstanding margaritas than The Pastry War. After all, it has one of the most renowned collections of tequila and mezcal in the United States, and it stocks both Persian and Key limes. The house margarita, available both on the rocks (with Pueblo Viejo Blanco tequila) and frozen (with Cimarrón Blanco), is only $8 (and a mere $5 during happy hour). The mezcal margarita is made with Del Maguey Vida. As if that's not enough, there are three flavor options that add only a dollar to the cost, including strawberry and balsamic vinegar with a rim of damiana sugar. If you love margaritas, why wouldn't you drink here?

READERS' CHOICE: El Tiempo Cantina

In the mornings patrons crowd the ridiculously charming cottage that houses Jane & John Dough for pastries, coffee cake, egg sandwiches and lattes made with care. Light sandwiches with in-house baked bread and housemade mayonnaise satisfy afternoon hungers. A slice of the unique honey pie is not to be missed — unless the incredible peanut butter cookie with a scoop of chocolate-covered peanut butter on the side is more your speed. Jane & John Dough is not a huge place and the furniture is kind of worn, but for those who can find a seat, it sure is homey.

El Big Bad
David Rozycki

How hot is too hot when it comes to hot wings? Don't bother asking at El Big Bad. The chile de arbol sauce on the Jalisco Hot Wangs is spicy enough to satisfy chile-heads and complex enough to intrigue the rest. The base is apple cider vinegar, which lends tanginess, and it's thickened with ground pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds), which gives depth of flavor. These wings make traditional hot wings seem like they're just not trying hard enough.

READERS' CHOICE: Pluckers Wing Bar

Shri Balaji Bhavan Pure Vegetarian Restaurant
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).

READERS' CHOICE: Pondicheri

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