Best Appetizer
Photo by Troy Fields

Every once in a while an appetizer comes along that defines not only its restaurant but a certain place in time. Enter the Chicken Liver Old Fashioned at Nobie's, an irreverent starter for lovers of the ever-trendy bourbon-based old-fashioned and of poor man's foie gras (also known as chicken liver pâté). A layer of the whipped mousse arrives in a lowball glass, gussied up like an actual cocktail with cherries on a swizzle stick and an orange peel draped over the rim. It's emblematic of the quirky and none-too-serious talents of Nobie's chef and owner, Martin Stayer, whose Montrose haunt has been capturing the hearts of the neighborhood since opening in late 2016. Not only that, but the dish is just simply delicious, perfect for sharing —as an appetizer well should be — with the creamy pâté combining with sweet and tart cherry jelly for the perfect bite on buttery toasted baguette. This alone will keep us returning to Nobie's.

Best Happy Hour
Photo by Yuri Peña

This Heights boozing compound is actually two bars in one, both a craft beer and wine-on-tap mecca and a swanky craft cocktail destination, and that means a happy hour that covers double the ground of your average after-work special, weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. Here, you can choose from more than 30 beers at just $3 a pop or half-off wines at HBG, or walk across the cool patio, where groups of pals lounge in hammocks or bring their pups to hang out in the shade of picnic tables, to where you'll also find a wealth of cocktails for half-price as well, including simple variations on mules and mojitos to complex, spirit-forward concoctions dreamed up by the mixologists tending the well-stocked Worcesters Annex bar — so well-stocked, in fact, the bar is coming up with its own Dewey Decimal System to keep track of its booze. Thankfully, chef Brandon Silva also offers a variety of tasty snacks, so you won't get too overwhelmed by all the studying at hand.

Best Cake
Photo by Erika Kwee

We give the Nutella chocolate layer cake at this French bakery on upper Kirby a resounding YES. You'll find rotating flavors of the daily layer cake at Oui Desserts — the flavors are good and the layers are so light and fluffy, they'll melt in your mouth — but the Nutella version is our favorite. Layers of ethereally cotton-soft chocolate cake are cloaked in a fluffy, mousse-like frosting infused with subtle undertones of Nutella. Particularly for those who don't like things "too sweet," this light pairing of delicate cake and creamy frosting is a match made in Houston.

Best Breakfast Tacos
Photo by Robb Walsh

With the proliferation of taco imports popping up all over town, this fully local, zero-frills stalwart maintains its taqueria crown thanks to consistently solid, authentic fillings and oh-so-glorious, lard-laden tortillas (made in-house, as is tradition). Join the inevitable line of early risers as you contemplate what you'll be stuffing into said tortillas this morning. Will it be rust-tinged huevos with chorizo and refried beans? Spicy potatoes, meltingly-tender barbacoa or crisp chicharrones? Cuban-style fillings like black beans and caramelized plantains? Whatever you choose, be ready to order at lightning speed, and make sure you don't skip the house sauces, both red (caliente) and green (más caliente).

Best Health Food
Photo by @cupofcharisma

From juice to acai bowls, this totally cute Uptown coffee shop (which functions more like a superfood cafe) keeps Houston's health-minded coming back for more. Beautiful kale salads, acai bowls and brown rice bowls are the name of the game — get yours topped with chicken or flavorful curried tofu, with a mound of fresh, seasonal veggies accompanying. But this is also a place you can bring friends who aren't counting calories, since the breakfast tacos and java also rule, and the space itself has a Zen-like, tranquil vibe that makes it a great spot to start the day or chill out in the afternoon after a yoga sesh — they even have outdoor yoga when the cooler months roll around.

Best Coffee
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

Tucked away in the quiet GOOF/Shepherd Forest area, Slowpokes is a coffee shop that caters to its laid-back local clientele but is cool enough to appease any coffee aficionado. From pour-overs to flat whites, the friendly baristas here serve up quality beans from various roasters around the country, including Houston's own Geva, and latte art that can make anyone smile — try to resist a sleepy sloth in your foam, we dare you. The quirky seating area has plenty of room for Wi-Fi moochers, the breakfast and lunch crowd seeking pastries and flatbreads, or families with kids who want to saddle up on the old-school turtle kiddie ride that you might have found in front of a grocery store in the 1980s. What's more, an awesome outdoor seating and green area, local beers on tap, a great selection of tea, plus food trucks and movie nights make this a wonderful community hub, exactly what you'd expect from the best little coffee shop in town.

Best Neighborhood Spot: Midtown
Photo by Doogie Roux

Not only does Axelrad boast an incredible selection of beer, cocktails and frozen drinks, including in its own backyard beerstream trailer, but a location directly next door to Luigi's Pizzeria and a nightly schedule filled with local pop-ups and food trucks make this beer garden the top spot in Midtown to grab a bite and a pint and relax. Swing in a hammock and order up a pepperoni pizza from Luigi's, or save your bucks on Taco Tuesday, when Boombox Taco Truck slings cheap eats. Whatever you choose, it's pretty no-fail, seeing as how the bar has hosted numerous exceptional pop-ups, including some that have gone on to become actual restaurants, such as Seaside Poke and Peli Peli. Added bonus: There's nightly entertainment in the form of bands, movie screenings and the sort, and adorable neighborhood dogs are always around.

Killen's STQ
Photo by Troy Fields

Chicken-fried steak in white gravy is a Houston essential, but Ronnie Killen takes the dish to a new level at his new steakhouse-meets-barbecue restaurant, STQ. Here the CFS magic starts with a massive slab of Snake River Farms rib eye — that's right, Texas-raised Japanese Wagyu (Kobe) beef — which sounds a bit outlandish, but actually lends itself to the most tender texture even when battered and fried to crispy, salty perfection on the outside. Served atop a healthy portion of creamy mashed potatoes with a peppery housemade white gravy (ask for more on the side) and a side of downhome collards, the STQ CFS will have you saying OMG, if it doesn't just leave you speechless.

Star Fish
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

This Heights seafood eatery from Cherry Pie Hospitality boasts one hell of a sexy bar; a tiled olive-green and black and white beauty that's all class and somehow harkens back to America's oyster spots of yore — gleaming institutions such as Grand Central's oyster bar. Of course, Star Fish is more of a streamlined, contemporary affair, a fun one at that, with an entryway aquarium, collage art pulled from old surfer magazines, a print of Banzai Pipeline pioneer Greg Noll, and its own marble oyster bar with wall art that urges you to "EAT." The dining room boasts comfortable black banquettes and eye-catching turquoise chairs— certainly the hippest take on a seafood eatery around. When light pours in from the huge windows in the magic hour, that's when you want to be there, basking in the candy-hued glow, which is sweet but not as sweet as the gin and tonic menu.

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

Big as a dinosaur bone and tender as all get-out, pitmaster Ronnie Killen's incredible beef rib continues to set the standard when it comes to Houston's crazy barbecue obsession with gnawing at the bone. In fact, Killen basically set the standard for the hulking, juicy beef rib when he decided to serve up the once underappreciated short-plate rib, a cut that comes from the chest instead of the back of the cow, making them ever the more gigantic and succulent. You'll want to line up early in the day to get a taste of these bad boys ($22 a pound, and they can feed nearly three people) because they do sell out, but don't fear the line — Killen's always serves up free ice-cold beer to help pass the time.

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