Photo courtesy of Roostar
The special bánh mì comes with pork belly, ham and housemade pâté.

With a lot of heavy-hitting competition all over the city, Roostar Vietnamese Grill takes the prize again for Best Banh Mi for its savory, tangy chopped rib eye banh mi, once known as the beef bulgogi. The original Roostar, which opened as Vietnam Poblano, has been a Memorial/Spring Branch neighborhood favorite since it opened in 2013. In May a second store opened in the Uptown/Galleria area at 5551 Richmond with a larger kitchen and prep area, creative desserts and local craft brews on tap. At both locations, the sandwiches are chock-full of pickled carrots, cucumber, fresh jalapeño, cilantro, house-made mayo and a load of flavor.

What do empanadas, ceviche, lobster corndogs, lamb lollichops and churrasco steak have in common? They all make up the menu at the ever-impressive Américas River Oaks. The flagship restaurant of the Cordúa Restaurant Group (Américas, Amazon Grill, Churrascos) continues to offer Houstonians the best example of South American cuisine, presented in an exotic ambience that channels the Amazonian rain forest. Led by chef David Cordúa, the restaurant also boasts a fine selection of South American wine, one of the city's best choices for happy hour, a magnificent buffet brunch on weekends, and a peerless tres leches that's to die for.

Photo by Troy Fields

Beautifully painted wall murals and a glam 1920s Cantonese teahouse vibe provide a backdrop for the "everyday food" that's also the motto of Mein Chinese Restaurant, where chef Jack Tran and his brother, restaurateur Mike Tran, deliver consistently delicious, affordable Cantonese cuisine that you can, in fact, eat every day. Among the appetizers, the house-made char siu, or barbecue pork, is a must. Classic wonton noodles are as authentic as those found in Hong Kong. And there's plenty more: crispy noodles, stir-fries, dumplings, fried rice, as well as wine and beer and Lavazza coffee. The menu offers a wide enough selection that you could eat here several days a week without once repeating a dish, so order what looks good and plan to return. Parking is free and weekends generally require a wait, but it's worth it.

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Tony and Donna Vallone share a smile during a photo shoot at legendary Houston restaurant Tony's.

Tony's is now in its 52nd year of operation, and its longevity and ability to remain a tour de force are not only remarkable, but a testament to owner and operator Tony Vallone, who has created an experience that continues to set the standard for fine dining in the Bayou City. This is a restaurant that entertains celebrities, billionaires and socialites with panache and ease. Pastas rival those in the old country. Salt-crusted whole snapper never ceases to wow. The new tasting menu by chef Austin Waiter is exemplary. And the service couldn't be finer. From the table-side, hand-pulled mozzarella to the cheese service from a guéridon to the gigantic soufflés that are portioned and delivered to your table so that you don't need to lift a finger, when it comes to fine dining, Tony's is in a class of its own.

Photo by Troy Fields

Excellent service in a restaurant is an art form. It involves details — not just noticing when a patron needs something, but anticipating the diner's actual needs. It involves pulling out chairs, folding napkins when they are left untidy, cleaning up crumbs from the table after each course, making sure water glasses are filled discreetly, and instinctively knowing when it's appropriate to interrupt conversations. Most of all, it involves a level of professionalism and training for which the motto is "always going a step higher than what's necessary." At La Table, all of this appears to happen effortlessly. Tea service is impeccable, from the beautiful porcelain teapot to the small timer that is provided to make sure your beverage is steeped for the correct amount of time. Beautiful guéridons arrive when table-side service is required, accompanied by skilled servers who will prepare your food in front of you. Stools are even provided for women's purses so they don't touch the floor, just another example of the detail and forethought that goes into the exemplary service at La Table.

Photos by Troy Fields

From massive beef ribs to an incredible smoked chicken and griddled cheese taco with flour tortillas housemade from the restaurant's own rendered brisket lard, showstoppers abound at the Pitroom. Perhaps it's the way the brisket sandwich comes with its seductive oil slick of grease across the bun or how the meat itself is cooked so tenderly in those custom-made barrel smokers out back, but the Montrose barbecue mecca has had lines out the door since opening in 2016. A killer condiment and pickle bar, the best macaroni and cheese in town, and a welcoming staff that keep the ship running while pitmasters/owners Michael Samwells and Bram Tripp plot more asado-style roasting of whole cabritos and continue to kick butt — they landed on Texas Monthly's coveted 50 Best this year — all seem to make clear that Houston has itself a mighty new barbecue institution on its hands.

It's been five years since Latin Bites expanded from the small seven-table restaurant in East Downtown's Warehouse District to its current location in Memorial. Now a much more mature restaurant than when it opened, it's a joy to see Latin Bites embrace its Peruvian heritage with a mix of classic and contemporary that is as relevant here in Houston as it would be in Lima. The Lomo Saltado, a dish of cubed beef seared in the wok, is still the best version you'll find in the city. Ceviches continue to set the bar in terms of authenticity, while plates like the smooth potato causas and the beautiful tiraditos consistently deliver thanks to executive chef Carlos Ramos. The desserts are also the best they've been with pastry chef Yamile Castre turning out creative, beautiful platings with names like Chocolate Guanabana Temptation and Algarrobina Flan, a Peruvian custard made with carab syrup.

Houston Press file photo

Local Foods is known for its fresh salads, soups and sandwiches, and fortunately there are four locations around town — in Rice Village, Upper Kirby, Tanglewood and downtown — where you can grab our favorite sandwich: The Crunchy Chicken. A pecan-panko-coated chicken breast is served on a pretzel bun with provolone, pickles, tomato and romaine and topped with buttermilk ranch and crushed potato chips, and the result has received the highest of praises from locals all over the city, including Pass & Provisions co-founder and chef Terrence Gallivan, who says it "hits all the notes of a perfect chicken salad without being an actual chicken salad."

Chuck Cook
BCN Taste and Tradition

Step through the doors of BCN Taste & Tradition in Montrose, and it's as if you've been magically transported to a fine-dining restaurant in the heart of Barcelona. Everything, from the art — including genuine pieces by Joan Miró and Picasso — to the plate ware, the wine list and even the chef, Luis Roger, is from Spain. The experience is heightened by the creations of Roger, a Barcelona native whose uncompromisingly Spanish cuisine means that he bucks the local trends, bringing in espardenya sea cucumbers and fresh seafood from Galicia, jamón ibérico from Valencia and more. From boquerones (pickled anchovies) to patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) to the iconic pulpo a la gallega (grilled octopus) to the exceptionally crafted gin and tonics, BCN is synonymous with the best Spanish cuisine in the city.

Photo by Troy Fields

The "tides" portion of chef Travis Lenig's newest Third Coast wonder zeroes in on locally sourced seafood with an emphasis on the Gulf. Start with sambal honey-glazed tuna poke, low country she-crab soup or flash-fried fish collars, a.k.a. the "chicken wing of the sea." Mains like the expertly pan-seared scallops over what just might be the town's dreamiest seafood risotto show true finesse, while standouts including the Szechuan peppercorn-crusted tuna loin and coconut rice show just how exciting Houston's melting-pot cuisine can be. Hit the neighborhood hangout for brunch, lunch, dinner and happy hour.

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