Best Bloody Mary
Photo courtesy of State Fare

If you thought one Bloody Mary was thirst-quenching, try sipping on a flight of them at this Southern charmer from Cherry Pie Hospitality. Dreamed up by tincture queen and beverage director Laurie Harvey, the flight offers petite tastes of four varieties. Start with the delectable house Bloody, rocking vodka, a garnish of candied bacon and house-pickled green beans, and made either classic or spicy (hint: go spicy); move on to the tequila-infused Bloody Maria, bright and zippy with pickly onion, lime and jalapeño; next, it's a gin-kissed Red Snapper, adorned with pickled onion and olive; and finally, a Michelada combines an in-house spiced michelada mix with beer, lime wedge and a salted rim.

Be ready to get messy, since Cajun Kitchen takes your average mudbug and ups the ante by doing things Viet-Cajun style. Here, that means the seasoned boil is finished in a wok with finger-licking sauces and spices. Choose your preferred spice level (from mild to cray cray) and your flavor. There's the classic spice-laden Cajun, the buttery garlic blend, and a rich, slightly sweet and fragrant Thai basil. The Kitchen Special is a particularly addicting blend featuring citrus, onion, scallion, butter and garlic. Those looking to loosen a few belt buckles should go for the "fatass" combo — a swoon-worthy spread of crawfish, snow crab legs, prawns, nibs of corn and potato, and, if you're really feeling bold, hunks of sausage.

The Pass
Photo by Troy Fields

There are only a handful of restaurants in Houston that offer tasting menus, but few like The Pass, the fine-dining side of The Pass & Provisions, which has been the quintessence of the progressive American genre from the get go. Beyond a menu offering five courses with the option to supplement three more, what sets this restaurant apart from others is its open-kitchen format, which functions not only as a stagelike spotlight where diners can view the plating, but also as the springboard from which chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan will actually serve their cuisine directly at your table. Dishes are generally whimsical and creative, with gorgeous presentation and an element of surprise, like the belly three-ways, in which lamb belly, pork belly and tuna belly are presented on individual hot rocks that sizzle. The menu changes quarterly, and service is impeccable, so it's possible to visit often and still be wowed.

Best Desserts
Photo by Mai Pham

World-renowned for the patisserie that was first introduced at its London location, Yauatcha brought to Houston a signature bakery that does not disappoint. Priced at $12 each, every dessert composition comprises a beautifully constructed cake served with a quenelle of house-made ice cream or sorbet. Shaped like a red rose, the award-winning raspberry délice, chocolate and raspberry cake served with lychee sorbet, is exquisite. Meanwhile, an effortless fusion of pineapple and passion fruit can be found in the Tropical Dome, served with coconut ice cream. There are six pastries on rotation at any given time, each one graceful and beautiful in design — miniature works of art that are currently without equal in Houston.

Part vegetarian market, part banh mi shop and part fast-casual restaurant, Duy's Sandwiches is a humble, family-run hole-in-the-wall on the side of a strip mall at Wilcrest and Bellaire, where it easily goes unnoticed. But step into this hidden gem, and you'll find wholesome, healthy, affordable cuisine (most everything is in the $5 to $8 range), as well as fabulous vegan banh mi. The banh mi, just $3.25 each, are fantastic. Oblong rolls of crisped French bread are filled to the brim with cucumber, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, and jalapeño, and a choice of faux meat filling. The popular No. 1 special is filled with a Vietnamese sausage made of corn, soy and peas that tastes as if it could be real meat (it's vegan). Other things to try include the vegan curry and the noodle soups, which include pho and bun rieu. There are also small containers of freshly prepared takeout dishes such as fried tofu and sautéed vegetables for just $5. Cash only and totally worth it.

Fung's Kitchen

Did you know that someone has to be trained in order to carve a Peking duck? At Fung's Kitchen, master Chinese chef Hoi Fung makes sure that all kitchen staff are trained in this culinary art. So whether he's serving a thousand revelers at a banquet, or a party of two, no matter when you want to order it, the Peking duck comes out perfect. The duck skin is roasted in a special oven until the fat is completely rendered, the skin is extra crispy, and the color is a burnished, glistening, orange brown. Served in a large round platter, the duck is carefully assembled on the plate with the skin laid out mouthwateringly on top. Fung's offers the option of ordering the duck with thin pancakes or steamed buns, so take your pick and enjoy: Pick up a bun or pancake, smear some hoisin duck sauce over it, and add some thinly cut chives and a helping of duck. Mmm, delicious.

Not only does this très chic cafe overlook the charming Discovery Green, it also is home to a traditional French crêperie, offering flawlessly executed, just-thin-enough crêpes via a walk-up window for park-goers on the go. If you prefer a more formal experience (paired with some wine, perhaps?), head to the authentic brasserie inside. Either way, you can indulge in the Parisian-style crêpes stuffed with the salée (salty) smoked salmon and crème fraîche, Gulf seafood and saffron velouté, and pork belly with caramelized onions and Gruyère; or the sucrée (sweet) — from house berry preserves and vanilla Chantilly to the classic banana and Nutella.

Best Fajitas
Photo by Troy Fields

Call it what you will — a Mexican style, sliced up steak, a deconstructed burrito — fajitas are like a religion in Houston. People are devoted to them, zealously protective of them and pay homage to them frequently, especially at El Tiempo. With multiple locations throughout the city, El Tiempo has perfected the art of the fajita. Here, the sizzling, marinated tender strips of beef, chicken or pork can be ordered by the pound or half pound, with the option of toppings and add-ons like lobster, bacon wrapped shrimp or mesquite grilled quail. Served with rice and beans, pico de gallo, sour cream and cheese, the tortillas are hand-pressed and amazing as well. What takes these fajitas over the top, however, is when you order them as one of the "Parrillada, Mixtas." When you do so, they are served on a rectangular tabletop grill that you have to see to believe and is best described by one word: "Wow."

Bernie's Burger Bus
Photo courtesy of Bernie's Burger Bus

Bernie's Burger Bus has a penchant for doing things in-house (daily ground beef, homemade pickles), and that grade A attitude doesn't change when it comes to the house french fries. Russet potatoes are hand-cut and deep-fried to an enviable crisp before completing their earthly duty and making their way to your stomach. But before they get there, you have to decide what form you want them in. Will it be classic fries served simply with housemade ketchup? Sweet potato fries with a creamy chipotle aioli dip? Or will you be enjoying them smothered with bleu cheese sauce and bacon, house chili and cheddar, slow-cooked roast beef and gravy, or barbecue brisket? With all the hype surrounding these spuds, make sure you actually remember to order a burger too.

Southern Goods
Photo by Troy Fields

These days it seems like there's an almost-excessive amount of fast-casual burger joints dotting the city, but if you want a classic, restaurant-style burger done right, look no further than the Heights hot spot Southern Goods. As one of the only mainstays on the continuously refreshed menu, the SG Burger has proved its juicy, beefy worthiness. That's thanks to double the meat (a 44 Farms Prime beef, chuck and brisket blend with a nice crust and a desirable pink center, to be exact), double the melty cheddar, a seriously buttery, griddled, salt-and-pepper bun from Cake and Bacon, the usual salad suspects and housemade pickly things, and the icing on the beefcake — house comeback sauce, a zippy rémoulade made with mayo and chiles. Don't expect fries here, just some soul-satisfying potato salad in true Southern fashion.

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