Jeff Balke

This beloved taco hub that fronts as a Cuban fast-food spot is still the best drive-through after all these years. Pull up and order an insane ropa vieja taco, one of the city's best tacos period, stuffed full of braised, shredded beef in tomato sauce and topped with purple cabbage, cilantro and cream sauce. There's more than a handful of tacos that El Rey does really well, including the al pastor, with big chunks of fatty pork and a decent carnitas, and breakfast tacos that have a cult following. The fact that none of them will set you back more than $3 means you can get out of here with a meal and drink for relatively cheap, or go on Taco Tuesday when you can get three tacos for less than $6.

Photo by Joanna O'Leary

A food truck that combines Filipino street food and gourmet Akaushi burgers? That's right, and if you see Flip 'n Patties on the street, you're going to want to stop. One reason is the burger, made with quality Japanese beef and served on a housemade steamed bun that looks sort of English muffin-like but is airier and soft, with a well-greased, toasted inside. Then come the toppings. From a giant breaded and fried portabella that's been stuffed with cheese to a wilder Spam and banana ketchup aioli combo, these burgers keep it weirdly delicious, and the fries aren't too shabby either. But don't overlook the toasted garlic rice plates — the longsilog, which features a mildly spicy housemade sausage, fried egg and lumpia (Filipino-style pork egg roll), is served over rice so flavorful you'll be begging for the recipe.

Jeff Balke

What a year 2017 was for El Bolillo, from its ragingly-popular Instagram fads — the unicorn concha, a bright pink, purple and blue-swirled sweet bread, and its equally craze-inducing fidget spinner cookies, designed after that bizarre stress-relieving contraption that people can't get enough of — to a brand new location in Pasadena. The Mexican bakery continues to astound with its incredible tres leches cakes and wealth of pastries that, to gaze upon, will make any sweet tooth weep with joy. Enter the location on Airline and it's like walking into heaven, complete with large metal serving trays and tongs to help yourself to the myriad cases of fresh-baked churros, cookies, breads and more goodies that are baked by the hundreds here each day. It's a pretty astounding feat, and to top it all off, it's still one of the cheapest spots in town given the care and quality that goes into each delicious bite.

Jeff Balke

Crispy, peppery skin with a crunch and juicy, tender white and dark meat have made Frenchy's fried chicken a Houston staple for almost 40 years. One taste of a thigh or drumstick here and you'll be reminiscing about your grandma's cast-iron skillet while blotting your greasy fingers on an accompanying tower of napkins (they even hook you up with moist towelettes). Frenchy's fried chicken is best paired intermittently with its buttery, fluffy biscuits, a honey-lick of sweetness on top to offset the saltiness. Most people stay in their cars to order from the friendly staff at the no-frills location on Scott, but walking up to the screened-in order counter is almost always faster, and don't forget your side of bacon-tinged collards or the legit red beans and rice. Frenchy's was, after all, the brainchild of a New Orleans native, and it could rival any Popeyes.

David Rozycki

When it comes to comfort food, chef Antoine Ware and his team in the Heights have it all down to an art form. With brunch, lunch and dinner that feature everything from the Big Nasty Biscuit — a mighty slab of fried chicken breast on a giant, flaky biscuit that's slathered in cheddar cheese sausage gravy — to boudin balls to beer and pizza (available in the restaurant's downstairs taproom), it's hard to go wrong when you're craving a big old plate of TLC. On top of myriad hearty Southern classics, Ware brings his native New Orleans cooking to the table, with exceptional double-brined fried chicken, chocolate bourbon praline pecan pie, dark, meaty gumbo, a mean shrimp and grits, and daily specials inspired by his mother's own home cooking that will make you feel more cozy than curling up with a soft blanket on a cold day.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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