Best Expense-Account Restaurant
Photo by Julie Soefer

There is no place more exciting or impressive than revered chef Chris Shepherd's newest stunner, which makes it the perfect place to dine on the company dime. Housed inside the old Mark's space on Westheimer, the ground-breaking restaurant will change concepts once a year for the next five years, beginning with the now-closed One Fifth Steak. Offering thoughtful touches like hot towel service and handmade truffles with the check — plus a smart wine and cocktail list, impeccable seafood towers, colossal cast-iron steaks and fun, trust-the-chef "baller boards" — the concept proved that Houstonians have something to look forward to. In September, the second concept debuted a passionate journey through French, Spanish and Italian cuisine. One Fifth Romance Languages will be up and running through July of 2018, with One Fifth Fish and two to-be-announced concepts to follow.

Kata Robata Sushi & Grill

Chef Manabu Horiuchi (or Hori-san, as he is commonly called) continues to capture our eyes, bellies and hearts with dishes that are almost always too delicate and beautiful to eat. This dedication to perfection is painted onto each plate at Kata Robata among changing daily specials that offer the freshest fish available and the option of an omakase (chef's tasting), which treat Houston palates to the possibility of trying something different on each visit. The regular menu is far from "regular," with dishes like miso-crusted bone marrow, noodles, sushi, sashimi, crudo, ceviche and even poke. And Chef Hori doesn't just do fish — he took home the top prize at this year's pork-friendly Cochon 55 culinary competition — so don't overlook the robata.

Xochi
Photo by Troy Fields

Often described as chef Hugo Ortega's most ambitious restaurant to date, anyone who visits Xochi will recognize that it is unlike any other Mexican restaurant in Houston. Located on the ground floor of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Downtown, the menu at Xochi is decribed as Oaxacan cocina de autor, or chef-driven cuisine. Plates are bright and beautifully plated, bursting with color and attention to detail. The moles, made from complex recipes that require a deep understanding of the cuisine and its roots, are magnificent. In a bold move, the menu incorporates ingredients like chapulinas (grasshoppers) and other edible insects that are typical of Oaxacan cuisine, and it's pulled off with confidence. Ortega, a six-time James Beard Foundation finalist for Best Chef Southwest, currently wears the crown for 2017, and it shows.

Republic Diner + Sojubang
Photo by Troy Fields

It's not located in Houston's Koreatown area off Long Point, and it may not be as traditional or authentic as some might like, but one visit to Republic Diner in the Heights, and you can't help loving the retro-hip vibe of the place as well as the food. Appetizers like the haemuljeon seafood pancake and mandu dumplings, not to mention the kimchi fries and the Korean-style hot wings, are delicious. Sizzling dolsot bibimbap hot-stone rice bowls are colorful specimens filled to the brim with high-quality toppings and juicy bulgogi (marinated beef). In fact, the menu is full of Korean classics, from the sundubu-jjigae silken hot tofu pot to japchae glass noodles, and the banchan side dishes are made from the owner's Korean mother's recipes. And let's not forget about the drinks. Billing itself as a soju bar as well as a diner, Republic offers shots of infused soju (a sake-like distilled beverage) and soju cocktails that are not mandatory, but are highly recommended.

Best Meatballs
Photo by Erin Hicks

Forget meatballs in regular old marinara. At Greek taverna Helen in the Heights, the younger, more casual sibling to Rice Village's Helen Greek Food and Wine, chef William Wright ups the ante with his Midas touch. Perfectly plump, spiced and slow-cooked, the bite-size lamb meatballs sit in a bed of tomato sauce, fragrant and hit with warm spices like cumin and topped with crisp fried garlic chips. The dish is a traditional meze, or small plate, perfect for sharing alongside warm pita and Mediterranean dips, dolmades that swap traditional grape leaves for local swiss chard, flaming ouzo-spiked halloumi cheese and crisp Gulf calamari with tzatziki and lemon.

La Guadalupana Bakery and Cafe

What is it about this humble breakfast and brunch hub that makes people flock to its tiny strip-center location? Perhaps it's the migas, the portion size certainly not overkill, but perfect for starting a Saturday morning, with a small pool of creamy refried beans on the side. Regulars swear by the fresh-squeezed Vampiro juice, a sweet and vibrant blend of beet and apple, as well as the carne guisada, served with just-griddled flour or corn tortillas. Not in the mood for all-day breakfast? Order up a torta or sopes at lunch — nothing on the menu is very expensive. While there's usually a wait to get a seat inside the no-frills cafe, in the cooler months the shaded front patio makes for the most coveted seat, but be sure to peruse the case of baked goods when you put your name on the list to get a table — that's the best time to figure out what you want to take home after, be it the homemade flan, the churros or just a few Mexican wedding cookies.

Best Sommelier
Photo by Jeremy Parzen

Houston's roster of fine wine specialists has exploded in recent years, in part thanks to the city's rapid growth and the legion of sommeliers who have moved here from other states seeking opportunity in one of the country's hottest restaurant markets. But this year's "best sommelier" award has to go to one of the city's homegrown sons, Jaime de Leon, who started working as a bagger at Kroger three decades ago and nimbly climbed his way to the top of the supermarket behemoth's wine program to become one of its flagship buyers. The Sam Houston High School alumnus not only runs what is widely considered to be one of the best retail programs in the city (highly unusual for a supermarket), but he is also the inspiration for the Heights location's wine bar — a first for the chain. Kroger in turn has underwritten de Leon's bid to join the hard-to-crack ranks of the Court of Master Sommeliers, a title he is sure to snag in the next few years. De Leon also mentors aspiring Houston wine professionals, leading more than one of the city's tasting and study groups. A bona fide sommelier's sommelier, he is the embodiment of connoisseurship and — most important — hospitality.

Pho Dien

Pho Dien appeared on our list of the ten best bowls of pho in Houston back in September of last year, and it also won the Best of Houston honors for having the city's best pho in 2013 and 2016. So what makes this noodle soup reign supreme again and again? A consistent combination of fragrant, clear broth, high-quality proteins and other ingredients, and a restaurant with a mom-and-pop look and feel that continue to attract a line of diners stretching out the door every day. Bowls are big, at $7.75, and a serious bargain.

Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse
Photo by Troy Fields

It's common to get a little overwhelmed when you visit a Brazilian steakhouse. So abundant are the offerings that your eyes always tend to be a little bit bigger than your stomach, and at Chama Gaucha, this is certainly true. From the minute you set your table button to green, signaling that the gauchos should bring food, it's kind of like telling them, "Bring it on." The meat procession here is nothing short of dazzling. It's succulent, plentiful and fresh from the rodízio, and you have your pick of the wildly popular picanha prime sirloin, fraldinha bottom sirloin, filet mignon, rib eye, cordeiro rack of lamb and more. But if the meats are satisfying here, so too is the salad bar, where the 30-plus offerings ranging from cheese and charcuterie to the traditional build-your-own salads and prepared items such as marinated mushrooms easily rival any all-you-can-eat joint in town. A less belt-busting experience is also available in the form of happy hour and an a la carte lunch and dinner menu.

Best Soup Dumplings
Photo by Mai Pham

The xiao long bao at Chinatown's One Dragon has quietly been known as one of the city's great soup dumplings for years, but just recently we were able to confirm that indeed it wins this year's honor for the absolute best soup dumpling. Houston Press contributor Mai Pham has called them "some of the soupiest soup dumplings I've had in Houston." At this tiny mom-and-pop shop, six gloriously wrapped dumplings come in each order for $5.99. The fragrant, gingery broth and pork filling are contained in a steaming-hot, incredible wrap that's actually thinner than it appears. The flavor of the dumpling stands on its own without any need for the additional ginger and vinegar sauce, so just skip the dip and slurp it all up instead.

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