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.

Conservatory
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Conservatory is the kind of place you can hang out at all day, especially since it's the perfect refuge from Houston's beloved mix of heat, humidity and torrential downpour. The modern underground beer garden and food hall rocks 60 craft taps with a rotation of local, national and international brews, plus a wine bar and a lineup of food vendors. Bring your crew and create your own smorgasbord with lamb meatballs and prosciutto pies from Arte Pizzeria, seasonal sweet and savory crepes from Melange Creperie, smoked-brisket-loaded potatoes and pulled pork tacos from El Burro and the Bull, poke bowls and towers from Moku Bar, and hot dogs, sliders and glazed doughnuts from Mars Bakery.

Just "around the corner" from downtown you'll find this unexpected neighborhood gem, which is set in a restored 1903 bungalow. It's where you want to be in the morning, when coffee and pastries are dished out bright and early beginning at 6:30 a.m. (bonus: coffee is free on the first Monday of every month); in the afternoon, when sipping on craft beer, wine and craft cocktails is even cheaper during weekday happy hour and the weekends bring mimosa-fueled brunches; and by night, when specials like Thursday's rib eye steak night bring the heat. Attracted by its views of the city, inviting patio and casually cool interior, locals hit Around the Corner to work, eat, drink and play all day long.

That pepper crust looks mighty fine.
Photo courtesy Pappa Charlie's
That pepper crust looks mighty fine.

If you like your mac and cheese super-ooey, super-gooey and super-cheesy, you're in luck. This EaDo barbecue joint has got the goods you're craving (plus some more goods, like seriously delicious beef ribs, salt-and-pepper-crusted smoked brisket and bacon-wrapped meat loaf, if you're looking for those too). But back to the mac: Pappa Charlies' version is done home-style, with a creamy-as-all-hell, smoke-kissed five-cheese sauce that blankets every nook and cranny of the ridged elbow macaroni. And did we mention you can get it loaded with some of that aforementioned brisket and a drizzle of barbecue sauce? Yeah.

Best Mediterranean Restaurant
Photo by Troy Fields

Not only was it the only Houston spot to earn a semifinalist nod in the 2016 James Beard Awards' Best New Restaurant category, but Helen Greek Food & Wine was lauded this year as well, with chef William Wright nabbing another semifinalist nod for Rising Chef Star of the Year. Long story short, Helen Greek has some serious street cred. Come here to indulge in Houston's first-ever all-Hellenic wine list, curated by the always masterful Evan Turner; then indulge in Mediterranean fare that will transport you to the mountains and islands of Greece — by way of the Gulf Coast, of course. Share plates of beautifully charred octopus swimming in pickled red onions, capers and thyme oil; feta-brined chicken kissed with spices; fennel-scented mussels in ouzo and white wine; and a build-your-own local pork gyro that'll satisfy at brunch, lunch and dinner.

Best Nachos
Photo by Troy Fields

Sure, there may be newer, fancier nachos in town, but as the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And the nachos at local standby El Tiempo Cantina — which has multiple locations around Houston — definitely ain't broke. Here, hot and freshly fried tortilla chips get the star treatment, each blanketed with gooey cheese, refried beans and a topping of choice, and piled with pickled jalapeño, bright diced tomato and thick sour cream at the plate's center. The only hard part is deciding which topping to go for. Beef, chicken or pork fajitas? Succulent jumbo lump crab? Fiery Diablo shrimp? Spicy filet with bacon and serrano or tender brisket carnitas? Good luck, because each varietal is near addicting.

Best Indian
Photo by Troy Fields

For years, Kiran's has been one of Houston's most beloved Indian restaurants. Now in a new location, it's the best it has ever been. From the moment you step through the gilded golden doors of the new spot in Upper Kirby and are greeted by the hostess, you know you're in for an experience. The welcoming bar area is the perfect stop for an aperitif or happy hour cocktail. The dining room, with its opulent chandeliers and contemporary wall sculpture, is the epitome of refined elegance. Chef-proprietor Kiran Verma's cuisine is as masterful as ever, a loving dedication to the cuisine of her homeland that takes you on a journey through North India with dishes like her popular chicken tikka masala, her beautiful stuffed naans, her always-fun pani poori and delicious saag paneer.

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