Best Health Food
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.

Best Coffee
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

Tucked away in the quiet GOOF/Shepherd Forest area, Slowpokes is a coffee shop that caters to its laid-back local clientele but is cool enough to appease any coffee aficionado. From pour-overs to flat whites, the friendly baristas here serve up quality beans from various roasters around the country, including Houston's own Geva, and latte art that can make anyone smile — try to resist a sleepy sloth in your foam, we dare you. The quirky seating area has plenty of room for Wi-Fi moochers, the breakfast and lunch crowd seeking pastries and flatbreads, or families with kids who want to saddle up on the old-school turtle kiddie ride that you might have found in front of a grocery store in the 1980s. What's more, an awesome outdoor seating and green area, local beers on tap, a great selection of tea, plus food trucks and movie nights make this a wonderful community hub, exactly what you'd expect from the best little coffee shop in town.

Best Neighborhood Spot: Midtown
Photo by Doogie Roux

Not only does Axelrad boast an incredible selection of beer, cocktails and frozen drinks, including in its own backyard beerstream trailer, but a location directly next door to Luigi's Pizzeria and a nightly schedule filled with local pop-ups and food trucks make this beer garden the top spot in Midtown to grab a bite and a pint and relax. Swing in a hammock and order up a pepperoni pizza from Luigi's, or save your bucks on Taco Tuesday, when Boombox Taco Truck slings cheap eats. Whatever you choose, it's pretty no-fail, seeing as how the bar has hosted numerous exceptional pop-ups, including some that have gone on to become actual restaurants, such as Seaside Poke and Peli Peli. Added bonus: There's nightly entertainment in the form of bands, movie screenings and the sort, and adorable neighborhood dogs are always around.

Killen's STQ
Photo by Troy Fields

Chicken-fried steak in white gravy is a Houston essential, but Ronnie Killen takes the dish to a new level at his new steakhouse-meets-barbecue restaurant, STQ. Here the CFS magic starts with a massive slab of Snake River Farms rib eye — that's right, Texas-raised Japanese Wagyu (Kobe) beef — which sounds a bit outlandish, but actually lends itself to the most tender texture even when battered and fried to crispy, salty perfection on the outside. Served atop a healthy portion of creamy mashed potatoes with a peppery housemade white gravy (ask for more on the side) and a side of downhome collards, the STQ CFS will have you saying OMG, if it doesn't just leave you speechless.

Star Fish
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

This Heights seafood eatery from Cherry Pie Hospitality boasts one hell of a sexy bar; a tiled olive-green and black and white beauty that's all class and somehow harkens back to America's oyster spots of yore — gleaming institutions such as Grand Central's oyster bar. Of course, Star Fish is more of a streamlined, contemporary affair, a fun one at that, with an entryway aquarium, collage art pulled from old surfer magazines, a print of Banzai Pipeline pioneer Greg Noll, and its own marble oyster bar with wall art that urges you to "EAT." The dining room boasts comfortable black banquettes and eye-catching turquoise chairs— certainly the hippest take on a seafood eatery around. When light pours in from the huge windows in the magic hour, that's when you want to be there, basking in the candy-hued glow, which is sweet but not as sweet as the gin and tonic menu.

This is "moist" brisket at Killen's Barbecue.
Photo by Mai Pham
This is "moist" brisket at Killen's Barbecue.

Big as a dinosaur bone and tender as all get-out, pitmaster Ronnie Killen's incredible beef rib continues to set the standard when it comes to Houston's crazy barbecue obsession with gnawing at the bone. In fact, Killen basically set the standard for the hulking, juicy beef rib when he decided to serve up the once underappreciated short-plate rib, a cut that comes from the chest instead of the back of the cow, making them ever the more gigantic and succulent. You'll want to line up early in the day to get a taste of these bad boys ($22 a pound, and they can feed nearly three people) because they do sell out, but don't fear the line — Killen's always serves up free ice-cold beer to help pass the time.

Bonchon
Photo by Troy Fields

Double-fried and spicy as you please, the Korean fried chicken wings at this popular South Korean eatery in Katy, with more area locations to come, have stepped up Houston's chicken wing game immensely since debuting in late 2016. That's because the wings and drumettes remain moist and tender on the inside yet crispier than all get-out when it comes to the skin, glazed as it is in a sticky, finger-licking good soy-garlic sauce with a touch of saltiness. In terms of process, this spot has it down to an art: In the kitchen, the wings are battered and fried once, allowed to rest until reaching room temperature, and dunked again in the fryer to achieve that incredible crispiness. And if you're down for mouth-numbing spice, go for broke with the spicy glaze that creeps up over time and is best alleviated with the accompanying daikon and the go-to drink order here, a fruity soju flight.

Best Hot Dog
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

This cult favorite hot-dog stand is known for consistently solid franks and brats that come deeply griddled and fully loaded with a mishmash of toppings on a toasted bun. When you order them "all the way" (which we suggest you do), that means you're getting the spicy, sweet, tangy and creamy taste sensations of black pepper, spicy mustard, curry ketchup, honey mayo, a hit of Sriracha, griddled and crunchy fried onions, and the one thing that sets these dogs apart — satisfyingly awesome, melting cream cheese. These Frankenweenies are best devoured late-night between the hours of 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., mainly because those are Yoyo's regular hours, but also because the loaded sausages are sure to send you off into a sweet, blissful slumber.

Ritual
Photo by Troy Fields

Overflowing with meat and cheese, the Texas Picnic Board not only conjures up the nostalgia of old-school family picnics with its unabashed deviled eggs, herb-laced and addictive, and its perfectly nutty and tangy pecan-topped cheese ball, but the real star of the show: Ritual's incredible house-cured charcuterie. Top a helping of thinly shaved ham with a little slab of sage cheddar and layer it on a greased-up toast point for epic snacking. Next go for the head cheese. Softly gelatinous and utterly porky, it's best slathered with the accompanying grain mustard that packs a bit of heat and layered on the crisp and exceptional housemade crackers, alongside a nibble of sweet, house-cured pickles. The peppery beef sausage, doused as it is in a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, needs no sidekick, but if you're sharing this with pals, make sure to get your fill right away, because something this good is bound to disappear fast.

Best Sushi
Photo by Troy Fields

MF Sushi is not for everyone. It is not for the budget-conscious. It is not for those who eat sushi rolls. It is for those who love and appreciate traditional Japanese sushi of the highest quality and freshness and for those who understand that sushi rice is just as important as, if not more so than, the fish itself and how it's cut. In other words, it's for those who appreciate that the preparation of sushi is a culinary art and are willing to pay for quality. MF Sushi is one of the most traditional sushi restaurants in Houston, and the omakase tasting menu by sushi chef and owner Chris Kinjo is world-class. Exotic fish are flown in regularly from Japan's famous Tsukiji fish market, and plates of expertly prepared nigiri and sashimi made from prized species like kinmedai and akamutsu are nothing short of exquisite.

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