Best Late Night
Photos by Troy Fields

The Party Melt alone is reason to visit this Heights bar, which opened in May from boozing mogul Bobby Heugel, but there's also the fact that the menu, available until midnight daily, was created in part by his business partner, Beard Award-winning chef Justin Yu. If you're the type of person who likes to get a Whataburger patty melt after a round at the local watering hole, then the Party Melt might just change your life. Plus, you can enjoy it with a fresh cocktail in hand. Salty and both oozing and crisped over with cheese, this burger, drenched in tender caramelized onions and sandwiched between Texas toast, does wonders for serotonin levels with every greasy, decadent bite. If you can't handle the beef, the menu also rocks a solid burrata-covered, flatbread-like "Not a Pizza," simple seasonal vegetable offerings, a riff on a Tawainese chicken sandwich with a cult following and more items that Yu basically came up with by asking what he and his friends would want to eat at a bar.

The Original Ninfa's On Navigation

It's believed that Ninfa's on Navigation didn't actually become a popular spot until a city councilman once ate lunch here and declared it the best lunch for the Downtown crowd. More than 40 years have passed since then, but the Tex-Mex institution, where Mama Ninfa Laurenzo once made fajitas famous, still rages on as the best lunch spot in Houston. Wander in on a Friday at noon and the dining room is likely to be packed with a line out the door of office workers, families, ladies who lunch and even famous Houstonians clamoring for a table. Stick with the old standby, the glorious wood-fired fajita (skirt steak) or check out chef Alex Padilla's newer, progressive dishes including the incredible queso asado (grilled cheese), octopus tacos or the beautiful whole red snapper. Either way, don't forget to sneak in a margarita on the rocks before heading back to work.

Xochi
Photo by Troy Fields

Food as beautiful and well-rendered as that at Hugo Ortega's Downtown standout Xochi doesn't come around too often, especially in a Marriot. But settle into a table and a phenomenal meal will speak to your soul. There's a snapper crudo that looks like a wild flora arrangement meant for an atrium in the sun. There are the moles, each resplendent with its own deep, earthen flavors that compliment a variety of seafood and meat. It would be a crime to pass up the tender goat tacos or the chargrilled oysters, plump and faintly spicy, or a dessert such as the "cacao," which will wow any chocolate lover. An impeccable wine selection from sommelier Sean Beck accompanies service that never falters, from margaritas shaken tableside to spot-on menu recommendations for the bashful, proving that Xochi is a restaurant that not only highlights the astounding range of one of the best chefs in America, but helps make Houston a bastion of hospitality and diverse flavors ready to impress the world over.

State of Grace
Photo by Troy Fields

What makes a dozen raw oysters better than any others in town? It starts with the oyster bar, which at State of Grace is known as the Oyster Room, tucked into a chic and intimate space at the front of the restaurant, and it's always bustling. That's probably because the River Oaks restaurant offers $1 oysters during its designated happy hour, which runs weekdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. On top of that, the bar here sources giant Gulf bivalves and brinier tinier options from the East and West coasts and Canada. If that still doesn't tickle your fancy, go for broke with the massive $150 seafood tower, which will also come with an array of the raw bar's signature items, including the must-order smoked redfish dip, and don't overlook a quality drink from the cocktail bar. They make a mean, classic gin martini here, perfect for sipping on between all that aphrodisiacal feasting.

Ramen Tatsu-Ya
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

What makes the best ramen in town? Is it the broth alone, that creamy, porky liquid, or the tender, fatty chashu (soy-marinated pork belly) that falls apart at the lightest urging of a chopstick? Of course, but at Ramen Tatsu-Ya, the noodle-slurping experience goes well beyond the obvious, managing to buck the all-too-often corporate or austere qualities of most ramen joints with its hip digs and a menu that delivers on flavor. The best ramen here is actually more of a rarity, the tsukemen, a condensed dipping broth made from long-simmered pork bone with bits of chopped goma pork collecting at the bottom. It arrives in a bowl separate from the ramen, chashu, soft-boiled egg, seaweed and lime, so you can build your own feast. Throw in some hush piggies (deep-fried balls of pork) and Yodas (sweet and sour Brussels sprouts), and stuff yourself happy like the giant lucky cat out front.

Kitchen 713
Photo by Daniel Kramer

With a new location that opened to crowds in December 2016, owners James Haywood and Ross Coleman resurrected everything that was great about their former, and quite humble, Third Ward counter-service restaurant, Kitchen 713, and expanded on it tenfold. The duo now turn out a wealth of exceptional global soul food with table service, craft cocktails, and more space to kick back and relax. You're just as likely to find shrimp and grits, gumbo, and chicken-fried steak right alongside turkey neck lettuce wraps that taste oddly reminiscent of banh mi or kitfo, Ethiopian steak tartare. Lunch and dinner don't disappoint, but the secret here is the brunch, when the restaurant's incredible fried chicken and one of the best kolaches in town are on the menu.

Tiny Boxwood's Cafe

When another place in town can dethrone the awe-inspiring masterpiece at Tiny Boxwoods, we will happily concede the title. Until then, this neighborhood favorite will continue to reign supreme as the chocolate chip cookie champion with its golden, crisp-edged, gooey-centered specimens laced with a generous amount of chocolate. These cookies are so popular, you can buy frozen cookie dough at Tiny's Milk and Cookies near Rice Village to bake at home.

Best Margaritas
Photo by Carla Soriano

Another year, another crown for The Pastry War, where the selection of tequila is wide, the price is right (especially during the $5 margarita happy hour) and the margaritas are always deliciously boozy. It's hard enough to choose between frozen or on the rocks when it comes to the perfectly sweet and tart house margarita, but visitors should make sure to save room to sample the mango and chamoy version or the spicy habanero and serrano margarita.

Cloud 10 Creamery
Courtesy of Cloud 10 Creamery

If only every ice cream place in town dedicated as much time to its ice cream sundaes as Cloud 10 does to its ever-changing seasonal sundaes — the spring sundae, for instance, features strawberry ice cream with banana jam, banana chips, housemade whipped cream, black tea cream, toast crumble and strawberry crunchies. Still, the classic Cloud 10 sundae is hard to beat, with a combination of jam and chocolate magic shell, sprinkled Nutella dust and a topping of bruléed banana. You get to choose the flavors in your sundae, and you can choose anything from sarsaparilla-anise to cilantro ice cream with roasted pineapple, which makes for the best sundae experience in town.

Local Foods

This locally sourced and seasonally focused sandwich, salad and soup shop has blossomed into a successful chain purveying more-traditional sandwiches alongside vegetarian-friendly offerings like a vegan "meat"ball sandwich made from mushrooms and pecans, a taco salad with convincing and flavorful vegan taco "meat," and a creative vegan Caesar salad complete with cashew cheese. Whether you're a 24/7 vegetarian or just out for a meatless Monday meal, Local Foods is a great bet for vegetarian food that's so delicious, you'll forget you're eating plant-based at all.

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