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.

Himalaya Restaurant & Catering
Jeff Balke

It's hard not to love everything at Himalaya. Lovingly presided over by chef-proprietor Kaiser Lakshari, this is one of those hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop places that give us reason to love hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop places. The daily changing combo platter, which comes with two curries, an appetizer, vegetable dish and choice of basmati rice or naan, is a steal. The biryani is some of the best, if not the best in the city. The curries are rich and complex, teeming with intense spice and flavor. Even the fried chicken is excellent — marinated in spices, boneless, gluten-free and served with creamy dipping sauce. Make no mistake, when you visit Himalaya, you can expect to feast without breaking the bank. The fact that it's BYOB with no corkage fee is just icing on the cake.

La Table
Photo by Troy Fields

It has taken more than two years, but the transformation from Table on Post Oak to La Table is now complete. Très chic and très français, La Table has emerged as the French destination restaurant in Houston, designed with three distinct areas to fit your mood and budget. Upstairs, fine dining and discreet, five-star service consistently impress at Château, where you can indulge in luxe offerings like rack of lamb and whole roasted chicken carved at the table in a sumptuous setting. Downstairs, Marché’s warm bistro, bar and patio are perfect for the more casual classics such as quiche, steak frites and chicken paillard. Don’t leave without stopping at bakery counter Macarons for a baguette or one of La Table’s exquisite pastries (the pistachio tarte and canelé de Bordeaux are musts) to go, and be Instagram-ready, because everywhere you look, there’s a great shot.

Front Porch Pub
Photo by Houston Press staff

How do we pick just one steak night as the best? It's easy when a Midtown neighborhood favorite has continued to sizzle every Tuesday night since 2007. At Front Porch Pub, the marinated steaks are grilled over hot coals while hungry meat-lovers gather on a massive wooden deck. Starting at 6:30 p.m., for $15, a 16-ounce hand-cut rib eye is presented with a choice of baked potato, french fries or salad. The steaks are huge and full of flavor. These days, steak nights are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Texas Tuesdays, stay for some mind-twisting trivia and fun on the patio; there's a special with $1 off all Texas beers and liquors. On Thursdays, the drink specials include $3 domestic bottles and $15 domestic buckets.

Best Breakfast
Photo by Cuc Lam

Did you know that pancake flights existed? Judging by the crowd that forms outside the Montrose location of this morning bastion each and every weekend (and some weekdays too), it seems as though the word is out. The Denver import gained cult status pretty much immediately upon opening, and has since opened a second location in Town & Country Village and announced plans for both Heights and Cinco Ranch locations on the horizon. Hit any location to savor the aforementioned pancake flight, with your choice of flavors ranging from the classics, chocolate chip and blueberry, to the inspired, sweet potato buttermilk and pineapple upside-down cake. Craving something savory? Devoted fans of hollandaise will be pleased to find it offered in several iterations, including a smoked cheddar version over ham and eggs Benedict. Breakfast is offered daily, beginning bright and early at 6:30 a.m.

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