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.

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.

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.

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.

Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

It starts when you walk in the door, a wall of lockers that you and your kids can tag with a Sharpie all middle-school style, scrawling your name or a peace sign or whatever your poison is. At the host stand, they'll hand you the kids menus, a veritable activity book that will let your progeny get crazy with crayons while you yourself can dive right into a frozen cocktail or ancho chile Pimm's Cup at the full bar, which also specializes in bourbon, beer and boozy milkshakes as well. The great family appeal of Bernie's Burger Bus is vast. You'll find it in the menu, which rocks juicy burgers, housemade lemonade and crazy-good sweet potato fries. You'll find it in the bright yellow school bus that rode right out of 1986 and into this Heights eatery to house the kitchen. And most certainly you'll see it in the lingering smiles of your kids as they drift off to sleep on the ride home, exhausted from an epic meal and probably with some milkshake left to enjoy later.

Photo by Mai Pham

Sinful chocolate chip cookies and gourmet chef collaborations? There's only one pastry chef in town who takes baking and repping Houston to another level and that's Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar. Masson's exceptional bakery in Midtown is also home to an endless schedule of incredible pop-up brunches and dinners that feature famous visiting chefs from across the country. She started these, she told the Press this year, just so her staff doesn't get bored at the tiny bake shop. Lucky for us, that means delicious meals that you know will end with epic desserts. In the spring Masson paired up with Louie Mueller Barbecue to make brisket croissant sandwiches at Houston Barbecue Festival, and if you were lucky enough to taste them, you'd understand that everything Masson seems to touch is pastry magic. It's no surprise, then, that she makes her signature unicorn cookies, which are the best sugar cookies in town.

After helping to rebrand the original Koala Kolache (which is now known as Karma Kolache) on FM 529, former partner Vatsana Souvannavong branched out on her own, taking the name with her to open up this Cypress kolache shop. Souvannavong worked tirelessly to perfect the new recipe, this time focusing on more authentic, traditional kolache flavors. The Czech-style pastries — both the kolache and its savory cousin, the klobasnek — come with that perfect, slightly sweet and pillowy dough. Get them dolloped with cream cheese, lemon and poppyseeds; packed with farmers' market fruit hauls featuring strawberries, cherries and peaches; and stuffed with locally made chorizo and eggs, portobello mushrooms mixed with Boursin cheese, and boudin. "Donut" worry, the shop still makes crazy-good doughnuts, too.

Jeff Balke

It glows in the night, a beacon of greasy late-night eats that never fails to astound for its throwback HoJo-era digs and cases of heavenly meringue- and whipped cream-topped pies. Sit at the bar and watch the bustling kitchen area, where servers pile food atop trays as big as smart cars, with an air of indifference or maybe even bickering, though they always serve their guests with a smile and a "honey" or "baby." Whether you're here for a midnight country-fried steak with an iceberg lettuce salad doused in ranch or just starting the day with buttermilk pancakes, a slice of pie is a must, and the house signature is a whammy, the Bayou Goo. It's a mix of chocolate silk and vanilla cream over a sweet cream-cheese layer with enough whipped topping to make the cheerleader from Varsity Blues blush. It's then topped with pecans and chocolate shavings. Just please keep your clothes on.

Every once in a while we all need a big-ass, reliable slice of New York-style cheese pizza without any fuss. Romano's is the place to fulfill that necessity. Sandwiched between a nail salon and a Marshall's in an unassuming strip mall on the edge of Montrose and River Oaks, Romano's cooks up whole pies and slices in a no-frills eatery that has indoor and some outdoor seating, if you don't mind overlooking a vast parking lot. The test of a great pizza is how it reheats in the oven the next day, and Romano's never disappoints, its pizza staying crispy and oozing with cheese with a light touch of tomato sauce that balances sweet, spicy and acidic notes deftly. It's just making a slice last until the next day that's the hard part.

Tucked away in River Oaks, Giacomo's is a casual Italian and wine fixture that delivers big on flavor when you get a major craving for carbs — future marathoners take note. Here, chef and owner Lynette Hawkins, who lived in Italy during her formative years, and honed her chops at Damian's and her former Tuscan gem, La Mora Cucina Toscana, serves up an unworldly array of signature house pastas and no-fail classics, including a hearty bolognese and creamy spaghetti alla carbonara. It is blessed by the porcine gods with bits of cured guanciale, or pork jowl, lacing the al dente semolina pasta. The pappardelle ai funghi e gorgonzola will delight shroom-lovers who are hell bent on getting downright sinful with a white wine and gorgonzola cheese sauce. There's also the standout tortelli di bietola, or half moon ravioli, filled by hand with Swiss chard, rich ricotta and goat cheese, and served in a decadent sage brown butter. Add in a selection of incredible wines by some of the world's greatest female wine makers (the floral white Zibibbo is a standout), a few cichetti (small plates) and a table in the courtyard, and yeah, you'd better start that 10K training pronto.

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