Latin Bites

It's been five years since Latin Bites expanded from the small seven-table restaurant in East Downtown's Warehouse District to its current location in Memorial. Now a much more mature restaurant than when it opened, it's a joy to see Latin Bites embrace its Peruvian heritage with a mix of classic and contemporary that is as relevant here in Houston as it would be in Lima. The Lomo Saltado, a dish of cubed beef seared in the wok, is still the best version you'll find in the city. Ceviches continue to set the bar in terms of authenticity, while plates like the smooth potato causas and the beautiful tiraditos consistently deliver thanks to executive chef Carlos Ramos. The desserts are also the best they've been with pastry chef Yamile Castre turning out creative, beautiful platings with names like Chocolate Guanabana Temptation and Algarrobina Flan, a Peruvian custard made with carab syrup.

Best Sandwich
Houston Press file photo

Local Foods is known for its fresh salads, soups and sandwiches, and fortunately there are four locations around town — in Rice Village, Upper Kirby, Tanglewood and downtown — where you can grab our favorite sandwich: The Crunchy Chicken. A pecan-panko-coated chicken breast is served on a pretzel bun with provolone, pickles, tomato and romaine and topped with buttermilk ranch and crushed potato chips, and the result has received the highest of praises from locals all over the city, including Pass & Provisions co-founder and chef Terrence Gallivan, who says it "hits all the notes of a perfect chicken salad without being an actual chicken salad."

BCN Taste and Tradition
Chuck Cook
BCN Taste and Tradition

Step through the doors of BCN Taste & Tradition in Montrose, and it's as if you've been magically transported to a fine-dining restaurant in the heart of Barcelona. Everything, from the art — including genuine pieces by Joan Miró and Picasso — to the plate ware, the wine list and even the chef, Luis Roger, is from Spain. The experience is heightened by the creations of Roger, a Barcelona native whose uncompromisingly Spanish cuisine means that he bucks the local trends, bringing in espardenya sea cucumbers and fresh seafood from Galicia, jamón ibérico from Valencia and more. From boquerones (pickled anchovies) to patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) to the iconic pulpo a la gallega (grilled octopus) to the exceptionally crafted gin and tonics, BCN is synonymous with the best Spanish cuisine in the city.

Field & Tides Restaurant & Bar (FTRB)
Photo by Troy Fields

The "tides" portion of chef Travis Lenig's newest Third Coast wonder zeroes in on locally sourced seafood with an emphasis on the Gulf. Start with sambal honey-glazed tuna poke, low country she-crab soup or flash-fried fish collars, a.k.a. the "chicken wing of the sea." Mains like the expertly pan-seared scallops over what just might be the town's dreamiest seafood risotto show true finesse, while standouts including the Szechuan peppercorn-crusted tuna loin and coconut rice show just how exciting Houston's melting-pot cuisine can be. Hit the neighborhood hangout for brunch, lunch, dinner and happy hour.

Killen's STQ
Photo by Troy Fields

With the opening of Killen's STQ, chef and restaurateur Ronnie Killen proves not only that he is a master when it comes to steak, but also that his food was always meant for a stage larger than Pearland. Marrying his greatest hits with a rustic, neighborhood-style restaurant setting, Killen's STQ is already on its way to becoming a Houston classic. Here, the steak selection isn't confined to just one type of cattle. You get to choose your favorite cuts from a changing menu that includes grain-fed or corn-fed USDA prime wet-aged or dry-aged beef, Wagyu from Mishima Ranch, or Wagyu from Japan. Everything is prepared to your specifications on a wood-fired stovetop. Sharing is encouraged, as is a splurge on the delectable long bone-in Wagyu tomahawk rib eye, an impressive off-menu item that rivals anything else you'll find in the city.

Best Cajun
Photo by Troy Fields

If you enter this fast-casual Cajun spot into your GPS, Siri will pronounce it as Gumbo Joke-ses, but the jokes on her. Gumbo Jeaux's (it sounds like Joe's, y'all) serves up quick and fiery Texas Cajun, or "Texiana," as the restaurant calls it, in an open kitchen where cooks entertain the customers as much as they bring the flavor. Order up a huge Cajun-inspired taco with spicy blackened fish or shrimp Creole cooled by a dollop of creamy chipotle aioli, which comes with an ample side — you'll want the gumbo, laden with big hunks of tender chicken, sausage and shrimp — for less than $5. While you can choose from more than 30 hot sauces, the dishes here aren't suffering from lack of heat. The dirty rice, speckled as it is with bits of liver and beef, will creep up on you with the heat, and best lends itself as a bed for the catfish Opelousas, with flaky blackened fish fillets topped with butterflied, fried shrimp and a sea of calming shrimp étouffée. It's BYOB, which is a good thing, because food this sassy calls for a cold one.

Best Neighborhood Spot in the Galleria

Beaver's West

Best Neighborhood Spot in the Galleria
Photo by Cuc Lam

At the beginning of the year, fan-favorite gastropub Beaver's brought its "damn good food and cocktails" to a second location on Westheimer, one that just so happens to be three-times larger than the original location on Decatur. Along with it came a rustic hunting lodge vibe, adults-only lounge area dubbed the "Beaver Den" and a cozy, all-are-welcome backyard adorned with string lights, a totally rad criss-cross fire pit and a vintage trailer that doubles as a service bar. Tack on a refreshed pit-smoking program and new menu items like a hot and spicy whole fried Cornish hen and it's easy to see why this newcomer has quickly become the choicest hangout in this 'hood.

Best Ethnic Grocery
Photo by Cuc Lam

At Beechnut right outside Beltway 8 lies a treasure trove of Asian spices, produce, meats, fresh seafood and prepared foods. Viet Hoa International Foods offers an extensive selection of Vietnamese and Chinese groceries and dried goods, and serves the international Asian community well with an impressive variety of Korean, Japanese, Indian and Thai goods. Beyond the bins of aromatic herbs and the endless aisles of crazy cool snacks and sauces, Houstonians can find a cafeteria-style food counter with traditional Chinese and Vietnamese mainstays, including pork and egg stew, whole-fried fish, in-house-prepared roast pork and duck, red barbecue pork, and soy sauce chickens hanging behind the glass. Racks of fresh, out-of-the-oven baguettes, steamed dim sum favorites and banh mi can be found in the bakery corner.

Morningstar
Photo by Troy Fields

There is the matcha-frosted doughnut, reason enough to take a hike to this Heights coffee-shop-meets-breakfast-mecca that does fried dough lovers right. An array of doughnuts, including a dense and delicious old- fashioned style also known as the cake doughnut (get one chocolate glazed and prepare to moan); crazy fritters such as the salted lime and chile pineapple, which comes crunchy-edged, salty, spicy and hard to beat; and custard-filled wonders await. If the selection alone doesn't rope you in, Morningstar's impeccable coffee program, with a perfect drink for whatever the doughnut of your dreams is, absolutely will.

El Rey Taqueria
Jeff Balke

This beloved taco hub that fronts as a Cuban fast-food spot is still the best drive-through after all these years. Pull up and order an insane ropa vieja taco, one of the city's best tacos period, stuffed full of braised, shredded beef in tomato sauce and topped with purple cabbage, cilantro and cream sauce. There's more than a handful of tacos that El Rey does really well, including the al pastor, with big chunks of fatty pork and a decent carnitas, and breakfast tacos that have a cult following. The fact that none of them will set you back more than $3 means you can get out of here with a meal and drink for relatively cheap, or go on Taco Tuesday when you can get three tacos for less than $6.

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