Local Foods

Walk into any Local Foods location and you'll find a crowd of happy patrons chowing down on seriously good (and good-for-you) eats. While the nut crumble "crunchy" chicken sandwich is easily one of the house faves, the hip kitchen's mindful eats are perhaps best showcased in the seasonal harvest salad. Seriously plump with mixed greens and sprouts, velvety goat cheese, sunflower seeds and a fresh herb vinaigrette, the salad gets a by-the-season remix of market veggies and fruit — from beets and pumpkin to peaches, grapefruit and squash. For best results, enjoy it alongside some refreshing citrus mintade.

Oporto Fooding House
Photo by Troy Fields

Tapas take a spin through the vibrant culinary landscape of Portugal, India and even Italy at this eclectic Midtown haunt. The vibe here is sophisticated and sultry, with a stylish crowd sharing artfully arranged plates of za'atar-kissed pao com tomate, goan-spiced pork curry, mix-and-match cheese and charcuterie, and larger offerings like wood-grilled filet and a tomato rice plump with scallops, clams, mussels, prawns and Gulf snapper. Don't miss the thoughtful boutique wine list, which includes after-dinner Ports and Madeiras that pair perfectly with an espresso chocolate torte or bolo de bolacha, the Portuguese version of tiramisu. And if you're looking to save a buck, the Monday through Friday happy hour offerings are both bountiful and reasonably-priced, with bites and house wines starting at $5.

Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine
Photo by Christina Uticone

You'll want to come hungry to this choose-your-own-adventure, Mediterranean-inspired cafeteria. Then you'll want to grab a tray and make some tough choices, such as which hummus you're going to slather onto your fresh-from-the-brick-oven, fat and pillowy pita — traditional, spicy, spinach, caramelized onion or, screw it, baba ghanoush. Move down the line and the conundrum gets harder, with side options ranging from herbaceous tabbouleh, feta-laced spinach salad and a can't-miss roasted cauliflower to a giant breaded and fried mashed potato ball that's stuffed with cream cheese and will have you seriously rethinking this year's Thanksgiving plans. For the grand finale, face your fate and pick from mains like fall-off-the-bone lamb shank, curried chicken stew, kebabs and gyros, and roasted snapper. Can't decide? Persuade your dining companion to go halfsies (that's what we always do).

Nestled inside the landmark 1924 Sam Houston Hotel, this handsome gem took over the former 17 Restaurant and Sam Bar space earlier this year, and is now poised to be Downtown's hottest pre-theater destination with a date-night worthy menu and drinks to match. The kitchen takes a Gulf seafood-rich route to New American cuisine, executing dishes and flavors in a way that feels unexpected. Cornmeal-crusted oysters are hit with house-cured lardons and pickled jalapeño; pulpo sits with grilled potato, chorizo and bright blood orange; housemade parpadelle makes for a beautiful scallop carbonara; and curry-spiced corn and lentils provide the bed for a wonderfully tubby grouper filet. Landlubbers need not worry, there are non-seafood options like heirloom tomato and burrata with charred avocado, short rib braised with Dr Pepper over spaetzle, and a la carte filets, chops and strips.

Lupita's Mexican Restaurant

Though there are Tex-Mex restaurants all over Houston, Lupita's is one of those mom-and-pop-style family joints that inspire loyalty thanks to fresh ingredients, reasonable prices and tasty, consistent food. It starts with the complimentary chips served not just with a bowl of warm, roasted tomato salsa, but also with a side of smoky, addictive charro beans. Margaritas are large, strong and inexpensive. The beef fajitas are some of the best in the greater Houston area, and the flour tortillas are peerless. Soft and slightly chewy, they are Lupita's secret weapon: Twelve inches in diameter, the large, hand-pressed tortillas come to the table right after being cooked on the comal, and they never fail to impress.

Best Neighborhood Spot: Rice Village

Hungry's Rice Village has been a neighborhood hangout for 40 years, but things reached another level (literally) when the restaurant moved to its new building next door and expanded operations to include the chic terrace bar and eatery, Upstairs. On the first level, the refreshed Hungry's rocks an airy open concept dining space and patio with picnic tables and a casual vibe, while the striking Upstairs bar sits nestled in the oak trees above it. Both offer thirst-quenching cocktails with a focus on fresh-squeezed juices and eats that take you through the day, from weekend brunch (think croissant French toast and sizzling huevos rancheros) to all-day bites including gyros, organic quinoa salads, chicken-fried chicken and wood-fired pies.

Cooking is overrated. Ordering your favorite Tex-Mex dishes on-the-go is not. The team behind Houston's beloved Tacos a Go Go opened up this mesquite-kissed carry-out spot in 2016, and it's since become a favorite of locals looking for a cheap, fast and easy fajita fix. Just don't be fooled into thinking cheap, fast and easy means a compromise on taste; quality ingredients are the focus here — think Angus beef, Texas quail, housemade wild boar sausage and cage-free chicken that gets brined overnight. Fajita meals come in servings from one to 15, each packed with butter-brushed and grilled tortillas, house guac' and pico, griddled onions and seasoned butter, chipotle rice and beans. In addition to offering take-away service, online ordering and a few inhouse seating options, the local gem also delivers.

Best Wine Program

For the sheer size and breadth of its cellar to the caliber of its floor sommeliers, there is no fine wine destination in Houston that rivals Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. While many of the city's restaurants offer specialized programs with a focus on one or more given categories (Californian, French, German, Italian, etc.), no restaurant can match the wide range of options that appear on the Pappas Bros. list. And the vertical depth of the list (i.e., the availability of older vintages from a given appellation or a particular winery) only sweetens the deal. But the real clincher is the high level of professionalism among the staff. Forget the impressive array of pins and titles that many of the sommeliers at Pappas Bros. sport: Whether you're ordering a $50 bottle of natty Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley or a "my Cab is bigger than your Cab" bottle from California, you will always be served by a highly knowledgeable wine professional who is as prepared as she or he is hospitable.

Italiano's Restaurant

Complimentary bread is as divine a right to the eating experience in Houston as chips and salsa, and while you may find good examples of it all over the Bayou City, there's a standout in Humble that unfailingly warms our hearts and bellies: the complimentary garlic knots at Italiano's. So delicious that they could be a meal in and of themselves, the plush, moist orbs of yum arrive at the table hot from the oven. Glazed with a sheen of melted butter and matted with crumbly parmesan cheese, garlic and herbs, these mouthwatering beauties give meaning to the restaurant's motto of "love at first bite."

Best Pizzeria

It's not often that you find a pizzeria that manages to work ingredients such as blackberries, cream gravy, venison and cherries in port wine reduction and fennel pollen into its lineup of delicious pies, but such eccentricities are what makes Pi Pizza the best in H-Town. The eatery itself is modern and refined in a punk way, which is what you'd likely expect from a former DIY food truck. Between the skateboard art on the wall, including an ode to The Lost Boys, an ambience that hits all the right notes with Sam Cooke crooning over the dining room, and the astounding number of tats on the staff, it's obvious this pizzeria is dialed into very good things. And that means great service, pizzas that are wild enough to please uppity foodies or safe enough to share with kids, a number of vegetarian eats and a wealth of killer appetizers (hello, spicy meatballs). Just make sure to wash it all down with one of the bottled or frozen cocktails, such as the Screwston Daiquiri, a nod to Houston's hip-hop scene and its beloved purple drank.

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