Best Sushi
Photo by Troy Fields

MF Sushi is not for everyone. It is not for the budget-conscious. It is not for those who eat sushi rolls. It is for those who love and appreciate traditional Japanese sushi of the highest quality and freshness and for those who understand that sushi rice is just as important as, if not more so than, the fish itself and how it's cut. In other words, it's for those who appreciate that the preparation of sushi is a culinary art and are willing to pay for quality. MF Sushi is one of the most traditional sushi restaurants in Houston, and the omakase tasting menu by sushi chef and owner Chris Kinjo is world-class. Exotic fish are flown in regularly from Japan's famous Tsukiji fish market, and plates of expertly prepared nigiri and sashimi made from prized species like kinmedai and akamutsu are nothing short of exquisite.

Saint Arnold Brewery

What a year it's been for Texas's beloved OG craft beer bastion Saint Arnold Brewing Company. On top of planning the massive 20,000-square-foot Saint Arnoldville Beer Garden heading to the brewery's location just outside of downtown, and serving up fine brews, including the 2017 launches of Pub Crawl Ale and Raspberry AF, along with a killer lunch and dinner menu meant for perfect food-and-beer-pairings as well, co-founder Brock Wagner and the Saint Arnold Brew Crew continue to do terrific things for the Houston community at 23 years in, including raising money for numerous local charities in collaboration with some of the city's finest restaurants, and no doubt inspiring the younger operations among H-Town's now bustling craft-brewing industry.

Tiny Boxwood's Cafe

Dining al fresco at Tiny Boxwoods feels like dining in a different city altogether. The über charming café offers a lush and stylish escape from the ordinary, with some of Houston's best fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies to boot. During weekend brunch, you'll find the social set lingering over white wine mojitos, pastry boards and house migas. While weekday breakfast is perfect for a quick avocado toast or flaky croissant slathered with honey butter and fresh jam, lunch brings house favorites such as the roasted beet burger and slow-roasted pork Cubano, and dinner gets decadent with espresso-rubbed ribeye and jumbo shrimp risotto.

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
Photo by Julie Soefer

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.

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