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.

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.

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.

Photo by Mai Pham

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.

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."

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

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.

The watering hole and burger hub that started it all for Houston beer nerds is still home to the best selection of brews in town. From the occasional tapping of hard-to-find cask rarities to vertical tastings and weekly $3 beer days, this Oak Forest favorite guides beer drinkers toward what they want in the easiest of ways: via knowledgeable staff and a well-curated beer list that's ever changing. Neophytes can choose from the easily palatable selections on the chalkboard, and snobs can opt for the more difficult brews on hand, but there's also some middle ground for both to fight over amid the 30 or so taps, including local selections from the likes of Eureka Heights, Saint Arnold, Buffalo Bayou and more. A roomy deck and backyard along with a covered front patio, and some of the best burgers and pretzels in town, make this an epic weekend hang spot for those in the know.

Photo courtesy of Sal y Pimienta Kitchen

Sal Y Pimienta Kitchen usually sits quietly next to The Tasting Room in City Centre on the west side of town, but come Sunday, the line spills out onto the sidewalk at this delightful South American eatery that opened in May 2014. The Sunday brunch is $35 per person and boasts more than 50 items, including 100 percent grass-fed Uruguayan beef, a whole roasted suckling pig, fresh seafood and lovely little desserts. For $13 more, diners can choose from bottomless glasses of mimosas, bellinis, and red or white sangria.

Photo by Julie Soefer

There is no place more exciting or impressive than revered chef Chris Shepherd's newest stunner, which makes it the perfect place to dine on the company dime. Housed inside the old Mark's space on Westheimer, the ground-breaking restaurant will change concepts once a year for the next five years, beginning with the now-closed One Fifth Steak. Offering thoughtful touches like hot towel service and handmade truffles with the check — plus a smart wine and cocktail list, impeccable seafood towers, colossal cast-iron steaks and fun, trust-the-chef "baller boards" — the concept proved that Houstonians have something to look forward to. In September, the second concept debuted a passionate journey through French, Spanish and Italian cuisine. One Fifth Romance Languages will be up and running through July of 2018, with One Fifth Fish and two to-be-announced concepts to follow.

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