Part vegetarian market, part banh mi shop and part fast-casual restaurant, Duy's Sandwiches is a humble, family-run hole-in-the-wall on the side of a strip mall at Wilcrest and Bellaire, where it easily goes unnoticed. But step into this hidden gem, and you'll find wholesome, healthy, affordable cuisine (most everything is in the $5 to $8 range), as well as fabulous vegan banh mi. The banh mi, just $3.25 each, are fantastic. Oblong rolls of crisped French bread are filled to the brim with cucumber, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, and jalapeño, and a choice of faux meat filling. The popular No. 1 special is filled with a Vietnamese sausage made of corn, soy and peas that tastes as if it could be real meat (it's vegan). Other things to try include the vegan curry and the noodle soups, which include pho and bun rieu. There are also small containers of freshly prepared takeout dishes such as fried tofu and sautéed vegetables for just $5. Cash only and totally worth it.

Fung's Kitchen

Did you know that someone has to be trained in order to carve a Peking duck? At Fung's Kitchen, master Chinese chef Hoi Fung makes sure that all kitchen staff are trained in this culinary art. So whether he's serving a thousand revelers at a banquet, or a party of two, no matter when you want to order it, the Peking duck comes out perfect. The duck skin is roasted in a special oven until the fat is completely rendered, the skin is extra crispy, and the color is a burnished, glistening, orange brown. Served in a large round platter, the duck is carefully assembled on the plate with the skin laid out mouthwateringly on top. Fung's offers the option of ordering the duck with thin pancakes or steamed buns, so take your pick and enjoy: Pick up a bun or pancake, smear some hoisin duck sauce over it, and add some thinly cut chives and a helping of duck. Mmm, delicious.

Not only does this très chic cafe overlook the charming Discovery Green, it also is home to a traditional French crêperie, offering flawlessly executed, just-thin-enough crêpes via a walk-up window for park-goers on the go. If you prefer a more formal experience (paired with some wine, perhaps?), head to the authentic brasserie inside. Either way, you can indulge in the Parisian-style crêpes stuffed with the salée (salty) smoked salmon and crème fraîche, Gulf seafood and saffron velouté, and pork belly with caramelized onions and Gruyère; or the sucrée (sweet) — from house berry preserves and vanilla Chantilly to the classic banana and Nutella.

Best Fajitas

Call it what you will — a Mexican style, sliced up steak, a deconstructed burrito — fajitas are like a religion in Houston. People are devoted to them, zealously protective of them and pay homage to them frequently, especially at El Tiempo. With multiple locations throughout the city, El Tiempo has perfected the art of the fajita. Here, the sizzling, marinated tender strips of beef, chicken or pork can be ordered by the pound or half pound, with the option of toppings and add-ons like lobster, bacon wrapped shrimp or mesquite grilled quail. Served with rice and beans, pico de gallo, sour cream and cheese, the tortillas are hand-pressed and amazing as well. What takes these fajitas over the top, however, is when you order them as one of the "Parrillada, Mixtas." When you do so, they are served on a rectangular tabletop grill that you have to see to believe and is best described by one word: "Wow."

Bernie's Burger Bus
Photo courtesy of Bernie's Burger Bus

Bernie's Burger Bus has a penchant for doing things in-house (daily ground beef, homemade pickles), and that grade A attitude doesn't change when it comes to the house french fries. Russet potatoes are hand-cut and deep-fried to an enviable crisp before completing their earthly duty and making their way to your stomach. But before they get there, you have to decide what form you want them in. Will it be classic fries served simply with housemade ketchup? Sweet potato fries with a creamy chipotle aioli dip? Or will you be enjoying them smothered with bleu cheese sauce and bacon, house chili and cheddar, slow-cooked roast beef and gravy, or barbecue brisket? With all the hype surrounding these spuds, make sure you actually remember to order a burger too.

Southern Goods
Photo by Troy Fields

These days it seems like there's an almost-excessive amount of fast-casual burger joints dotting the city, but if you want a classic, restaurant-style burger done right, look no further than the Heights hot spot Southern Goods. As one of the only mainstays on the continuously refreshed menu, the SG Burger has proved its juicy, beefy worthiness. That's thanks to double the meat (a 44 Farms Prime beef, chuck and brisket blend with a nice crust and a desirable pink center, to be exact), double the melty cheddar, a seriously buttery, griddled, salt-and-pepper bun from Cake and Bacon, the usual salad suspects and housemade pickly things, and the icing on the beefcake — house comeback sauce, a zippy rémoulade made with mayo and chiles. Don't expect fries here, just some soul-satisfying potato salad in true Southern fashion.

Conservatory
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Conservatory is the kind of place you can hang out at all day, especially since it's the perfect refuge from Houston's beloved mix of heat, humidity and torrential downpour. The modern underground beer garden and food hall rocks 60 craft taps with a rotation of local, national and international brews, plus a wine bar and a lineup of food vendors. Bring your crew and create your own smorgasbord with lamb meatballs and prosciutto pies from Arte Pizzeria, seasonal sweet and savory crepes from Melange Creperie, smoked-brisket-loaded potatoes and pulled pork tacos from El Burro and the Bull, poke bowls and towers from Moku Bar, and hot dogs, sliders and glazed doughnuts from Mars Bakery.

Just "around the corner" from downtown you'll find this unexpected neighborhood gem, which is set in a restored 1903 bungalow. It's where you want to be in the morning, when coffee and pastries are dished out bright and early beginning at 6:30 a.m. (bonus: coffee is free on the first Monday of every month); in the afternoon, when sipping on craft beer, wine and craft cocktails is even cheaper during weekday happy hour and the weekends bring mimosa-fueled brunches; and by night, when specials like Thursday's rib eye steak night bring the heat. Attracted by its views of the city, inviting patio and casually cool interior, locals hit Around the Corner to work, eat, drink and play all day long.

That pepper crust looks mighty fine.
Photo courtesy Pappa Charlie's
That pepper crust looks mighty fine.

If you like your mac and cheese super-ooey, super-gooey and super-cheesy, you're in luck. This EaDo barbecue joint has got the goods you're craving (plus some more goods, like seriously delicious beef ribs, salt-and-pepper-crusted smoked brisket and bacon-wrapped meat loaf, if you're looking for those too). But back to the mac: Pappa Charlies' version is done home-style, with a creamy-as-all-hell, smoke-kissed five-cheese sauce that blankets every nook and cranny of the ridged elbow macaroni. And did we mention you can get it loaded with some of that aforementioned brisket and a drizzle of barbecue sauce? Yeah.

Best Mediterranean Restaurant

Not only was it the only Houston spot to earn a semifinalist nod in the 2016 James Beard Awards' Best New Restaurant category, but Helen Greek Food & Wine was lauded this year as well, with chef William Wright nabbing another semifinalist nod for Rising Chef Star of the Year. Long story short, Helen Greek has some serious street cred. Come here to indulge in Houston's first-ever all-Hellenic wine list, curated by the always masterful Evan Turner; then indulge in Mediterranean fare that will transport you to the mountains and islands of Greece — by way of the Gulf Coast, of course. Share plates of beautifully charred octopus swimming in pickled red onions, capers and thyme oil; feta-brined chicken kissed with spices; fennel-scented mussels in ouzo and white wine; and a build-your-own local pork gyro that'll satisfy at brunch, lunch and dinner.

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