Best Vietnamese
Photo by Troy Fields

Don't freak out that the best Vietnamese restaurant in Houston doesn't even serve pho or banh mi; there is more to Vietnamese cuisine than noodle soup and sandwiches. This tiny sleeper of a joint is one of only a handful of restaurants in Houston that specializes in banh cuon, steamed rice flour crepes, made-to-order in Chinatown since 2004. In addition, dishes such as bun cha ha noi (grilled pork with vermicelli) and ca thanh long (turmeric dill pan-grilled fish fillets) are specialties that should not be missed. Thien Thanh opens as early as 8:30 a.m. because many Vietnamese people enjoy these dishes for breakfast or brunch. Prices are very reasonable, but remember to bring cash.

Molina's Cantina

Molina's, a family-run business for more than 75 years, has built a reputation on its enchiladas. With seven enchilada plates on the menu, the choices range from chicken to beef, cheese and spinach-filled, topped with green sauce, Spanish sauce, mole, or chili gravy. And while they are all good, it's the classic Enchiladas de Tejas — cheese enchiladas topped with chili con carne, melted cheese and chopped onions with an optional fried egg — that you won't be able to forget. Simple yet impeccably done, from the oozing cheese to the well-seasoned chili con carne and the flour tortilla, when you want enchiladas that embody the Tex-Mex ideal, Molina's is the place.

Coltivare Pizza & Garden
Photo by Troy Fields

This Italian concept from Agricole Hospitality — also of Revival Market, Eight Row Flint and three new concepts in EaDo — goes well beyond traditional red sauce. The restaurant has its own 3,000-square-foot garden to pull fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and inspiration from, and with benches and string lights, that garden just so happens to make the most charming spot for pre-dinner cocktails while you wait for your table (no reservations here). Locals flock to it to share seasonally inspired Italian plates kissed with Gulf Coast soul, whether it's a wood-fired pizza topped with local heirloom squash and salumi from Revival Market, ravioli stuffed with mushrooms, Taleggio and charred onion, or a braised duck and Texas peach salad. Mainstays on the menu, including a flawlessly executed cacio e pepe, pillowy toasted ricotta gnocchi, and smoky, sweet and tart agrodolce chicken, always seem to please. All of it pairs beautifully with the solid wine list and craft cocktails from beverage all-star Morgan Weber. Oh, and a seasonal fruit crostada topped with ice cream.

The special bánh mì comes with pork belly, ham and housemade pâté.
Photo courtesy of Roostar
The special bánh mì comes with pork belly, ham and housemade pâté.

With a lot of heavy-hitting competition all over the city, Roostar Vietnamese Grill takes the prize again for Best Banh Mi for its savory, tangy chopped rib eye banh mi, once known as the beef bulgogi. The original Roostar, which opened as Vietnam Poblano, has been a Memorial/Spring Branch neighborhood favorite since it opened in 2013. In May a second store opened in the Uptown/Galleria area at 5551 Richmond with a larger kitchen and prep area, creative desserts and local craft brews on tap. At both locations, the sandwiches are chock-full of pickled carrots, cucumber, fresh jalapeño, cilantro, house-made mayo and a load of flavor.

Americas Restaurant
Photo by Houston Press Staff

What do empanadas, ceviche, lobster corndogs, lamb lollichops and churrasco steak have in common? They all make up the menu at the ever-impressive Américas River Oaks. The flagship restaurant of the Cordúa Restaurant Group (Américas, Amazon Grill, Churrascos) continues to offer Houstonians the best example of South American cuisine, presented in an exotic ambience that channels the Amazonian rain forest. Led by chef David Cordúa, the restaurant also boasts a fine selection of South American wine, one of the city's best choices for happy hour, a magnificent buffet brunch on weekends, and a peerless tres leches that's to die for.

Best Chinese Restaurant
Photo by Troy Fields

Beautifully painted wall murals and a glam 1920s Cantonese teahouse vibe provide a backdrop for the "everyday food" that's also the motto of Mein Chinese Restaurant, where chef Jack Tran and his brother, restaurateur Mike Tran, deliver consistently delicious, affordable Cantonese cuisine that you can, in fact, eat every day. Among the appetizers, the house-made char siu, or barbecue pork, is a must. Classic wonton noodles are as authentic as those found in Hong Kong. And there's plenty more: crispy noodles, stir-fries, dumplings, fried rice, as well as wine and beer and Lavazza coffee. The menu offers a wide enough selection that you could eat here several days a week without once repeating a dish, so order what looks good and plan to return. Parking is free and weekends generally require a wait, but it's worth it.

Tony and Donna Vallone share a smile during a photo shoot at legendary Houston restaurant Tony's.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Tony and Donna Vallone share a smile during a photo shoot at legendary Houston restaurant Tony's.

Tony's is now in its 52nd year of operation, and its longevity and ability to remain a tour de force are not only remarkable, but a testament to owner and operator Tony Vallone, who has created an experience that continues to set the standard for fine dining in the Bayou City. This is a restaurant that entertains celebrities, billionaires and socialites with panache and ease. Pastas rival those in the old country. Salt-crusted whole snapper never ceases to wow. The new tasting menu by chef Austin Waiter is exemplary. And the service couldn't be finer. From the table-side, hand-pulled mozzarella to the cheese service from a guéridon to the gigantic soufflés that are portioned and delivered to your table so that you don't need to lift a finger, when it comes to fine dining, Tony's is in a class of its own.

La Table
Photo by Troy Fields

Excellent service in a restaurant is an art form. It involves details — not just noticing when a patron needs something, but anticipating the diner's actual needs. It involves pulling out chairs, folding napkins when they are left untidy, cleaning up crumbs from the table after each course, making sure water glasses are filled discreetly, and instinctively knowing when it's appropriate to interrupt conversations. Most of all, it involves a level of professionalism and training for which the motto is "always going a step higher than what's necessary." At La Table, all of this appears to happen effortlessly. Tea service is impeccable, from the beautiful porcelain teapot to the small timer that is provided to make sure your beverage is steeped for the correct amount of time. Beautiful guéridons arrive when table-side service is required, accompanied by skilled servers who will prepare your food in front of you. Stools are even provided for women's purses so they don't touch the floor, just another example of the detail and forethought that goes into the exemplary service at La Table.

The Pit Room
Photos by Troy Fields

From massive beef ribs to an incredible smoked chicken and griddled cheese taco with flour tortillas housemade from the restaurant's own rendered brisket lard, showstoppers abound at the Pitroom. Perhaps it's the way the brisket sandwich comes with its seductive oil slick of grease across the bun or how the meat itself is cooked so tenderly in those custom-made barrel smokers out back, but the Montrose barbecue mecca has had lines out the door since opening in 2016. A killer condiment and pickle bar, the best macaroni and cheese in town, and a welcoming staff that keep the ship running while pitmasters/owners Michael Samwells and Bram Tripp plot more asado-style roasting of whole cabritos and continue to kick butt — they landed on Texas Monthly's coveted 50 Best this year — all seem to make clear that Houston has itself a mighty new barbecue institution on its hands.

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.

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