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.

Chef Manabu Horiuchi (or Hori-san, as he is commonly called) continues to capture our eyes, bellies and hearts with dishes that are almost always too delicate and beautiful to eat. This dedication to perfection is painted onto each plate at Kata Robata among changing daily specials that offer the freshest fish available and the option of an omakase (chef's tasting), which treat Houston palates to the possibility of trying something different on each visit. The regular menu is far from "regular," with dishes like miso-crusted bone marrow, noodles, sushi, sashimi, crudo, ceviche and even poke. And Chef Hori doesn't just do fish — he took home the top prize at this year's pork-friendly Cochon 55 culinary competition — so don't overlook the robata.

Photo by Troy Fields

Often described as chef Hugo Ortega's most ambitious restaurant to date, anyone who visits Xochi will recognize that it is unlike any other Mexican restaurant in Houston. Located on the ground floor of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Downtown, the menu at Xochi is decribed as Oaxacan cocina de autor, or chef-driven cuisine. Plates are bright and beautifully plated, bursting with color and attention to detail. The moles, made from complex recipes that require a deep understanding of the cuisine and its roots, are magnificent. In a bold move, the menu incorporates ingredients like chapulinas (grasshoppers) and other edible insects that are typical of Oaxacan cuisine, and it's pulled off with confidence. Ortega, a six-time James Beard Foundation finalist for Best Chef Southwest, currently wears the crown for 2017, and it shows.

Photo by Troy Fields

It's not located in Houston's Koreatown area off Long Point, and it may not be as traditional or authentic as some might like, but one visit to Republic Diner in the Heights, and you can't help loving the retro-hip vibe of the place as well as the food. Appetizers like the haemuljeon seafood pancake and mandu dumplings, not to mention the kimchi fries and the Korean-style hot wings, are delicious. Sizzling dolsot bibimbap hot-stone rice bowls are colorful specimens filled to the brim with high-quality toppings and juicy bulgogi (marinated beef). In fact, the menu is full of Korean classics, from the sundubu-jjigae silken hot tofu pot to japchae glass noodles, and the banchan side dishes are made from the owner's Korean mother's recipes. And let's not forget about the drinks. Billing itself as a soju bar as well as a diner, Republic offers shots of infused soju (a sake-like distilled beverage) and soju cocktails that are not mandatory, but are highly recommended.

Photo by Erin Hicks

Forget meatballs in regular old marinara. At Greek taverna Helen in the Heights, the younger, more casual sibling to Rice Village's Helen Greek Food and Wine, chef William Wright ups the ante with his Midas touch. Perfectly plump, spiced and slow-cooked, the bite-size lamb meatballs sit in a bed of tomato sauce, fragrant and hit with warm spices like cumin and topped with crisp fried garlic chips. The dish is a traditional meze, or small plate, perfect for sharing alongside warm pita and Mediterranean dips, dolmades that swap traditional grape leaves for local swiss chard, flaming ouzo-spiked halloumi cheese and crisp Gulf calamari with tzatziki and lemon.

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