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The Essential 38 Houston Restaurants, Winter 2015

The quarterly update welcomes: Common Bond, Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster and more.

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It's time to update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant?" This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines, and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs, save for those occasions when you absolutely must spend half a paycheck.

Every couple of months, we'll add pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months) or have stepped up their game. These restaurants aren't ranked in any particular order, only listed alphabetically.

January's update welcomes the following to Eater 38: Common Bond, The Afghan Village, Afrikiko Restaurant, Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant, Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster, Latin Bites, Mama Yu, The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen and Chinatown's hotspot for ramen Tiger Den. Eater is sad to say goodbye to Asia Market, Arturo Boada Cuisine, Bistro Provence, Good Dog Houston, Hubcap Grill, Ibiza Food and Wine Bar, Jonathan's The Rub, Killen's Steakhouse, Local Foods, Radical Eats, Songkran Thai Kitchen andTeotihuacan Mexican Cafe.


For those of you readying the pitchforks because your favorite restaurant isn't on the list, wouldn't it just be more productive to nominate it for inclusion? State your cases for (or against) restaurants in the comments, forum or down the tipline.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Common Bond Cafe & Bakery

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1706 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77098
(713) 529-3535
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You know you're in for an experience upon entering this carb lover's heaven otherwise known as Common Bond. Part bakery, part cafe, this Montrose eatery is a go-to destination for not only world-class pastries but breakfast, lunch and a weekend brunch — that is if you don't mind the line stretching out the door. Is the wait worth it? One taste of the signature kugelhopf, the bundt-shaped brioche bread immersed in an orange-blossom juice and rolled in sugar, will have you waiting in line again.

[Photo: Gary Wise]

2. Uchi

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904 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 522-4808
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This Austin import serves consistently satisfying dishes in a delightful setting that's not stuffy or over-the-stop fancy. The Brussels sprouts are a can't-miss, and the desserts are conceived by award-winning pastry chefs. Yes, it's expensive, but no one can deny that Houstonians have embraced this Austin import. Between the massive crowds and constantly changing menu, Uchi feels like that rare combination of a restaurant that's both popular and important.

[Photo: Uchi Houston/Facebook]

3. Kata Robata

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3600 Kirby Dr
Houston, TX 77098
(713) 526-8858
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The go-to spot for anyone seeking fantastic Japanese fare, Kata bridges the gap between those who want fresh sushi and those who prefer a heartier dish. It's consistently good and well priced for the quality of food.

[Photo: Kata Robata Sushi + Grill/Facebook]

4. Caracol

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2200 Post Oak Blvd Ste 160
Houston, TX 77056
(713) 622-9996
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Coastal Mexican cuisine stepped up a notch when renowned local chef Hugo Ortega (Hugo's) and local restaurateur Tracy Vaught opened this Post Oak Boulevard establishment late last year. Pastry chef Ruben Ortega is creating desserts that are a draw in and of themselves, and beverage director Sean Beck knows just what to pair with your baked oysters, lobster and huitlacoche mole-topped steak.

[Photo: Caracol/Facebook]

5. Hugo's

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1600 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 524-7744
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This spot is for those seeking authentic Mexican food instead of Tex-Mex. The upscale Montrose classic prides itself on offering classic dishes that satisfy and enlighten those who might never have had real Mexican fare. Although the brunch receives much well-deserved praise, the dinner options here are the best in real Mexican cuisine.

[Photo: Hugo's/Facebook]

6. Underbelly

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1100 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 528-9800
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Chef Chris Shepherd once said that he intended to convey "the story of Houston food" here, and he's done that with his meat-forward dishes that often have Vietnamese influence. It's also a great place to check out when you and your dining companions can't decide between an elaborate dish and a just-plain-great burger.

[Photo: Gary Wise/Urbanspoon]

7. Mama Yu

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10815 Beechnut St
Houston, TX 77072
(281) 988-5470
Inside a nondescript strip center in West Houston is one of the city's few restaurants serving Chinese and Indonesian fare. Known as Indo-Chinese cuisine, Mama Yu offers up a menu of South Asian delicacies where nasi goreng, an Indonesian fried rice dish, is one the main staples served. Not-to-be-missed dishes include ayam goreng (fried chicken blanketed in fiery sambal), igo gongso (lamb ribs with a sweet and spicy sauce).

[Photo: Julia Explores]

8. Himalaya Restaurant

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6652 Southwest Fwy
Houston, TX 77074
(713) 532-2837
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This Indo-Pak spot always hosts industry players who are seeking authentic, satisfying dishes with serious spice. If you've never been here before, start with the hara masala and lamb biryani. Chef and owner Kaiser Lashkari's desserts are always changing, one notable sweet plate was paneer soaked in a sweet, creamy sauce and sprinkled with chopped pistachios.

[Photo: Google Maps]

9. The Afghan Village

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6413 Hillcroft St
Houston, TX 77081
(713) 808-9005
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If you're craving lamb karahi, qabuli palau — the seasoned rice dish with carrots, raisins and lamb — or any other Afghan fare, this is where you want to be. Dine at a table or go for the full-on authentic experience by sitting on the colorful pillow decked floor, eating naan and other Afghan delicacies with your hands. Kabobs and koftas are safe bets, but go for the mantoo, a dumpling filled with spiced ground beef and onions, and the traditional Afghan soup, Aush (chickpeas, beans and pasta).

[Photo: The Afghan Village/Facebook]

10. Paulie's Restaurant

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1834 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77098
(713) 807-7271
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Paulie's is that rare spot in town that looks and feels as casual as a low-key coffeehouse but offers up pasta made in-house, fresh ingredients and recipes that impress with their classic simplicity. The prices are on point, if not cheaper than they could be, and sandwiches and desserts offer some variety for when you're not in the mood for pizza or pasta.

11. Killen's Barbecue

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3613 Broadway St
Pearland, TX 77581
(281) 485-0844
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Waiting in line for barbecue is no longer an Austin thing. No matter the weather, barbecue enthusiasts flock to the southern outskirts of Houston for one of the best 'cue in Texas. The reward for their patience and dedication? Fall-off-the-bone ribs, melt-in-your-mouth brisket and smoked meats galore from chef/owner Ronnie Killen. Make a trip during the week and you're in for an extra special treat: fried chicken dinners on Sundays, colossal chicken fried steaks on Tuesdays and pork chops on Wednesdays.

[Photo: The Smoking Ho]

12. Oxheart

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1302 Nance St
Houston, TX 77002
(832) 830-8592
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The spot that Alison Cook has called the best in town twice in a row, and that critics from Pete Wells to Andrew Knowlton have raved about, Oxheart seems to have been a classic since day one. Chef and owner Justin Yu's impressive vegetable dishes and delicate meat offerings please those who are willing to try something new and inventive.

[Photo: Gary R Wise]

13. The Pass and Provisions

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807 Taft St.
Houston, TX 77019
(713) 628-9020
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Whether diners are out for a romantic, bank-breaking meal or for something more casual but still innovative and delicious, this spot will satisfy any mood between one of its two concepts. It's amassed an impressive number of awards and received much national attention for its playful, high-end tasting menu dinners at the Pass and for its casual dining side's smart pastas, pizzas and sandwiches.

14. Pondicheri

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2800 Kirby Dr
Houston, TX 77098
(713) 522-2022
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Modern Indian fusion can be tricky because it can weigh too heavily on the modern end of the spectrum, leaving those spice-addicted traditionalists underwhelmed. That's never the case here, between spicy and satisfying curries to a consistently good lamb burger. Order the Morning Thali for those weekend mornings when you can't decide between breakfast and lunch.

[Photo: Houston Diva Dining]

15. Al Aseel Grill and Cafe

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8619 Richmond Ave
Houston, TX 77063
(713) 787-0400
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For hummus that competes with Kasra's and great Mediterranean food, head to this Woodlake-Briar Meadow neighborhood spot. It's a classic among food lovers and the bane of many a Yelp user's existence due in great part to less-than-stellar service. Still, the food is fantastic.

16. Corkscrew BBQ

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24930 Budde Rd.
Spring, TX 77380
(832) 592-1184
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Like another popular 'cue man, Nichole and Will Buckman's ribs and brisket always sell out thanks to long lines of patient guests. The small black trailer with pink lettering serves up great smoked meats and classic country sides. Grab a picnic table at this BYOB-friendly place for a truly Houston lunch.

[Photo: Corkscrew BBQ/Facebook]

17. The Original Ninfa's on Navigation

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2704 Navigation Blvd
Houston, TX 77003
(713) 228-1171
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Famous for its fajitas and an East End institution, this longstanding restaurant continues to do what it does best, serve exceptional Tex-Mex. From the mole enchiladas to gigantic platters of grilled meats and even such staples as the Oaxacan-style pork tamales, The Original Ninfa's on Navigation continues the practice of serving authentic dishes without sacrificing tradition. A glimpse of that is seen from the entrance where guests can watch tortillas being made from scratch daily. No trip to this Tex-Mex oasis is complete without ordering a glass of potent yet delicious Ninfarita.

[Photo: Gary Wise/Urbanspoon]

18. Mala Sichuan Bistro

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9348 Bellaire Blvd
Houston, TX 77036
(713) 995-1889
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While it's become somewhat of a food-lover's go-to for authentic Sichuan offerings, making it among the most industry-crowded Chinatown spots lately, the food has not decreased in quality. The spicy dishes are always on point, and Justin Vann's beer and wine menu make it a must-visit Houston spot. Look out for their second location in Montrose to open this winter.

19. Coltivare

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3320 White Oak Dr
Houston, TX 77007
(713) 637-4095
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This long-awaited rustic Italian-inspired restaurant from Revival Market's Ryan Pera & Morgan Weber not only met high expectations once opening in 2014, but surpassed them. The seasonally-inspired menu that received raves from the likes of restaurant critics Alison Cook and Andrew Knowlton, uses herbs and veggies from its 3,000 sqft garden to create simplitic pasta dishes and wood-fired pies— the garden also doubles as an outdoor dining patio. Reservations aren't taken here and the waits can be long, but time passes by quickly with a few cocktails at the bar.

[Photo: Max Burkhalter]

20. Crawfish & Noodles

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10613 Bellaire Blvd Ste A168
Houston, TX 77072
(281) 864-0005
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This is Cajun-Vietnamese fusion at its best. From crawfish and crabs bathed in spicy garlic butter to the piping hot pot soups, you'd be hard pressed to find a dish that doesn't merit a spot on the menu. Although the menu is heavy on the seafood, nuoc-mam-glazed chicken wings and noodle dishes are sure to satisfy any non-crustacean lover in the bunch.

[Photo: Crawfish & Noodles/Facebook]

21. Latin Bites

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5709 Woodway Dr
Houston, TX 77057
(713) 229-8369
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One of a handful of Peruvian restaurants in town, chef/co-owner Roberto Castre's vibrant and modern dishes are as chic as his Tanglewood abode. Beautifully plated tiraditos (think carpaccio), citrus spiced ceviche and intricate desserts that are not only pleasing to the eyes but satisfying to the soul, are just the tip of the iceberg. Peruvian empanadas and anticuchos (grilled veal hearts) are not to be missed either. Go all out and treat yourself to the six-course chef’s tasting menu, but leave room for one of the many stellar pisco-based cocktails served.

[Photo: Latin Bites/Facebook]

22. Kasra Persian Grill

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9741 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX 77042
(713) 975-1801
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There really can't be a quintessential Houston restaurant list without a mention of Kasra. This spot is where Persian families go for a taste of home. The hummus, beef kubideh and dill rice are must-taste items.

23. Pho Binh

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10928 Beamer Rd
Houston, TX 77089
Pho is one of those foods that feels like a hug for your stomach and an ultra satisfying slurp of flavors that hits every one of your taste buds. That (and the fact that it's great for a hangover) has made it a classic dish in a city filled with tons of great Vietnamese options. And this spot is still a local favorite for consistently good pho.

24. Tiger Den

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9889 Bellaire Blvd Ste D-230
Houston, TX 77036
(832) 804-7755
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This year-old izakaya in Chinatown's Dun Huang may be small, but its huge menu filled with boldly flavored dishes is why it's packed daily. Berkshire pork belly and a medley of mushrooms are a few of the items grilled to order from the yakitori, but choices like gizzards, grilled baby octopus and beef toungue are just as appealing and exciting. The main attraction and reason for the long lines and wait on the weekends is the ramen. Three-day-long pork broth made-from-scratch yielding a rich base, coupled with house-made noodles is the basis for the tantalizing bowl of ramen. Try the tonkotsu, spicy miso or garlic black bean ramens paired with a Japanese beer for good measure.

[Photo: Tiger Den/Facebook]

25. Kenny & Ziggy's Deli

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2327 Post Oak Blvd
Houston, TX 77056
(713) 871-8883
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The friendly folks at this Houston classic cure their own corned beef and serve up exceptional blintzes and massive deli sandwiches. This is the place to go for authentic New York/Jewish deli offerings. And the chicken soup comes with matzoh balls or kreplach.

26. Emporio Brazilian Cafe

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12288 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77077
(281) 293-7442
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Brazilian expatriates who discover this restaurant quickly make it a regular spot for authentic dishes when homesickness strikes. If you're not in the mood for a meat-forward gaucho churrascaria, head to this spot for other great Brazilian offerings.

[Photo: Emporio Brazilian Cafe/Facebook]

27. Cafe TH

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2108 Pease St
Houston, TX 77003
(713) 225-4766
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Houston's dining scene is practically synonymous with outstanding, authentic Vietnamese cuisine, so it made sense to include a place that offers that plus some modern spins on traditional fare. Look out for one of owner Minh Nguyen's special dinners. The turnip cake (Banh 
Bot Chien) is a can't-miss option.

28. Étoile Cuisine et Bar

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1101-11 Uptown Park Blvd
Houston, TX 77056
(832) 668-5808
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Chef Philippe Verpiand consistently churns out French cuisine with modern touches in a small but stunning Uptown Park space that has become a local favorite.

[Photo: Debra Smail]

29. Afrikiko Restaurant

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9625 Bissonnet St
Houston, TX 77036
(713) 773-1400
This hole-in-the-wall restaurant is serving the best authentic West African cuisine in the city fit for royalty -- just ask the owner/chef who's the chief of his Ghanaian tribe. A vibrant, hearty and extensive menu is filled with all kinds of aromatic and super spicy dishes for the senses. Groundnut soup and braised goat served with fufu, the sticky doughy ball that usually accompanies soups, are house favorites, but don't be afraid to ask for recommendations or off-the-menu items.

[Photo: Far Flung Foods]

30. Costa Brava Bistro

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5115 Bellaire Blvd
Bellaire, TX 77401
(713) 839-1005
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Upscale, cozy and with the best paella in the city, this Houston spot is a classic. All of the Spanish classics are flawlessly executed by chef Kitty Bailey.

[Photo: Costa Brave Bistro/Facebook]

31. Da Marco

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1520 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 807-8857
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Sure this spot's on the expensive end of the Essential 38 list, but it's a Houston classic from the owners of Dolce Vita and Vinoteca Poscol. Order the artichoke alla giudea to start and follow that with the osso buco.

[Photo: Google Maps]

32. Vieng Thai

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6929 Long Point Rd
Houston, TX 77055
(713) 688-9910
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The Thai food here is authentic, the service is fantastic and it's still BYOB, so take a bottle of wine or a bomber of beer that will complement the spicy offerings here.

33. Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant

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9400 Richmond Ave
Houston, TX 77063
(713) 782-6882
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A Houston mainstay since the 1980's, this Ethiopian restaurant on Houston's southwest side is authentic as it is incredibly delicious. From wots (cubed lamb, beef or chicken smothered in a sauce with herbs and spices) to the kifto (a best-seller consisting of spiced minced beef with spiced butter), the menu offers traditional dishes in their purest forms. Ditch the forks and knifes here, the main utensils needed are your hands with some assistance from freshly made injera, the East African equivalent of the Indian flatbread dosa but more spongy. No meal is complete without a glass of the luscious, spicy-sweet honey wine made in house (also known as tej) or the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

[Photo: Google Maps]

34. Confucius Seafood Restaurant

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8880 Bellaire Blvd, Ste J
Houston, TX 77036
(713) 271-6888
The "888" in this restaurant's address means good luck in the Chinese culture, maybe that's why this Houston classic has been so successful. But it's more likely that the ginger-and-onion lobster, baked and coated with black pepper seasoning, has generated plenty of buzz for this small, unassuming spot. (Two lobsters will only run you about $18.) Peking duck is another must-try dish here, just make sure to order it before heading in to the restaurant.

35. Cuchara

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214 Fairview St
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 942-0000
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It's essential because it fills the authentic, modern Mexico City cuisine gap in Houston. Its contemporary aspect is seen not just in the decor and strong cocktail program, but in the fun interpretations of classic, real Mexican dishes. Co-owner Ana Beaven's bites and "Comida Corrida" lunch offerings offer locals a sampling of different Mexican regions, and the fun, busy murals by Beaven's sister Cecilia Beaven reflect a chaotic Mexico City scene. Just don't head to this Montrose spot seeking Tex-Mex anything because you'll be disappointed.

36. Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar

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3201 Louisiana St Ste 101
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 907-6001
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Chef Mark Holley’s namesake restaurant is one of Midtown's newest seafood inhabitants, but don't expect the same fare from Bryan Caswell’s Reef nearby. Holley's fuses Southern cuisine (specifically Texas and Louisiana) with Asian accents for an enticing menu where each seafood dish shines, like the blackened grouper served on top of a bed of Carolina gold rice, lady creamer peas, kimchi greens. Caviar service, oysters, ceviche and crudo round out other worthwhile seafood options. A wide selection of wines and champagnes make for a perfect complement to dinner or make a stop at Lancelot Bar, where a collection of bourbons and infused varieties (cherry; black coffee and peppercorn; lavender, cloves and cinnamon; etc.) awaits you.

[Photo: Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar]

37. Peli Peli

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110 Vintage Park Blvd, Ste P
Houston, TX 77070
(281) 257-9500
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Located in Northwest Houston's Vintage Park, this upscale restaurant offers more than South African fare. The menu mingles South Africa, Britain, France, Portugal, and East Asia cuisines combining the Portuguese chili Piri Piri, which flavors many of its dishes. Signature items like the bobotie (South African version of a pot pie with curried minced meat, carrot bredie and mango chutney), flame-pepper chicken and homemade boerewors sausage are standouts, pairing well with the robust collection of South African wines. Centered in the dining room is a towering acacia tree architecture that's just as captivating as the restaurant itself.

[Photo: Peli Peli/Facebook]

38. The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen

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2712 Richmond Ave
Houston, TX 77098
(713) 533-0022
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This Indian-British gastropub in River Oaks — sister restaurant to Oporto and recently opened Oporto Fooding House & Wine — is where you'll find chef/owner Shiva Patel spinning traditional Indian fare into clever updated dishes, many of which are vegan and gluten-free. The lamb vindaloo (slow braised leg of lamb in a pili pili masala) and sausage and mash (wild boar sausages, confit onion and olive oil whipped potatoes) are classic must haves. Cozy up to the bar to watch a game of soccer or rugby with one of their fun takes on pizzas, topping it all off with a number of craft beers on tap, including Houston brews and British ales.

[Photo:]

1. Common Bond Cafe & Bakery

1706 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77098
You know you're in for an experience upon entering this carb lover's heaven otherwise known as Common Bond. Part bakery, part cafe, this Montrose eatery is a go-to destination for not only world-class pastries but breakfast, lunch and a weekend brunch — that is if you don't mind the line stretching out the door. Is the wait worth it? One taste of the signature kugelhopf, the bundt-shaped brioche bread immersed in an orange-blossom juice and rolled in sugar, will have you waiting in line again.

[Photo: Gary Wise]
1706 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77098

2. Uchi

904 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
This Austin import serves consistently satisfying dishes in a delightful setting that's not stuffy or over-the-stop fancy. The Brussels sprouts are a can't-miss, and the desserts are conceived by award-winning pastry chefs. Yes, it's expensive, but no one can deny that Houstonians have embraced this Austin import. Between the massive crowds and constantly changing menu, Uchi feels like that rare combination of a restaurant that's both popular and important.

[Photo: Uchi Houston/Facebook]
904 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006

3. Kata Robata

3600 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098
The go-to spot for anyone seeking fantastic Japanese fare, Kata bridges the gap between those who want fresh sushi and those who prefer a heartier dish. It's consistently good and well priced for the quality of food.

[Photo: Kata Robata Sushi + Grill/Facebook]
3600 Kirby Dr
Houston, TX 77098

4. Caracol

2200 Post Oak Blvd Ste 160, Houston, TX 77056
Coastal Mexican cuisine stepped up a notch when renowned local chef Hugo Ortega (Hugo's) and local restaurateur Tracy Vaught opened this Post Oak Boulevard establishment late last year. Pastry chef Ruben Ortega is creating desserts that are a draw in and of themselves, and beverage director Sean Beck knows just what to pair with your baked oysters, lobster and huitlacoche mole-topped steak.

[Photo: Caracol/Facebook]
2200 Post Oak Blvd Ste 160
Houston, TX 77056

5. Hugo's

1600 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
This spot is for those seeking authentic Mexican food instead of Tex-Mex. The upscale Montrose classic prides itself on offering classic dishes that satisfy and enlighten those who might never have had real Mexican fare. Although the brunch receives much well-deserved praise, the dinner options here are the best in real Mexican cuisine.

[Photo: Hugo's/Facebook]
1600 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006

6. Underbelly

1100 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006