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The 100 Finest

Welcome to Houston’s James Beard-winning, First Lady-visiting, wildly diverse and never-more-exciting culinary world. Tipple and taste the best, and please save room for dessert!

Saba shio with Brussels sprouts at Kuu

10 HOTTEST RESTAURANTS NOW
Caracol
Hugo Ortega, whose James Beard nom this year for his work at Hugo’s was his third in a row, is beloved for his food of the Mexican interior. But his dream to expand to the tastes of the sea went unrealized till he opened Caracol (2200 Post Oak Blvd., Suite 160, 713.622.9996). A wood oven is used to great effect in one hit: oysters, shucked right in front of you, baked on the half-shell with a drizzle of chipotle butter.

Coltivare
Housed in an 80-year-old former bakery, Coltivare (3320 White Oak Dr., 713.637.4095) is chef Ryan Pera’s farm-to-table tour de force in the Heights—with the farm right there on the premises. The pizza with fresh greens and housemade pepperoni is a must.

Liberty Kitchen
Lee Ellis, godfather of comfort-food cool, has hit again with River Oaks’ Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette (4224 San Felipe St., 713.622.1010), a glammed-up, marble-topped spinoff of the Heights’ original. It’s fancy enough for those with a hankering for caviar with blinis, but unpretentious enough to offer a deconstructed hamburger as a salad.

Oxheart
As the new wears off widely lauded Oxheart (1302 Nance St., 832.830.8592), the romantically industrial, tasting-menu-only new classic sallies forth. Chef Justin Yu turns out Napa-inspired Houston originals, with a focus on local vegetables. This summer, he seems intrigued by the downhome Southern trend, offering the likes of mesquite-smoked Gulf grouper with cane syrup and both collard and mustard greens.

Assorted treats at Bite Macaron in West University

The Pass & Provisions
Two-in-one The Pass & Provisions (807 Taft St., 713.628.9020) maintains cred for its laid-back, casual Provisions side—pair pâté and tomato mostarda with Miller High Life—and its bold, buoyantly chic tasting-menu-only Pass, where foie gras may follow smoked trout with hibiscus and rhubarb.

Pondicheri
Lightly industrial-esque and fun, Pondicheri (in West Ave, 713.522.2022) launched highlighting its sophisticated riffs on Indian street food. But its aura has grown: Anita Jaisinghani’s cafe is the hippest breakfast spot in town—masala eggs and cilantro chutney wrapped in roti, anyone?—and its baked goods are so popular, it’s adding a full, separate bakery upstairs.

Tony's & Vallone's
Tony’s (3755 Richmond Ave., 713.622.6778), known for seriously fine dining—with high-end ingredients sourced worldwide, like the Umbrian truffles now being shaved over housemade pasta—has a new baby brother. Vallone’s (947 Gessner Rd., in Gateway Memorial City, 713.395.6100) is a richly modern steakhouse-plus, with the same attention to quality and service.

Triniti
If it’s good enough for Michelle-O... Triniti (2815 S. Shepherd Dr., 713.527.9090), which lured the First Lady recently, continues to offer haute presentations of intensely local food—a la chicken paillard with root veggies and sage cream—in a mod, natural-hued Upper Kirby space. Chef Ryan Hildebrand’s FM903 spinoff is highly anticipated.

Underbelly
Hail to the chef! Chris Shepherd of Underbelly (1100 Westheimer Rd., 713.528.9800) has just done what no other Houston chef has in 22 years—win a James Beard Award as the best in the nine-state Southwest region. His housemade charcuterie, with cured meats sourced from an in-house butcher, have become legend. This summer, he’s serving rich pork belly with watermelon and peanuts.

Uchi
Austin-imported Japanese star Uchi (904 Westheimer Rd., 713.522.4808), now two years old, still reigns as the coolest of the cool in Montrose. Favorites include the Hirame Usuzukuri, with sliced flounder sashimi anointed with candied quinoa and olive oil.

5 HOT ASIAN DEBUTS
Gyu Kaku
Since international Japanese barbecue phenom Gyu-Kaku (510 Gray St., 713.750.9520) bowed in Midtown, the lines stay long with guests curious to try grilling meats, seafood and poultry at their own table. Luxe beef cuts like Kobe rib-eye ($22) and toro beef are frequently ordered, as is the barbecue Gyu-Kaku dinner-for-two with rice, salad, soup, appetizers, three meats and veggie sides ($60). Don’t overcook the delicate butterfish ($6), but do order the mochi ice cream or tabletop s’mores for dessert.

Kuu
Beautiful new Kuu (947 N. Gessner Rd., in Gateway Memorial City, 713.461.1688), with amber lighting, natural finishes and large windows, wows with multifaceted Japanese dishes created by chef Adison Lee, who apprenticed under Nobu Matsuhisa. Favorites so far include truffle Japanese sea bream with salty-sweet cucumbers ($17) and Uni Awabe with sake-braised abalone, caviar and wine-poached pear ($20). To drink: cult and small boutique wines and super premium sakes. Sightems include NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.

MF Sushi
Beleaguered MF Sushi (5887 Westheimer Rd., 832.530.4321) is rebounding after a fire destroyed it last year. Sexy and dimly lit, the interior is much improved with deep butter-colored booths, bleached wood floors, and private tables. Best bet is the omakase ($75) at the expansive sushi bar, where chef Kinjo will amaze you with up to 20 courses. Next best thing: any chef specialty—like yellowtail fanned across a designer plate, garnished with cilantro, serrano and wasabi root (spicy hot!) in lemony ajou ($14).

Nara
Houston has embraced chef Donald Chang’s (of glam Uptown Sushi) newest concept, Nara (2800 Kirby Dr., 281.249.5944), with its Korean-fusion menu and state-of-the-art private tabletop Korean grill room. Entrees of stuffed squid ($14) and specialty sushi rolls such as Shoi, with tempura-fried wild tuna and Mom’s chojang sauce ($19), are equally stirring. The new brunch touts Soju mimosas; Korean fajitas and eggs; and spicy pork bulgogi and eggs ($15).

Songkran Kitchen
Chef Jett Hurapan and his pastry-chef-wife Jira offer cinnamon- and crimson-hued, Thai-inspired Songkran (1101-08 Uptown Park Blvd., 832.582.8445), where guests devour spicy curries, silky long noodles and satays. This summer, try the Saw Leaf seafood salad in lemongrass-ginger sauce ($13).

5 CLASSICS THAT STILL COOK
Mockingbird Bistro
Chef John Sheely has spun off Osteria Mazzantini, but his Mockingbird Bistro (1985 Welch St., 713.533.0200), a quaint, gothic Montrose eatery, still sings. For something different, try the Rohan duck with smoked turnips, kale and orange oil ($36), or wonderfully hearty takes on lamb and other red meat, above.

Benjy’s
The multilevel “new” outpost’s (5922 Washington Ave., 713.868.1131) sexy décor mirrors the hip customers, who love the martinis, nut-crusted chicken in bourbon glaze ($17), and chicken-sausage pizza. Summer’s menu touts an arugula salad with quinoa and plum— and pan-seared almaco jack with local squash and blackberries ($28).

Kiran’s
Highland Village has boomed around Kiran’s (4100 Westheimer Rd., 713.960.8472), an Indian all-star whose rack of lamb gets a rosemary demi-glaze and garlic-sundried-tomato potatoes ($39). For dessert: pistachio kulfi ice cream. Guests may choose a wine from among the list’s 300, or quality scotch or cigars for the patio.

La Griglia
Fountain-bedecked patios flank River Oaks bistro La Griglia (2002 W. Gray St., 713.526.4700), serving wood-fired pizza and contemporary Italian to a lively crowd. Crispy four-cheese ravioli is a mainstay at the vast bar. New dishes include wild mushroom lasagna with Borola demi ($17) or grilled quail in three-pepper polenta.

Mark’s
Chef Mark Cox first brought fine dining to lower Westheimer in ’92 with Mark’s American Cuisine (1658 Westheimer Rd., 713.523.3800). Regulars count on impeccable service, coveted wines, seasonal desserts and specials like sesame-crusted tuna with bamboo plum risotto ($38) or coffee-roasted pork loin in tangerine sauce ($35).

5 CHEFS WE ADORE
Brandi Key, Clark Cooper Group
Brandi Key made Clark Cooper’s Italian Coppa so hot, she’s become exec chef over all its concepts (Brasserie 19, Ibiza). Key cooks tasty yet simple food, with a Southern backbone. “I like making food from scratch, with my hands,” says Key. Best summer bets at new Punk’s Simple Southern Food (5212 Morningside Dr., 713.524.7865) include deviled eggs.

Robert Del Grande, RDG + Bar Annie
A former biochemist and James Beard winner, Robert Del Grande is still the master of Southwestern cuisine. His RDG + Bar Annie (1800 Post Oak Blvd., 713.840.1111) is a landmark for sophisticated diners and socialites, right now serving a must-try striped bass with artichoke pesto.

Jeff Axline, Monarch
A father of the comfort-chic craze (at BRC and then Brooklyn Athletic Club), Jeff Axline has returned to his fine-dining roots as exec chef of Hotel ZaZa’s Monarch (5701 Main St., 713.526.1991). The Cali native creates quarterly menus, keeping staples like the excellent roasted chicken. Summer newbies include double-cut pork chops with greens, figs and bacon jus.

Monica Pope, Sparrow Bar + Cookshop
The Alice Waters of the Third Coast, Monica Pope is known for celebrating local farmers at her Sparrow Bar + Cookshop (3701 Travis St., 713.524.6922). She’s cooking up a new dinner series, Food as Medicine, with indulgent sounding yet healthful courses like wild salmon—and Kobe cutlet with fava beans, herbs and grassfed butter. (Yes!)

Kate McLean, Tony’s
We’ve sent women into combat, into political office, even into space. But Tony Vallone had never sent a woman into the Tony’s (3755 Richmond Ave., 713.622.6778) kitchen as chef de cuisine, until he met Kate McLean. The Houston native, just 29, is, ahem, manning the kitchen now at the five-star stalwart, where current menu highlights include seared halibut with lump crab, kale and golden rum raisins.

5 COOL TRENDS IN SWEETS
A Hole in One!
At year-old River Oaks Donuts (3601 Westheimer Rd., 713.961.9458), stylish moms herd the preteen slumber-party set through the line, grabbing straightforward options like chocolate-frosted doughnuts with coconut, or more adventurous takes like maple with bacon and jalapeño. Look for Hugs & Donuts (1901 Shepherd Dr.) to open later this summer—with milk “on tap”—while Glazed, the Doughnut Café (1333 Old Spanish Trail) has bowed in the Medical Center.

Macaron Mania
Everyone’s mad for macarons—the pretty little French sandwich cookies that come in colorful mix-and-match flavors. The West side’s Sweet (in CityCentre, 713.647.9338) touts dozens of varieties a la lemon-blueberry and honey-lavender, while Bite’s (5172-B Buffalo Speedway, 713.664.2483) summer versions include lychee and, again, bacon. Meanwhile, River Oaks’ Macaron by Patisse (2033 W. Gray St., 713.965.7359) has opened a kiosk in the Galleria, for a French kiss on the go.

We Scream for Ice Cream
Gourmet ice cream from local, small-batch creameries is cool. Cloud 10 (5216 Morningside Dr., 713.434.6129) bowed last year in Rice Village, scooping Chris Leung’s sweet-savory combos, like sour cream with banana jam, and lavender with milk chocolate, both new this month. New Fat Cat Creamery (1901 N. Shepherd Dr., 713.869.1080) is popular for its brown-butter-brown-sugar waffle cones filled with seasonal flavors.

Bakery Bonanza
Old-school, Euro-style bakeries offer a counterpoint to cutesy dessert fads. As 65-year-old local franchise Three Brothers (4606 Washington Ave., 713.522.2253, and other locations) continues to expand and thrive, Common Bond (1706 Westheimer Rd., 713.529.3535) has bowed to much ballyhoo. With a line out the door and around the corner most mornings, it’s quickly settled in to the hot ’hood, pulling warm croissants, cinnamon rolls, signature sourdough and pear-pecan bread from its German-made ovens.

Take the Cake
Cool pastry shops keep finding new ways to slice it—cake, that is. Fluff Bake Bar, a caterer going brick-and-mortar soon, touts the “cup-cake,” a slice of layer cake served on its side in a cup. Petite Sweets’ (2700 W. Alabama St., 713.520.7007) cake pops—gooey balls of red velvet or salted caramel cake on a stick—remain popular. And Red Dessert Dive (1045 Studewood St.) is new to the Heights, pairing cupcakes with Champagne and beer.

5 BODACIOUS BIRDS

Chicken never had it so good! Clever chefs are rethinking the Southern staple of fried chicken, creating a fabulous fad, with twists of soul, sous vide and even Mongolian madness.

Max’s Wine Dive
“Fried chicken with Champagne? Why the hell not?” This is still the mantra at Max’s Wine Dive (214 Fairview St., 713.528.9200, and other locations), even at this new Montrose location. The “famous Southern-fried chicken” ($22) is wearing a jalapeño-buttermilk batter that fries up crispy. The plate gets a heaping of mashed potatoes, collard greens and Texas toast (gluten-free fried chicken available). Don’t forget to gild the lily with bubbles to wash it down.

Lucille’s
Museum district Lucille’s (5512 La Branch St., 713.568.2505) goes gourmet with its generous organic fried “yardbird” ($23) served with smoked greens, mac ’n’ cheese and corn-pickle relish. The chef recently added brunch, and his new dinner menu celebrates summer with squash and grits with arugula, or seared tuna with watermelon, radish and serrano vinaigrette. Pair it with a crisp white wine by the glass—listed from lightest to fullest—like the Santiago Ruiz Albarino.

Cook & Collins
Still new Cook & Collins (2416 Brazos St., 832.701.1973) in Midtown joins the upscale comfort-food craze with free-range fried chicken ($19). The mammoth serving comes with biscuits and honey, garlic mashed potatoes and braised greens. By the same owners of Pub Fiction, the industrial-cool eatery boasts a spacious upstairs patio, deep booths and weekend brunch. Any bottle of wine can be served by the glass. Cheers to that!

Haven
Cutting-edge sous vide-style, or fried up family-style, Haven (2502 Algerian Way, 713.581.6101) is into playing chicken. “I marinate the fried chicken in Crystal hot sauce and a buttermilk bath before frying it crisp and golden,” says chef Randy Evans. The eight-piece family-style fried chicken dinner ($35), comes with red mashed potatoes and andouille cream gravy. The dish also appears as the Thursday blue plate special ($12) at lunchtime.

Boheme Cafe & Wine Bar
No reason to just imbibe at eclectic Montrose hideaway Boheme (307 Fairview St., 713.529.1099). The irresistibly meaty and messy Mongolian fried chicken wings appear to be on steroids ($11), and they marry perfectly with a frosty craft beer. Glistening with hoison and Thai chili paste sauce, the garnish is crunchy fun: toasted crushed peanuts, cilantro and Aleppo (Syrian crushed red pepper). Lobster pizza is also new to chef Rishi Singh’s menu.

5 CULINARY TRENDS TO KNOW
French Fun
Buzzy Frenchies, such as Midtown’s Artisans (3201 Louisiana St., 713.529.9111), are still packing ’em in. Nearby L’Olivier (241 Westheimer Rd., 713.360.6313) boasts theme nights, like Thursday’s “Cigars and Spirits.” Etoile (1101-11 Uptown Park Blvd., 832.668.5808) shines—the name means “star”—offering classics like duck with orange, above, and a seasonal salad with crab meat and avocado marmalade drizzled with tomato vinaigrette.

Inspired Latin
In a U.S. city unusually rich in pan-Latin food, three restos set the bar. Glitzy Américas (2040 W. Gray St., 832.200.1492), above, from father-son chefs Michael and David Cordua, has a whimsical new menu—think paella with sautéed saffron-spiced Rice Krispies. Tanglewood’s Latin Bites (5709 Woodway Dr., 73.229.8369) is a new classic, and newcomer Trenza (in West Ave, 713.526.1414) proffers small plates that blend Latin and Asian flavors.

Go Figure
Some of the city’s best eateries are named for numbers, like River Oaks’ Brasserie 19 (1962 W. Gray St., 713.524.1919) with raw oysters and French fare, above, and nearby Southern-coastal Eleven XI (607 W. Gray St., 713.529.5881). There’s also 60 Degrees Mastercrafted (2300 Westheimer Rd., 713.360.7757)—its foie-gras-and-truffle-topped Bistro Burger goes for $200—and healthful Seasons 52 (4410 Westheimer Rd., 713.621.5452), both new.

Mod Steakhouses
The stately, white-tablecloth steakhouse has been reimagined. Clubby Mr. Peeples (1911 Bagby St., 713.652.0711), above, caters to the young Midtown party crowd with Wagyu beef, and seared scallops with candied bacon, served amid glowing graffiti. Meanwhile, last summer’s smash debut Del Frisco’s Grille (in West Ave, 832.623.6168) and glam across-the-way neighbor Eddie V’s (713.874.1800) remain packed.

Southern Belles
Southern cooking is as hot as blackberry cobbler, as these lovely ladies know well. Ouisie’s Table (3939 San Felipe St., 713.528.2264) has long scored with upscale takes on downhome classics like chicken-fried steak, and now Johnny Carrabba has expanded his empire with Grace’s (3111 Kirby Dr., 713.728.6410), touting innovative twists on regional wonders, above. Meanwhile, at Lucille’s (5512 La Branch St., 713.568.2505), get fried green tomatoes.

5 HEALTHFUL HOT SPOTS
Eating vegetarian—or vegan or pescetarian or paleo or gluten-free or just plain healthy—has never been easier, or more exceptional, at Houston’s hippest restaurants. Here are five to try now.

Corner Table
What’s to love about the Corner Table (2736 Virginia St., 713.568.9196)? Just about everything, from the hot River Oaks location, to the upstairs Oak Bar nightlife, event space, and charming patio cabanas. The vegetable-savvy kitchen touts a vast menu of vegetarian, vegan and paleo specialties. Hits include the organic spinach-and-Gruyere-stuffed chicken breast, and the paleo shrimp with spaghetti squash noodles in spicy coconut curry ($23). Right now, try the refreshing watermelon gazpacho ($9).

Dish Society
Bright and breezy Dish Society (5740 San Felipe, 832.538.1060) by Austinite Aaron Lyons appeals to a wide range of diners, including vegetarians, pescetarians, and the gluten-sensitive. The all-day diner features local ingredients in dishes prepared by ATX-transplant chef Johnny Romo, formerly with Apothecary. Build-your-own salads share menu space with grilled flat-iron chimichurri steak and sautéed collards ($14), and citrus-glazed salmon with avocado-quinoa relish ($14).

Green Seed Vegan
New Green Seed Vegan (4320 Almeda Rd., 713.487.8346), a raw, vegan and elixir bar, started life as a cabbage-green food truck but recently morphed into a—you guessed it—green-hued little brick-and-mortar. The organic, streamlined space is fashioned with plenty of (green) chairs for relaxing over a fresh-pressed juice, raw layered sandwich, jalapeño-laden Big Tex Burger with dill fries ($8), or a green smoothie. The cult followers dig the cauliflower nuggets, kale chips and Almond Joy smoothies ($6.50).

Radical Eats
The dishes at Radical Eats (507 Westheimer Rd, 713.697.8719) dazzle with all the colors of the rainbow. Radical? Yes. A Mexican restaurant that serves a vegan/vegetarian menu is a first in Houston. And the bounteous brunch buffet ($23) just adds bonus points. Pork-fat-shunning crowds munch on refried beans, corn and spinach tamales, stuffed chayote squash, and jambalaya okra, to name a few. Raise a toast with a peach aguas frescas, creamy with a touch of rice milk.

Ruggles Green
Ruggles Green (748 E. 11th St., 713.714.8460, and other locations), Houston’s first certified green restaurant, is still sprouting, now in the Heights. Breakfast is big here with rib-sticking plates of pancakes with jalapeño bacon or a crab and avocado omelet with spicy ranchero sauce ($12). The Ruggles Green veggie pizza ($13) is loaded with at least six toppings and wood-fired. Yes, of course, the pizza dough is made in-house with organic wheat flour.

5 TRENDS IN TIPPLING
Boutique Wine Lists
Smaller wine lists with exclusive bottles are the rage at family-owned eateries—like five-star Italian Da Marco (1520 Westheimer Rd., 713.807.8857), with rare Italian vino. Or sip small-batch French finds at neighborhood Café Rabelais (2442 Times Blvd., 713.520.8841) with your rack of lamb and artichoke pistou ($29).

Whiskey River
Whiskey is turning up everywhere. The Sinatra with blackberry, lime and Canadian whiskey sings at Federal American Grill (510 Shepherd Dr., 713.863.7777), as do bourbon flights. Whiskey Wednesdays at Royal Oak (1318 Westheimer Rd., 281.974.4752) feature bargain Makers Mark 46, and Reserve 101 (101 Caroline St.) was recently dubbed the “best whisky bar in Texas” by Whisky Magazine.

Juice Bars
Austin-based Daily Juice (6401 Woodway Dr., 832.804.9355), and Flow (214 Fairview St., 713.528.9206), a sidekick to Max’s Wine Dive, recently joined pioneer juicers Big and Juicy (3115 Allen Pkwy., 832.675.0977), and Juicy in the Sky (4720 Washington Ave., 713.864.0908), where the Napa has grape, blackberry, apple and lemon.

Tiki Drinks
Craft cocktail king Anvil (1424 Westheimer Rd., 713.523.1622) kicked off the umbrella-festooned trend with tikis on Tuesdays. Newer Lei Low Tikki Bar (6412 N Main St., 713.380.2968) stirs up whimsy with flaming rum cocktails and Hawaiian music. Look for new The Honeymoon Café & Bar (300 Main St.) in Downtown soon, also hot on the tiki trail.

Bloody Mary Marvels
Brick & Spoon (1312 W. Alabama St., 832.530.4957) lays out a Bloody Mary bar with 14 vodka options and dozens of toppers like shrimp and smoked sausage. Arturo’s (1180 Uptown Park Blvd., 713.621.1180) garnishes its Ms. Mary with meatballs; and seafood star Danton’s (4611 Montrose Blvd., 713.807.8883) infuses its version with gumbo broth.

5 NEWBIES TO TRY NOW
Bistro Menil
The Menil Collection’s Bistro Menil (1533 Sul Ross St.) opens this summer with a culinary program headed by Executive Chef Greg Martin, formerly of the Café Express/Taco Milagro group. Martin recently visited European vineyards seeking the best wines for the new eatery, which also touts a craft beer and tap wine bar, as well as a menu of fresh European-inspired American fare. Architecturally, the café will mirror the clean modern lines of the museum.

El Big Bad
Peripatetic chef Jonathan Jones has taken the kitchen reins of El Big Bad (419 Travis St., 713.229.8181) since it moved to larger Downtown digs. The so-called gastro-cantina, outfitted with a second-story patio, specializes in infused tequilas; fresh-squeezed juices; unique margaritas such as the one kicked up with blueberries, cilantro and jalapeño; and Mexican fare. Here at the not-your-everyday Tex-Mexer, chef-driven concoctions include jumbo lump crab tostadas ($10), mushroom tacos, and roast duck empanadas ($9). There’s also an avocado and quinoa salad with micro-greens, marinated tomatoes, charred corn, queso fresco and lime vinaigrette ($10); this spin on Mexican street corn may alone be worth the trip.

Local Foods
The sister of Benjy Levit’s Rice Village Local Foods (2555 Kirby Dr., 713.255.4440), with its artsy cafeteria vibe, is proving useful to the River Oaks ’hood. There’s a new full bar and expanded dinner menu—beyond gourmet sandwiches—which spotlights seasonal ingredients from local spreads like Gundermann Farm and Black Hill Ranch. The harvest salad ($9) includes Swede Farms goat cheese, sprouts and grapefruit. Favorites from chef Dylan Murray’s rotisserie include the spiced water buffalo sirloin ($19), and pan-seared salmon with two sides; roaster Goldbar squash is Texas good ($21).

Pappasito’s Cantina
The famous Pappas family’s Pappasito’s Cantina (1600 Lamar St., in Hilton Americas, 713.353.4400) recently bowed Downtown in the shuttered Spencer’s Steaks and Chops space. This location takes a departure from the typical Tex Mex menu, with lighter fare. Dive into six new ceviches and crudos, including Pacific hamachi with ginger, sweet soy and pineapple ($15). Other seafood specialties include the simply grilled Costa Rican mahi-mahi with cilantro and black beans ($23). You, of course, can still can get your fix of sizzling chicken, filet mignon or shrimp fajitas ($22-$33), tacos or churros at the new space brightened with abstract paintings by Cuban artist Jose Fuster.

Table on Post Oak
From the ashes of Philippe emerges the re-imagined Table on Post Oak (1800 Post Oak Blvd., 713.439.1000). Remodeled with clean mod lines, the expanded bar is a hot spot for the after-work crowd who like to order cocktails from iPads (check out a photo of the Cherub’s Cup with Hendricks and rose Champagne before you order). Accomplished chef Manuel Pucha is dishing stylized layered fare like sea scallops in chile sauce with corn cakes and corn salsa ($32), and filet mignon with Shiner Bock demi-glace and bacon-wrapped mashers ($37). There’s also a flatbread with pulled pork, baked-bean purée, queso fresco and pickled red onions—and seafood risotto with mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp and salmon, heaped onto a base of rich basil-lobster sauce. For dessert, Pastry Chef Jami Kling’s warm, pecan-studded Dr Pepper cake with chocolate ganache comes with vanilla ice cream.

5 BEST OF THE 'BURBS WORTH THE TRIP!
La Balance Cuisine, Katy
Intimate La Balance (20680 Westheimer Pkwy., Katy, 281.206.7974) in Cinco Ranch serves French classics poised with savory and sweet notes—like chef Oscar Hernandez’s terrine de foie gras layered with pistachios and cherry glaze ($16) and duck in huckleberry sauce ($27). Where else in Katy can you get a bittersweet chocolate soufflé with hazelnut anglaise?

Number 13, Galveston
In the new Pelican Rest Marina, upscale Number 13 Steaks and Seafood (7809 Broadway St., Galveston, 409.572.2650) proves Island dining is more than flip-flops casual. Chef Jason Hanin’s showstopping plates include a towering Grand Amuse chilled seafood platter ($35) and dry-aged Akaushi Texas Wagyu steaks ($60). Terrace views, caviar service, private wine lockers and a cigar bar are also on offer.

Killen’s Steakhouse & Killen’s BBQ, Pearland
At Clubby Killen’s Steakhouse (2804 S Main St., Pearland, 281.485.0844) chef Ronnie Killen touts wet-aged, mesquite-grilled steaks—Wagyu bone-in rib-eye ($98)—and roasted bone marrow. Meanwhile, Killen’s BBQ (3613 E. Broadway St., Pearland, 281.485.2272), set in a repurposed schoolhouse, has ribs or smoked turkey.

Aura Brasserie, Sugar Land
Lipstick-red banquettes, woven bistro chairs and modern French cuisine by chef Frederic Perrier make Aura (15977 City Walk Dr., Sugar Land, 281.403.2872) a lovely escape. Highlights include the unexpected wild boar enchiladas and paella-style salmon with chorizo risotto ($22). For Sunday brunch: coconut brioche French toast and local strawberries.

Atsumi Asian Kitchen & Sushi Bar, The Woodlands
The Asian-fusion approach at mod Atsumi (3335 College Park Dr., 936.242.0044) enchants day-trippers and denizens alike. Sesame jumbo shrimp delivered on a sizzling hot comal ($13) is a menu favorite; ditto the creamy spice-tinged crab puffs in orange zest sauce. There are dozens of creative sushi rolls, but the seared Kobe beef tataki ($26) may be the best.