Annie’s Café and Bar, Austin
In a Cinderella move, the former Apple Annie’s cafeteria has settled into a gorgeously revamped historic building and transformed itself into a full-fledged restaurant. Dinner dishes such as night chef Brian Bennett’s simple, tasty Bar Steak with béarnaise and frites (a great bargain at $18) and tender lamb shank with root vegetables are bringing diners downtown from all over the city.
319 Congress Ave., 512-472-1884. Open Mon–Thur 7 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri 7–midnight, Sat 8–midnight. Closed Sun. anniescafebar.com/appleannies
Chef David Garrido has defined a new genre–the classy taquería–with this casual but well-turned-out dining venue beside a palm-shaded patio high above Shoal Creek. From the small-plate menu, you can go traditional (Garrido’s famous batter-fried oysters with sweet habanero aioli) or modern (tender pink lamb pops with a side of russet-hued garlic–ancho chile sauce).
360 Nueces, 512-320-8226. Open Mon–Wed 11–10, Thur & Fri 11–11, Sat 10–11, Sun 10–10. garridosaustin.com
Justine’s is the Ikea of French bistros, offering adequate quality, good prices, and an engaging style. Young people have made the tall, très charmant red dining room a resounding hit: They quaff wine, devour chef Josh Lopez’s tender-enough steak with frites, and dream of their first trip to Paris.
4710 E. Fifth, 512-385-2900. Dinner Wed–Mon 6–1:30 a.m. Closed Tue. justines1937.com
Bailey’s Prime Plus—Park Lane, Dallas
The mission of a steakhouse is to sell comfort food to rich people. So if you’ve got some money, honey, head to palatial Bailey’s for chef Israel Voirin’s Steak and Cake, a gorgeously charred, perfectly cooked six-ounce filet sided by a crisp-crusted sautéed lump-crab cake. You can save tomorrow.
8160 Park Ln., east of N. Central Expy. ( U.S. 75), 214-750-8100. Lunch 7 days 11–3. Dinner Sun–Thur 5–10, Fri & Sat 5–midnight. baileysprimeplus.com
The most spectacular things at this darling of the Henderson Avenue set are the funky, un-Dallasy vibe and chef Marc Cassel’s ginger-scented mussels with shiitakes in champagne broth. The menu could use focusing, but the mac and cheese with smoked Gouda, ancho chiles, and mushrooms will still make your day.
1921 N. Henderson Ave., 214-824-3343. Dinner Sun, Tue, & Wed 5:30–10, Thur–Sat 5:30–11. Brunch Sun 11–2:30. Closed Mon.
Block 7 Wine Company, Houston
No mere afterthought, the menu at Block 7 goes beyond wine bar basics with well-prepared entrées like Kobe hanger steak in a bone-marrow-enriched bordelaise sauce. Garage doors roll up in the summer to connect the expansive deck to the industrially chic dining room.
720 Shepherd Dr., 713-572-2565. Dinner Tue & Wed 4–midnight, Thur–Sat 4–1 a.m., Sun 4–11. Closed Mon. block7wineco.com
Restaurant Insignia, San Antonio
Local wunderkind Jason Dady has made the light, airy restaurant and bar at the Fairmount Hotel his latest playground, globe-hopping from a barbacoa-and-avocado pizza to a brisket burger on an English muffin to chicken and waffles in maple gravy.
Fairmount Hotel, 401 S. Alamo, 210-223-0401. Open Sun–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–11.