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Ritual's smoked lardo mashers.

Image: Beth Levine

While many eaters focus on the main dish, I am a starters and sides girl. Perhaps it’s my inability to commit to a single item or just that I like sharing, but I usually decide where to eat based on these smaller sharable sections of the menu, rather than the entrée selections. With so many options around town, this starters and sides addict went on a tasting spree at some of my favorite places to bring you a taste of the best petite plates Houston has to offer.

Punk's Simple Southern Food: Sweet Corn Hush Puppies

A lot of restaurants around town have hush puppies, but they don’t melt in your mouth like these do. I am addicted to these and have never been to Punk's without ordering them and finishing them. Bonus tip: keep the spicy remoulade for the rest of your meal. 

Ritual: Smoked Lardo Mashers

What side dish list would be complete without a mashed potato entry? Known for its house-butchered pork and dry-aged beef, Ritual does not disappoint in this area.  The Smoked Lardo Mashers, with ample amounts of butter, lardo (cured pork fat), cream, salt and pepper is simple and delicious.

Beaver's: Tots 'N' Shots

This starter is as fun as it sounds. Green chile pimento cheese risotto tater tots accompanied with Bloody Mary dipping sauce? Get two orders. 

Pizzeria Solario: Truffle Cheese Bread

This little neighborhood gem of a pizzeria tucked underneath an apartment complex on Wesleyan offers up a great selection of pastas, pizzas and wine. The Truffle Cheese Bread is excellent for sharing, stuffed with fior di latte and fontina, then liberally doused with truffle oil and truffle salt and baked to a warm golden brown.

Beth pe2p3e

Hugo's pulpo al carbon.

Image: Beth Levine

Hugo’s: Pulpo al Carbon

This grilled octopus dish is a must-try starter and also makes a great (if meaty) side at this Houston staple known for its one-of-a-kind authentic Mexican cuisine. Bonus tip: There are so many great starters and sides at Hugo's, it's easy to make a whole meal of them like we did.

State of Grace: Szechuan Green Beans

I had dinner at State of Grace a few weeks ago and asked our server to recommend her favorite side dish. These green beans have just the right amount of snap and spice and complement almost any dish—I had mine with the wild boar rigatoni.

Tiger Den: Spicy Cucumber

From the team behind Aka Sushi House. If you like Japanese cuisine, chances are you've been to Tiger Den, where the ramen alone is worth the long wait. That said, the spicy cucumber is fresh and crisp, tossed with house spices, miso vinaigrette then topped with crispy sesame seeds.

Bosscat Kitchen & Libations: Pig Candy

Bosscat is relatively new to Houston, with its original location in Newport Beach, California. Nestled next to Eloise Nichols in a nook abutting Highland Village, Bosscat features pork very prominently on their menu, and the Pig Candy is just that, candied pork belly bites in rye whiskey caramel that's spiced up with kimchi and topped with toasted sesame seeds. You won't be able to stop eating them.  

Becks Prime: Fries

Fries had to be on the list. Whether going through the drive through or eating in-house (bonus tip: the Becks on Augusta has a gorgeous patio), Becks' basket side of hand-cut Idaho fries in regular or large always tastes fresh and satisfies even the most die-hard French fry fan.

Mala Sichuan Bistro: Funky Cold Noodles

Another Asian staple on the list, Mala was already well-known among Houston foodies, but has gained national attention following chef Jianyun Ye’s recent James Beard nomination. The Funky Cold Noodles fulfills all your noodle desires with Mala’s custom-made noodles, spiced in a sweet, tart and spicy sesame vinaigrette, chilled, then served.

MKT Bar: Chickpea Fries

Phoenicia Specialty Foods has its share of classic chickpea preparations like hummus and falafel in the market itself. But MKT Bar has a less-common take on the Middle Eastern staple. Full of nutrients and a unique alternative to the potato, these chickpeas do not lose any of their flavor after frying and are served with a rich and creamy garlic aioli dipping sauce.

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Editor’s Pick

MKT Bar

$$ American/New American, Middle Eastern 1001 Austin St.

We all know Phoenicia Specialty Foods is the best place to get international groceries in the Loop, but its bar and restaurant is also well worth a visit. Bo...

Editor’s Pick

Mala Sichuan Bistro

$$ Chinese Multiple Locations

Born in China and educated at the University of Texas at Austin, Cori Xiong, the young co-owner of Mala Sichuan, played it safe when the restaurant first ope...

Becks Prime

$ Hamburgers Multiple Locations

This burger chain frequently becomes the go-to burger spot in the neighborhoods it occupies. While beef is the star, the ahi tuna sandwich and thick milkshak...

Eloise Nichols Grill & Liquors

$$ American/New American, Southern 2400 Mid Ln., Ste. 100

Katie Adair Barnhart and Nicholas Adair, the sister and brother behind Adair Family Restaurants, pay homage to their Texan grandmother with the creative Gulf...

Bosscat Kitchen & Libations

$$ American/New American, Pub/Brewery 4310 Westheimer Rd.

The owners may be fitness-minded, but this restaurant that has its original location in Newport Beach is all about indulgence. You might be surprised how man...

Aka Sushi House

$$ Japanese, Sushi 2390 W. Alabama Street

Its fresh sushi and tasty cocktails equally popular, this Upper Kirby hot spot features a single style of ramen at both lunch and dinner: the traditional ton...

Editor’s Pick

Tiger Den

$ Japanese 9889 Bellaire Blvd., Suite D230

This may be the city’s best ramen joint, with freshly made noodles that taste as good as they look and a tonkotsu broth that develops a deep flavor and milky...

Editor’s Pick

State of Grace

$$$ American/New American, Southern 3258 Westheimer Rd.

Diners may know James Beard Foundation award nominee Ford Fry as an Atlanta chef, but he grew up in River Oaks. His high school is across the street from Sta...

Editor’s Pick

Hugo’s

$$$ Mexican/Tex-Mex 1600 Westheimer Rd.

Hugo’s chef/owner Hugo Ortega has been a finalist for the James Beard Award three times; no surprise, as his Montrose restaurant has been the city’s top choi...

Pizzeria Solario

$$ Italian, Pizza 3333 Weslayan St., Ste. 100

Neapolitan pies at this Greenway Plaza destination are available with classic toppings such as prosciutto and arugula, but chef-owner Currie McRee also goes ...

Editor’s Pick

Beaver’s

$$ American/New American, Barbecue 6025 Westheimer Road

Beaver’s, the gastro-icehouse on Decatur Street off Washington Avenue where barman Bobby Heugel and chef Jonathan Jones jumpstarted their careers, was founde...

Editor’s Pick

Ritual

$$$ American/New American, Southern 602 Studewood St.

At this casual craft-beer-and-burgers spot, a partnership with Black Hill Meats rancher Felix Flores ensures that the flesh, butchered in-house, is always fr...

Editor’s Pick

Punk’s Simple Southern Food

$$ Cajun, Creole, Southern 5212 Morningside Dr.

If over-the-top macaroni and cheese dishes aren’t your thing, try the simple country-style version at Punk’s. It’s an old-fashioned, creamy dish with no fanc...

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