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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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$$ 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...

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$ Hamburgers Multiple Locations

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

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

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$$ Japanese, Sushi 2390 W. Alabama Street

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$ Japanese 9889 Bellaire Blvd., Suite D230

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

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

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

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