You know what makes a good neighborhood restaurant? On those nights when I don't feel like being in public for more than five minutes but I also don't want to cook, I can call the place up and order my dinner, then waltz in and down a quick drink before heading back home with my takeout.

A few weeks ago while entertaining friends visiting from New York, we ran late in our plans (which included putting two toddlers to bed). Going out wasn't in the cards, and we certainly weren't cooking. I picked up the phone and dialed Hughie's on W. 18th. It was the right move.

Hughie's is what every long-standing neighborhood hang should aspire to be: familiar, comfortable, and offering twists and turns on a deep-enough menu. We're talking Vietnamese comfort food here, from banh mi to vermicelli noodles and fried rice, but strong spice profiles and commitment to authenticity prevail. The crispy and stuffed cha gio come with lettuce for wrapping, plus fish sauce and a decent pile of pickled carrots. The steamed dumplings hold up well, plus the chili lime soy sauce is a nice burst of salty citrus.

We ordered the rice platter with shrimp, a hearty cool-down with cucumbers, pickled veggies, and just the right amount of fish sauce. That dish became necessary after the shrimp fried rice—not the hottest thing in the world, but just spicy enough to linger with me a while after dinner ended. 

My favorite part of the Hughie's experience, however, came as my friend and I arrived to pick up our grub. The order was ready, but since we were at the bar and the Cougars were on TV, I ordered us a quick round of beers. We drank up—in and out within 10 minutes. We were back home 10 minutes after that. That's my kind of neighborhood restaurant.

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Hughie's Vietnamese Tavern and Grille

$ Pub/Brewery, Vietnamese Multiple Locations

Hughie's Vietnamese Tavern and Grille may be the quintessential Houston restaurant at this point in time, perfectly capturing that transitory moment when Vie...