A visit to the Galleria is incomplete without a meal at the tremendous Hugo’s (1600 Westheimer Rd, 713/524-7744, www.hugosrestaurant.net , $11–32). This open-aired, chic hacienda serves trendy Mexican dishes sizzling with sabor (flavor). Start with Hugo’s signature velvety margarita, paired with a tantalizing appetizer, such as the squash-blossom quesadillas or one of four varieties of ceviche. Entrées range from savory pork carnitas to tender snapper Veracruzana. Desserts are legendary at Hugo’s, especially the options containing freshly roasted and ground cocoa beans (flan, Mexican hot chocolate).
Another trendy spot with fantastic food is Armando’s (2630 Westheimer Rd., 713/520-1738, $9–20). Hipsters and regulars arrive early for the potent happy hour margaritas and stick around for the classic Tex-Mex dishes with a twist. Enchiladas are filled with crab and vegetables, and beef dishes are prepared with savory sauces. Armando’s is well known around town for its tasty sopapillas (pillowy pastries topped with honey and powdered sugar).
More traditional in approach yet equally commendable in taste is Molina’s (7901 Westheimer Rd., 713/782-0861, www.molinasrestaurants.com , $7–14). A Houston  institution for nearly seven decades, Molina’s is the ultimate destination for old-school Tex-Mex. The signature Mexico City Dinner captures it all: chili con queso, tamale, tostada, taco, and enchilada with requisite rice and beans.
Similar in approach and quality is El Patio Mexican Restaurant (6444 Westheimer Rd., 713/780-0410, www.elpatio.com , $8–17). El Patio is also known for its rollicking bar Club No Minors, named for the legal notice posted on the door. The other main draw here is the fajita plate, a steaming dish of savory beef and chicken accompanied by cheddar cheese and piquant pico de gallo. The chicken enchiladas and chile rellenos are also popular menu items.
Houstonians go berserk over Backstreet Café (1103 S. Shepherd Dr., 713/521-2239, www.backstreetcafe.net , $9–24). This wildly popular two-story New American venue is revered for its crafty chef (Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s), who specializes in quality comfort food. Backstreet is particularly known for its “crusted” dishes, including mustard-crusted salmon and sesame-crusted shrimp. The most popular entrée is the meat loaf tower, an aptly named stack of seasoned meat, garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach, and mushroom gravy. Backstreet breakfasts are also legendary, as is the Sunday jazz brunch (11 a.m.–3 p.m.).
Also popular with the locals is Benjy’s (2424 Dunstan Rd., 713/522-7602, www.benjys.com , $10–26), a contemporary venue with outstanding food and service. Things change often here, from the artwork to the menu, keeping things fresh for the regulars and kitchen staff. Seafood is the specialty (smoked salmon, seasoned shrimp), but Benjy’s also serves comfort food with modern flair, including distinctive sandwiches and entrées such as the pecan- and pistachio-crusted chicken with mixed potato gratin. Locals flock to Benjy’s for brunch, and their bloody marys are some of the best in the city (they use wasabi instead of regular horseradish).
Another trendy and tasty option is Mockingbird Bistro (1985 Welch St., 713/533-0200, www.mockingbirdbistro.com , $10–30), nestled in a dark yet comfy historic building in a well-heeled neighborhood. Diners can elect to go small (the “bar bites” offer mini portions of ribs, risotto, and mussels) or large (the entrées are generously sized). Popular menu items include the onion soup, seared tuna steak, pork chop, and steak au poivre. Save room for the chocolate-themed desserts.
Most restaurants in this traditionally trendy part of town have impressive lunch menus, but a few places are noteworthy for their vibrant scenes. Among them is Goode Co. Barbeque (5109 Kirby Dr., 713/522-2530, www.goodecompany.com , $8–16), a funky spot that’s always packed with students, young professionals, and working-class carnivores. Goode’s specializes in classic ’cue—sausage, ribs, chicken, and the signature tender and juicy brisket—all topped with a succulent and smoky sauce. The side items are better than average, including a sweet cole slaw and bitey jalapeño cornbread.
On the opposite end of the cultural and social spectrum is the sleek Ra Sushi (3908 Westheimer Rd., 713/621-5800, www.rasushi.com , $5–15). Drawing a busy crowd of young singles, Ra is known for its stylish social scene as much as its hip sushi rolls. Popular items include the spicy lobster roll, scallop dynamite, and Viva Las Vegas roll with light tempura, crab, tuna, and lotus root. Consider ordering one of the seaweed salads or a more substantial item from the Pacific Rim–themed full menu. Stick around for the happy hour scene at Ra’s Flying Fish Lounge.