Eat, Play, Love

Houston's 10 most romantic restaurants.

There are two types of people in this world: those who take their partners out to eat on Valentine's Day and those who wait for the mad crush of romance to end before venturing back out to nice restaurants. This year, that means restaurant dining rooms both the weekend before and the weekend after Valentine's Day likely will be saturated with flower-bearing suitors. And cheers to them!

I, however, would rather have a special dinner with a special friend on a night when it's a bit calmer — but that doesn't mean I don't want that special dinner to be romantic. Our guide to Houston's ten most romantic restaurants lets you choose your own adventure.

Most of the restaurants on this list are offering special Valentine's Day menus (see Christina Uticone's list with this week's cover story), but you can wine and dine a date here any night of the week and still give them a romantic evening.

You should probably BYO flowers for Valentine's Day.
Courtesy Rainbow Lodge
You should probably BYO flowers for Valentine's Day.
Bistro Alex is intimate and sexy.
Courtesy Bistro Alex
Bistro Alex is intimate and sexy.

10. Brenner's on the Bayou

That view. This is the former site of The Rainbow Lodge, and while I was sad to see that restaurant move (personal bias: my parents were married there 22 years ago), I'm glad that Brenner's has kept up the beautiful landscaping and bayou vistas that define this location. The menu is a people-pleaser, too, in case your date is picky: Great steaks mingle with comfort classics like wiener schnitzel, giant pork chops and fried chicken with grits.

9. Vinoteca Poscol

This is how you do romance on a budget. Vinoteca Poscol is, to me, the most romantic of Marco Wiles's three restaurants — and not only because it's affordable (and not just during happy hour). The two-room space in a low-slung strip center looks a bit weary from the outside, but inside it's as if you've been transported to a dusky Italian cafe rich with ruggedly Continental charm. The tapas-size portions encourage sharing of dishes such as roasted beets or baby octopus, while the wine list features a selection for every palate and price point.

8. Spindletop

Before you scoff at a "rotating restaurant" making it onto this list, answer this question: Have you ever eaten at Spindletop? The food is legit. And so are the views of the city 34 stories below, which you can take in slowly over the course of an evening as the floor of the restaurant pirouettes so subtly that you can barely detect any movement. Some people may find rotating restaurants out-of-date or cheesy; I'm not among them. I love gazing on this beautiful, maddening city of ours — and I love doing it while the sun sets, over a bottle of wine and a seared red snapper topped with a crawfish spinach béchamel. Plus, if you get too full and/or intoxicated (BY THE VIEWS) to drive home, you can crash in a plush room at the Hyatt Regency below.

7. Mark's American Cuisine

If dining under the Gothic arches of an old converted church that's rich with history (it used to be the Dream Merchant; remember that hot mess?) doesn't sound romantic to you, well, don't eat here, I guess. More room for the rest of us. The choir area has been converted into a second-story dining loft, which is my favorite spot for taking in the well-oiled machine that is the floor at Mark's and watching meticulously plated dishes parade out of the kitchen that's tucked behind the former altar. Mark's gets a small black mark, however, for an incident that occurred during my last birthday dinner there in which the waiter rudely snatched and snapped my menu closed in my face after I told him I was too full for dessert. "Well, you're just missing out," he told me snidely before turning on his heel. I probably was, but...tone it down a bit, guys.

6. Bistro Provence

Can't afford a vacation to Provence? Jean-Philippe and Genevieve Guy's precious Memorial bistro is the next best thing. And I am not just saying this because I once picked up a smoking-hot waiter here in my early 20s. There is something intensely European about this jewel of a spot: perhaps its small kitchen with a roaring wood-fired oven or its rustic seating with cozy tables or the sensation of being pleasantly removed from the hectic, traffic-filled urban streets for an evening. Or perhaps it's all of these, with an added dose of plush foies de canard or delicate poussin rôti to really drive the point home.

5. Bistro Alex

Some people may put Brennan's on this list, but I tend to think of the grande dame as more of a special-occasion spot to celebrate birthdays, intimate bridal showers, promotions or the like. It's gorgeous and refined, but has never smacked of romance to me. Instead, I prefer Brennan's little sister — Bistro Alex — on the second floor of the Hotel Sorella in CityCentre. It's intimate and sexy while still offering the same dazzling Creole cuisine for which Brennan's is known. As a bonus, you can shimmy over to Monnalisa afterward for a drink or two by the open fire pit inside the stunning bar, or lounge poolside and take in the view.

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