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Eat, Play, Love

Houston's 10 most romantic restaurants.

6. Cafe Red Onion

The last of the Cafe Red Onions that once dotted the city, this U.S. 290 location was always the best spot, anyway. Chef Rafael Galindo's cuisine is still as good as it ever was, with dishes such as his signature Chicken Brazil (marinated in beer, jalapeño and honey before being grilled and served with queso and fried eggplant) drawing rave reviews.

5. Pho Dalat

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.

You don't go to Pho Dalat for the pho. You go for everything else: the head-on shrimp hot pot, the crispy whole fried catfish, the bun with chargrilled pork and the welcoming atmosphere tucked into an unlikely strip center location just off West Tidwell and 290. Pho Dalat is BYOB, and the friendly service encourages you to pack a cooler of beers, unwind and enjoy your Vietnamese feast at a leisurely pace (and a low price).

4. Shepherd Park Draught House

Shepherd Park Draught House specializes in above-average pub grub and local craft beers, which is becoming a welcome trend in the Garden Oaks/Oak Forest area. Happy-hour specials let you enjoy beer and wine on the cheap, while late-night hours ensure that locals don't have to venture inside the Loop to find something good to eat on a weekend evening. Burgers are your best bet here, as is the Sunday-morning brunch that's perfect for fighting rock-star-size hangovers. The walls are covered in rock paraphernalia, including a section plastered in classic punk and hardcore flyers, some from Houston's own sweaty shows.

3. Little Bitty Burger Barn

The name doesn't lie — the place truly is little bitty, but the burgers aren't. Little Bitty Burger Barn is known for big, juicy, two-handed burgers and for its wings. Both the burgers and wings can be made with the scalding hot, housemade Nitro sauce, which will singe the hairs right off your chest (and once left me in tears for 30 minutes after eating only one wing). The wings are truly best here when tossed in the house-made Buffalo sauce and cooled off with a thick chocolate malt. As a bonus, if you're drinking a pint at Crazy J's across the street — also owned by Little Bitty Burger Barn — you can order food from LBBB and have it delivered to you at no extra cost.

2. Petrol Station

One of Houston's first full-scale craft beer bar is still its most respected if a little worn around the edges from years of cask-tappings and vertical tastings. And though it's greatly expanded from its initial days as a beer bar tucked into a converted neighborhood gas station, Petrol is still as friendly and cozy as ever — even though the backyard and the menu have both grown. Under chef and partner Darren Greenwood, that menu is better than ever and includes new favorites such as a grilled Gouda and crab sandwich and beef stew cooked with Left Hand Milk Stout.

1. Plonk Beer & Wine Bistro

Despite the departure of chef Erin Smith a few months ago, Plonk has remained at the top of our list for several reasons: owner Scott Miller's tremendous wine list, its status as the unofficial clubhouse of GO/OF and its continually good food. A patio that beckons in hot or cold weather draws neighborhood residents every night of the week, while the quirky interior boasts two private dining rooms and a wine locker out of every oenophile's dreams. And oh, that food: pizzas straight out of its 3,600-pound stone oven, Cataplana mussels with freshly baked focaccia bread and one of the best burgers in the city.
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RESTAURANT NEWS

OPENINGS AND CLOSINGS
The Heights heats up while Le Peep bids adieu.

KATHARINE SHILCUTT

The eerily silent Shepherd Plaza is now even dimmer this week after longtime tenant Le Peep closed up shop and vacated its space next to Amy's Ice Cream. Branches of the brunch spot are still open in Rice Village and the Galleria, according to a sign out front. Amy's and its other neighbor, Freebirds, are the only remaining big-name tenants in the once-bustling shopping center. A Tuesday Morning (not great for brunch) and the Stag's Head Pub occupy parts of the rear portion, but Shepherd Plaza simply ain't what it used to be.

Meanwhile, another strip of land is quickly being vacated as well: The Dessert Gallery on Post Oak has closed months after the neighboring Maggie Rita's (which took over an old Ninfa's location) shut its doors. The Dessert Gallery on Kirby remains in business.

And in barbecue news, Thelma's appears to have closed its doors for good. In its place is a trailer called Abdel's BBQ, which is self-described on Twitter as "a small black owned bbq bussiness thats hopefully gonna blow up...God willing" [sic]. Yes, but will Abdel's have any of Thelma's's signature attitude?

In more openings news, look for a slate of new restaurants headed to the Heights soon. In addition to his upcoming cantina on White Oak and Studewood, Ken Bridge tells CultureMap that he also plans to expand his Pink's Pizza chain into Bellaire and the University of Houston area. But that's not all.

Eater Houston reports that Bradley Ogden, the James Beard Award-winning "genius" chef with at least 15 other restaurants under his belt, is bringing two more to Houston: Funky Chicken and Bradley's Fine Diner. Both will be located just south of I-10 near the new Walmart. As its name would indicate, Funky Chicken will serve chicken — and a lot of it — while Bradley's Fine Diner aims to offer upscale comfort food.

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