With patio weather season in full swing, Houstonians are absolutely spoiled for places to enjoy the day outside. And sometimes all you know is that you're in the mood for a patio, but can't figure out where to go. So how do you choose?
Over five weeks, we'll be guiding you around Houston's best patios in several different categories:
- Unexpected treasures
- The best places to bring the kids
- The best places to pretend you're on vacation
- The best places to drink a glass of wine
This week's category: The best places to catch up with friends.
If the patio at Baba Yega were a person, it would be the Queen Mother. No other patio in Houston quite holds a candle to this sprawling, lush, quirky, sunny, wonderfully unique outdoor area that's expanded several times over the years. Even the "indoor area" has a patio feel to it with views onto the beautifully landscaped gardens and fountains. There isn't a bad spot in the entire place, and the Sunday brunch buffet is the perfect way to catch up with your friends after a long week. (It's also the ideal kick-off spot for Sunday Funday, I'm just saying.)
There's a reason that Robb Walsh once called Grappino di Nino -- along with its sister restaurants on West Dallas, Vincent's and Nino's -- "one of the most idyllic dining destinations in the city." Since 1977, the Mandola family has made certain that this little stretch of property bordering Montrose is always impeccably maintained, especially the elegant open-air patio that forms the main dining area of Grappino di Nino. Suggest this patio for post-work drinks with friends, and you'll be hailed as a hero.
I may not have liked the food the last time I was at Tiny Boxwood's, but that's almost beside the point here. You come here to wait in a long line at brunch, talk to your friends while you wait, then linger at a sun-drenched table on the well-manicured lawn and talk some more. The cereal bowl-sized lattes help you linger, and pair very well with the pastries (which, I'll admit, are really good).
This little cafe on the far west side still manages to fly under the radar, despite being open for years and having one of the prettiest little patios in the city. The food can be a little all over the place -- the restaurant itself says its cuisine has "reflections of Spain, Italy, South of France, Greece and North Africa" -- but it's consistently good. Enjoy the views onto the beautiful duck pond and manicured grounds, but remember they don't belong to Cafe Benedicte; those are courtesy of its neighbor, BP.
Hanging out at Moon Tower is more akin to going over to a friend's backyard than going to a restaurant. It's nearly impossible to leave after only an hour; this is the kind of place that demands you meet both old friends and new over endless pitchers of beer, horseshoes on the lawn and, of course, excellent hot dogs. Crawfish Sundays throughout the summer encourage this even more.
When Haven added a patio, it was the linchpin that the restaurant needed to finally cultivate its air of casual-cool fine dining. The cocktail program here is tremendous, with familiar faces like Justin Burrows behind the bar, not to mention the absolutely phenomenal food. The $10 Blue Plate lunch specials during the week make the patio an ideal spot to escape to over a lunch hour with friends.
An umbrella-shaded, brick-paved patio under beautiful oak trees and a terrific beer selection make Watson's so much more than your typical west side pub. Yes, it's owned by Sherlock's, so it has that certain, inescapable Sherlockian feel to it. But it's cozier and somehow more "grown-up" than your typical Sherlock's, not to mention the kitchen is turning out some great pub grub that makes great happy hour fare.
There's sort of an amusing competition that goes on at Sugar Land's Loggia on Monday nights (industry night), when the group that shows up with the most people gets upgraded to VIP bottle service gratis. We don't recommend going on Mondays. But for a great happy hour destination in Sugar Land that makes you feel like you're right in the middle of the city, Loggia -- with its wide-open patio facing Town Square -- is the place to be.
Taking in a show at the Alley or a concert at Verizon with your friends? Turn them on to Samba Grille before the curtains go up, and you'll be feted for your wondrous food knowledge. It's especially fun to sit on the broad patio and watch the lines start to form outside Verizon on the evening of a popular lineup, and even better when enjoyed with some of the best meat in town and wine recs from consummate front-of-house man and sommelier extraordinaire Marc Borel.
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This quote from Alison Cook's recent review of the new-ish burger joint way out in Cypress says it all: "City dwellers reluctant to drive out to Cypress for a Rockwell's burger in a faceless strip mall may find themselves drawn to a night on Love Shack's raffish patio, strung with the kind of clear round bulbs that light many an outdoor table in France." If you were a fan of the old Rockwell Tavern, go find your happy spot once again at the Love Shack -- and bring your friends.