Best of Houston
With unusually cool and sunny April weather, who can resist lunching on a patio and soaking up some sun? This time of year, it's usually getting too hot to bear, but we've been incredibly lucky to have had sunshine and cooler temperatures the past few weeks.
For me, better weather means lunch under the shade of an umbrella, dinner under the stars, and possibly some bocce and stiff drinks at one of these spots, which feature the ten best patios in the city.
10. The Grove
Nestled in the heart of downtown in Discovery Green, The Grove is an ideal place to take in trees and skyscrapers alike. It's a popular wedding and party venue, thanks to the many private rooms available and the first- and second-floor patios with views of the park and downtown Houston. The second-floor patio houses an herb garden for the restaurant, which serves distinctively Houstonian food with an emphasis on Southern cuisine and products from local purveyors.
9. Cedar Creek
The sign above the entrance reads "Welcome to the Hill Country," and the vibe on the sprawling patio in the Heights is definitely one of Hill Country cool, with live music, local beer and a little bit of that funky devil-may-care attitude that makes Austin and the surrounding areas so fun. It's a little bit country and a little bit city all rolled into one great party locale where folks come out to celebrate everything from Halloween to crawfish season.
Relative newcomer Cottonwood is just what Garden Oaks needed: part bar, part restaurant and part epic patio filled with live music, giant Jenga, bocce courts and dogs galore. The bar has a great selection of local craft beer, and the restaurant serves one of the best burgers in town. But who cares about all that when you can hang out on the patio at one of Cottonwood's many events and party the evening away with kids, dogs, food trucks, vendors and as much fun as the unassuming spot can cram into the welcoming space!
The first several times I hung out at Boheme, I discovered a new branch of the patio on every occasion. The interior space is cozy and moody, but the outside seating area is positively sprawling, and on most weekend evenings the entire place is packed. Strings of lights and any number of random old films projected on a back wall outside make for a warm, inviting atmosphere, while the food and drinks make you want to stay a good long while and soak up as much of the hip ambience as possible.
6. The Tasting Room at King's Harbor
The tagline for The Tasting Room is "A comfortable place to get serious about wine." Emphasis on comfortable. The Kingwood location overlooks King's Harbor, a waterfront village with beautiful views of Lake Houston. Sip some bubbly while you watch the sun set over the lake, or take part in a wine class on the patio and try to pay attention to the instructor instead of the wildlife and recreation out on the lake.
Arguably the prettiest outdoor dining space Downtown, Batanga has a back patio that can make you forget you're in a bustling urban area and think you're tucked into a tapas restaurant in Spain. The 3,600-square-foot space is lit with string lights and dotted with red umbrellas for a charming atmosphere during the day and a more sultry, romantic vibe at night.
4. Brooklyn Athletic Club
S'mores over a fire pit in the winter, croquet in the summer, and always a truck serving as a bar with cold beer and tasty cocktails. These are just a few of the reasons Brooklyn Athletic Club has one of the best outdoor dining spaces in town. During nice weather, every bocce court on the patio will be taken, and young drinkers and families alike will unite in cheering on a favorite competitor. In cooler weather, fire pits and heaters make the space warm and cozy and ideal for roasting marshmallows or sharing an intimate meal.
3. Brenner's on the Bayou
Amid the concrete and asphalt of Houston, it can be difficult to remember that we've got our very own, sometimes lovely, body of water snaking through the city: Buffalo Bayou. And what better place to enjoy it than at Brenner's on the Bayou, which affords diners a view of a particularly lush area of the bayou? It's surrounded by greenery and tropical flowers, and the upstairs Blue Bar is furnished with inviting white sofas and warm fire pits, perfect for whiling away a relaxing evening.
2. Backstreet Cafe
The inspiration behind Backstreet Cafe's patio was a verdant New Orleans garden, and within the confines of the vine-covered walls and beneath the tall trees, you can almost imagine that you're sitting pretty in the Big Easy. Even near the busy intersection of Shepherd and Allen Parkway, the patio behind the 1930s-era bungalow provides a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city — and wonderful, carefully crafted food and cocktails to boot.
1. El Pueblito
The patio at El Pueblito is an outdoor oasis in the Houston heat, all white awnings and white cabana curtains that billow in the wind. The atmosphere can make you believe — if only for a few hours — that you're not in the heart of Houston, but a tropical paradise filled with palm trees and margaritas. The whole effect is cooling, even in the heat of summer, and the combined effect of the great patio and great food and drinks will offer a mini vacation of sorts, even if, unfortunately, you have to go back to work the next day.
Get gourmet treats from Doughmaker Doughnuts.
There's a food truck for just about anything in Houston. Burgers and fries? You bet. Cupcakes and sweets? Heck, yeah. Mexican food? Of course! Asian food? Absolutely. Mexican-Asian fusion? No doubt. Doughnuts? Not so much.
If there's one thing the Houston mobile-dining scene lacks, it's breakfast options. More specifically, doughnuts. But thanks to Doughmaker Doughnuts, Houstonians have another local place to pick up gourmet offerings for their first meal of the day or for an early-afternoon snack (if the truck has anything left).
Doughmaker Doughnuts kicked off its first service a few weeks ago. It has set up shop at Watershed Market, Midtown Mobile Cuisine, Black Hole Coffee House and Mercantile in Montrose. The dark-gray food truck serves a variety of beautifully decorated doughnuts, as well as coffee and cold-press milks from local vendors. After a few visits, we've observed that the doughnut lineup is usually this: toasted coconut caramel, turbinado sugar cinnamon, blueberry lemon, orange blossom-honey pistachio, bourbon vanilla bean cardamom and salted caramel apple. They are yours for $2 each, and according to one of the food-truck employees, the doughnuts rotate between being baked and fried.
During my visit at Mercantile in Montrose, the truck was serving baked cake doughnuts only. After grabbing our Americano and latte (both fantastic espresso drinks) from the newest Mercantile location, my mom and I moseyed over to Doughmaker Doughnuts for our breakfast.
My all-time favorite flavor is blueberry cake, so I definitely wanted to try the blueberry lemon variety. The orange blossom-honey pistachio sounded appealing; the complex flavors of salty pistachios and tart orange glaze intrigued me, so we decided to try that one as well. And we chose the turbinado sugar cinnamon flavor because it seemed like a simple twist on a traditional cinnamon-sugar model. If each doughnut had cost less than $2, we would have tried all the flavors, but $12 seemed too much to pay for half a dozen doughnuts.
All the doughnuts are made from the same batter, which yields a soft yellow cake. I asked one of the workers why the doughnuts were yellow, but he didn't know the answer. Either it's a secret and he didn't want to share the information, or perhaps they're made like the ones from Round Rock Donuts — with fresh eggs from hens that produce yolks that are very yellow. But no matter the reason, these beauties are moist and sweet and pair well with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk.
I did wish the blueberry lemon doughnut had been blueberry cake, but the sweet and tart glaze is made from fresh blueberries and lemons, making it my favorite flavor. The orange blossom-honey pistachio variety is covered in an orange honey glaze topped with salty, crushed pistachios, which balance nicely with the light and refreshing flavors from the citrus glaze.
The turbinado sugar cinnamon variety was not our favorite. The sugar crystals on top were way too big, leaving you crunching on the overwhelming amount of sugar crystals rather than enjoying the soft cake. This doughnut's a beautiful specimen, but the cinnamon-sugar topping definitely needs some tweaking.
Doughmaker Doughnuts has been operating for only a few weeks, but it is making its presence known throughout Houston. Despite being a bit overpriced, the truck's offerings are tasty, and I know I will come back for the blueberry lemon cake variety: This new food truck did not disappoint me in how it made my favorite flavor.
On the Menu
Tableside Prime Rib Service & More
Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette has it all.
I am always looking at pictures of food. One of my favorite pastimes, it's the reason why myTwitterandInstagram feeds(and now my Facebook feed) are crammed with photos of food and why I spend countless hours mentally drooling over pictures of what people are cooking or eating.
On a recent evening, I was doing exactly this when I saw a picture of chef Travis Lenig carving prime rib tableside at the fairly new (it opened in October) Liberty Kitchen and Oysterette. Though I'd been planning to visit for some time, at that point I hadn't yet been to the new River Oaks location.
That picture was all that was needed to seal the deal: I had to have it.
I called my girlfriend Amber at the last minute and made a reservation for that very evening — a Friday night — eager to embark on a prime rib eating spree. Call me naive, but I wasn't exactly prepared for the sight that greeted me. I arrived to a packed house, with stylish guests overflowing into the small landing space between the hostess stand and the front door. Not a seat was empty.
Amber and I, seated to the right side of the bar at one of the standalone tables, were smack dab in the middle of it all. I have to be in a certain type of mood to enjoy an atmosphere that's so lively. I'm more into intimate, one-on-one, low-key places where you can have meaningful conversation. But it was a Friday night, we were there for some girl talk and great food, and the fact that we had started things off with Veuve Clicquot and a dozen shucked oysters from the Northeast made for a very promising evening.
As it was my first time at LKRO, we wanted to get a good feel for the menu, which was vast. The deviled eggs topped with fried oysters were a must-have. One of the signature items, it epitomized Southern comfort — simple, down-home food amped up a notch with a fried oyster on top. Equally delicious was the daily special of U-10 scallop served sashimi-style with a Thai-style spicy sauce, which came from the raw bar.
Did you know that LKRO offers caviar service? An almost inconspicuous line item on the menu, California Royal Osetra caviar is available, served with warm blinis, shallots, crème fraîche and eggs. It was definitely a decadent indulgence but decidedly amazing.
The evening hit an all-time high even before we got to my original reason for visiting, when the chef brought out a medium-size porcelain and bamboo steamer. Lenig made ingenious use of the container, not as a steamer but as a vessel for smoking. Hickory wood chips had been heated and placed in the bottom compartment of the steamer so that smoke permeated the top compartment, infusing a cold slab of A5 Japanese wagyu with a rich, smoky flavor and aroma. The wagyu alone — intensely marbled and so tender you could cut it with a fork — would have been spectacular, but Lenig added seared foie gras on top to make it a blow-your-mind dish. I had to slow things down so I could revel in the moment and commit to memory the taste, texture and smell of that dish — it was insanely crazy, stupid good.
Still to come, because we'd ordered it and had come expressly to try it, was the prime rib. It was everything that the picture I'd seen had promised, and then some. When you order it, Lenig rolls out the shiny cart himself, then proceeds to perform this dramatic knife-sharpening act. All around you, people stop eating and turn to watch as he quickly, repeatedly drags the knife across the sharpening tool, a mischievous glint in his eye. Then comes the moment of glory as he slices a generous cut of prime rib onto a plate before covering it with a ladle of deep brown au jus. An order of prime rib also comes with a choice of sides, and we received sautéed asparagus, onion rings and creamed spinach as accompaniments.
It was, of course, one helluva prime rib. Juicy and flavorful, with a thickly charred, salted outer crust, it reminded me of my first prime rib fine-dining experience at the famous Lawry's The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills years ago. Back then I also had a tableside carving experience, but it was a much more formal affair served by someone clad in a toque and chef's whites and gloves. At LKRO, you get all the pomp and circumstance of tableside service without the stiff formality of a place like Lawry's — much better, in my opinion, and just as memorable.
Openings & Closings
The food truck expansion continues.
It's been a busy time for the Heights neighborhood as several restaurants and bars have opened their doors and some have announced future plans to set up shop.
The new Piatto Ristorante opened in the Heights on April 14 at 1111 Studewood. The location joins Liberty Kitchen and Ruggles Green on the same intersection. This Piatto, like the one in the Galleria area, features dishes from recipes passed down by John Carrabba's family and his wife, Janice's. Both locations feature several new menu items as well, and the Heights restaurant has an expanded bar offering craft beers, boutique wines and specialty cocktails, like a frozen bellini called the Piattolini.
Swamplot notes that the previous location of Country Kitchen on West 11th Street has been transformed into Warehouse Bar & Chill. Eater reports that the new Heights location, where you can enjoy a gourmet burger and local beer on an expansive outdoor patio, will be open within the next week.
Urban Kitchen may have opened a month ago, but the new Memorial restaurant is starting to draw attention for its selection of indulgent comfort foods and lighter, healthier options. Last week, Eater shared the new family restaurant's dinner menu, which features standard American options like baked spinach artichoke dip for an appetizer, plus flatbreads and burgers for main courses. The entrée offerings vary from hearty fettuccine Alfredo with chicken to light herb-crusted seared salmon with a quinoa salad topped with a citrus vinaigrette.
Get ready for another El Tiempo Cantina. The Webster location at 20235 Gulf Freeway should be open by June. It was announced in January that the restaurant would open in May, but the owners are aiming for June instead. According to a statement, owner and executive chef Domenic Laurenzo says there are a lot of loyal customers in the Webster and Clear Lake area, and that was the reason for opening one closer to where those customers live. This will be the sixth El Tiempo Cantina.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Is a food wagon the same thing as a food truck? Regardless, Landry's Inc. has opened its first food wagon to cater events at Landry's properties, and it's serving crawfish. The wagon will operate only during crawfish season and can produce up to 1,000 pounds of mudbugs in an hour. The next two events are at the Kemah Boardwalk April 25-27 at Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier for Crawfish Weekend. Crawfish on the go? Yes, please!
In other truck — er, car — news, Cadillac Coffee kicked off its first service two weeks ago. Whether you're a coffee fanatic or a classic-car fanatic, you'll enjoy this new mobile coffee joint. A 1957 Cadillac Series 62 pulls a 1963 Shasta camper van serving a variety of pastries, kolaches, quiches and even pies to go along with your coffee. Check out the newest mobile eatery's Facebook page for information on where it will set up shop next.
Fans of Marco's Pizza will be happy to hear that the franchise has opened its newest restaurant at 536 E. Tidwell, just one block off I-45 North. The location opened on April 15, making it the ninth in Houston. According to a press release, the company has plans to expand the chain throughout Houston over the next five years — there should be more than 100 Marco's locations by then.
Thanks to a comment from jayc13 in a recent openings and closings report, we now know that Pho LN Sushi Bar & Grill at 8408 Katy Freeway has closed. We called the restaurant, and the phone number has been disconnected. It appears that many diners enjoyed the six-month-old Vietnamese and Japanese place in Memorial, as noted by the Yelp reviews praising it for its pho dishes and friendly staff.