When you're dining out during the holidays, it simply feels more like a celebration if the restaurant has put some real effort into decorating. Some restaurants in Houston are really into the season in a big way, but the approach varies from one place to the next. No matter what setting diners want, there’s a restaurant to suit every mood and every type of party. From tasteful, classic decorations to an over-the-top Christmasland, here are seven Houston restaurants that accentuate holiday meals with the lights and beauty of the season.
9. Mark's American Cuisine, 1658 Westheimer
As if a restaurant housed in a former cathedral isn't splendid enough, the place has been adorned in evergreen and lights from floor to ceiling. Boughs are hung along the balcony and the entryway is prepared to receive visitors in festive glamour, too. It's perfect for enjoying holiday-appropriate dishes like the Trio of Lamb, heirloom beet salad, smoked salmon and the other high-end, classic fare Mark's is known for.
8. Artisans, 3201 Louisiana
The 14-foot-tall tree in the entryway of Artisans is so striking that it’s easily visible from Smith Street. Inside, the decor is classy and restrained, as befits a fine French restaurant. There are poinsettias everywhere — giant baskets in the corners and smaller ones in the window ledges. It's a fine environment to dine on hearty short ribs and decadent layered desserts.
7. Tony’s, 3755 Richmond
Just past the entrance of Tony’s is a multi-tiered display of hundreds of Christmas ornaments as well as a menorah — a nod to the multicultural melting pot that is Houston. Further inside, colorful arrangements of flowers and ornaments are tall, elegant and tasteful. We'd expect no less from this fine dining institution.
6. Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith
Festive yet tasteful is the motif at Brennan’s of Houston. There’s not a single room left untouched by decor, but it’s not a bunch of gaudy overkill, either. Expect a reasonable number of wreaths, evergreen arrangements and dangling shiny ornaments everywhere, even outside. Brennan’s of Houston is, of course, probably one of the most in-demand dining settings during the holidays, so call ahead for your reservation to dine on genteel Creole-inspired fare.
5. Cuchara, 214 Fairview
Really, Cuchara has an air of festivity about it year-round thanks to the numerous colorful Mexican collectibles the restaurant sells and decorates with. (Some are breathtaking in their artistry, like the throw embroidered with hand-sewn from top to bottom.) At this time of year, a big Christmas tree and giant piñatas add their own sparkly glamour. The warming cuisine of Mexico City seems well-suited for this time of year, too.
4. Hugo's, 1600 Westheimer
The enormous Christmas tree at Hugo's, made entirely of poinsettias, may make you feel a little inferior about the size of your tree. The only way to remedy this problem is to stop by for dinner so you can admire it in person. While there, enjoy one of the superior mole dishes, and if you've been good all year long, you should treat yourself to one of Ruben Ortega's scrumptious desserts or creamy hot cocoa. Hugo's roasts its own cacao beans and grinds them to make chocolate from scratch.
3. Picos, 3601 Kirby
Monica Richards says she and her mom, Janice, spent an entire day just constructing the incredibly tall tree in the lobby. It’s densely adorned with hundreds of glittery leaves, magnolia flowers, ribbons and angels. There’s a very tall arrangement on a table in the main dining room that features live orchids and succulents intermixed with decorative elements and smaller, but no less beautiful, bouquets featuring peacocks and their glittery feathers.
2. Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella
The impressive, huge, rustic log cabin known for its exquisite selection of wild game and wine is a little over-the-top year round, so the decor has to be able to compete. The theme here is “go big or go home,” and there are plenty of decorations everywhere, from the mantelpiece in the private dining room to the light-up deer outside. It is a merry house indeed.
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1. Riva’s, 1117 Missouri
Someone needs to preserve Riva’s, one of the last bastions of old Montrose, forever. It’s a wonderfully old-school Italian restaurant and during the holidays, the displays are utterly amazing. Santa greets guests at the front door. Every single wall is covered in decorations and Christmas lights. In a far corner is an ornate Christmas tree. Most striking of all is the tiered mountain of lights, ornaments and decorations in the middle of the restaurant. You could gaze at it for an hour and still not be bored because there’s so much to look at.
Riva’s owner says the enormous display took five days to put together. “If you think that’s great, you should come back for Halloween!” he said. “There are ghosts and stuff everywhere. The customers love it.” Count us among them.