When wooing a new love, basking in the warmth of a longterm relationship or even just having quiet time with a friend, everyone needs places to go that promise to be intimate and classic. Excellent service and minimal dining distractions are a must.
Many restaurants on this list are longtime Houston classics that have their routines down. There is no waffling or experimentation—these are already committed and know how to provide an excellent experience. A few relative newcomers on the scene have happily given Houston some more modern choices on where to spark some flames. All 20 give couples a good chance for side of romance with their meal.
20. Quattro, 1300 Lamar It's not hard to have a romantic dinner in a room adorned in lush red upholstery and punctuated in glassy gold and blue. Dine on traditional Italian fare like Vitello e Tonno Tonnato (cold sliced veal with mayonnaise sauce) or modern creations like whiskey-braised short ribs, while looking out at the streets of downtown Houston. By the way, it's located in Four Seasons Hotel Houston, the granddaddy of high-class, full service hotels (hint, hint).
19. Backstreet Café, 1103 S. Shepherd When the weather is fair, Houston's restaurant patios sing their siren songs. The one at the old home where Backstreet Café is located has bubbling fountains (often with a few birds splashing away in them), patio umbrellas and huge trees overhead. It's as appealing at night as it is during the day for staging a getaway from the bustling streets just outside the door.
18. Le Mistral, 1400 Eldridge Here's one of the best romantic dinner splurges: book the Chef's Table at Le Mistral. It's located in a private room just off the kitchen where chef David Denis and his staff cook guests a French meal specifically to their tastes. Even if you don't want to splurge on private dining, a meal of seared foie gras, duck breast and French wine have a good chance of kindling the flames of romance.
17. Spindletop at the Hyatt Regency, 1200 Louisiana If you haven't been to Spindletop in a while, it's time to go back to this rotating restaurant for more than just the stunning view of downtown. The menu has taken on a Texan bent in recent months, featuring vegetable soup with produce sourced from Atkinson Farm and Seared Mahi Mahi with Mesquite-Smoked Fingerling Potatoes and Tito's Vodka-Infused Texas Grapefruit Sauce. But yeah, that view will still take your breath away.
16. Brennan's of Houston, 3300 Smith This Creole restaurant may have evolved from the original Brennan's in New Orleans, but it is a beloved part of Houston's consciousness. Whether enjoying the famous Turtle Soup or sipping one of the many reasonably-priced cocktails, it's not hard to lose your head here. Don't forget to grab a rich, sweet praline on the way out for a last, memorable taste.
15. Kiran's, 4100 Westheimer Chef Kiran Verma pretty much introduced fine-dining Indian restaurants as a concept to Houston with her first location, Ashiana. Her subsequent place, Kiran's on Westheimer, is a beacon of sophistication without the horrid dumbing-down of authentic flavors seen at too many other "nice" restaurants that serve the native cuisine of other countries. Sure, if you're afraid of spice they can point you to milder territory, but didn't you come here to feel some heat?
14. Mark's American Cuisine, 1658 Westheimer Open since 1997, Mark's has become a Houston classic. Part of its ambiance comes from being housed in a gorgeous 1920s church. While entrées tend to lean toward the Continental American side, appetizers (like the Spiced Tourchon & Seared Hudson Valley foie gras duo) and desserts (such as the Assorted Mignardise of Miniature House Made Pastries, Mini Bites & Confections) are spectacular. Sommelier Cathy Nguyen's wine list is much more adventurous than you might expect. Sure, there's Napa Cabernet there, but do yourself a favor and take a guided adventure for an evening that's memorable in more ways than one.
13. Triniti, 2815 S. Shepherd It's a joy to be able to say, "Just look for the big, red sign on Shepherd!" New signage is just one of the tweaks and reinventions over the last two years that have turned Triniti into the Restaurant That Could. Sophisticated yet playful dishes, like Hamachi 'Pastrami' with sweet potato? gel, cranberry, endive, wax bean, and sweet and sour, keep regulars coming back for more. For a romantic meal, go for the eight-course chef's tasting menu. There's even a six-course vegetarian option.
12. Mockingbird Bistro, 1985 Welch Chef John Sheeley's intimate restaurant is full of dark woods and an ornate, carved bar holds down one side of the room. The rich, slow-roasted onion soup with its thick crouton and preponderance of gruyere is all anyone could want from it while the Choucroute D'alsace—roasted pork loin, boudin blanc, pork belly, sauerkraut, green beans and potato confit—will make you think you and your date somehow accidentally ended up in France.
11. Américas River Oaks, 2040 West Gray If there was a restaurant actually created for dating, this might be it. The interior décor simply screams sex. Actually, some of the textured décor in reds, deep browns and creams is indeed based on intimacy. The Latin American cuisine will keep the flames going right down to the end, with desserts like Delirio De Chocolate— chocolate truffle cake, hazelnut chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache, chocolate meringue, espresso cajeta—perfect for capping off the evening. They suggest pairing port with that dessert and we think that sounds perfect.
10. Etoile, 1101-11 Uptown Park After dining here, you might be confused about who you fell in love with — Etoile or your date. Perhaps it was both. This is no stuffy old French restaurant, thanks in part to a split menu. "La Saison" is the menu that changes with the seasons while La Tradition has those dishes you count on seeing —Coq au Vin (chicken with wine) and Filet de Boeuf au Poivre (peppercorn beef filet), for example. You might find some surprises here too, like the $20 whiskey flights.
9. Au Petit Paris, 2048 Colquitt Many Houston diners probably don't know about this sweet little house just off of Shepherd. The two dedicated French chefs that run the place aren't the type that just supervise a kitchen pass; they actually do the cooking in the modest kitchen. Au Petit Paris has all the accoutrements you would want from a traditional French place—dim, romantic lighting, escargots on the menu and Floating Island for dessert. Be aware that the sensibilities here are more European than American—for example, the tables are rather close together. The entrées on the menu are always good for a chuckle only because they're so intensely earnest and descriptive, like, "Extremely Tender Beef Cheeks (Slowly Braised For 8 Hours) Served With Chive Puree De Pommes De Terre, Glazed Carrots & Broccolis Sautéed In Olive Oil."
8. Kris Bistro, 7070 Allensby If you're the practical joker type, this is great for playing a joke on your significant other, who will never believe what's inside. Drive up to the somewhat nondescript white brick building that houses Culinary Institute LeNôtre and enjoy the bewildered "Where have you taken me?" expression. Then watch confusion turn to delight as you walk into one of the best-kept romantic dining secrets in town: Kris Bistro. The restaurant is staffed by students as well as their watchful mentors and boasts not only reasonably priced French classics but one of the best charcuterie programs in Texas.
7. Radio Milano, 800 Sorella Not much has changed with the interior since Bistro Alex became Radio Milano, and that's just fine. Rough-hewn wooden planks are mounted to the ceiling and the surrounding walls are all made of glass. Every dish here is rather sexy, like the long, burgundy strands of Beet Ribbons and the Tagliatelle with uni cream and lobster. Don't dare leave without trying dessert. Chef Jose Hernandez started out in pastry before becoming an executive chef. The Tar Tufo, a globe of pistachio ice cream enrobed in a light, crunchy chocolate shell, is worth every decadent calorie.
6. Tony's, 3755 Richmond What girl (or guy) doesn't want to be able to say their date was at Tony's? It's hosted seven Presidents and is practically the definition of fine dining in Houston. Then there's the visual appeal, like the towering sculpture in the dining room called "The Three Graces" and the glistening water wall across from the bar. Wait, we haven't even gotten to the food yet, like the center-cut Colorado lamb chops or the Cernia Al Barolo—seared Red Snapper with super-lump crab, creamed haricot vert, almonds and leek fondue. If you're closer to the West side of town, check out the newer sibling restaurant, Vallone's. There, a booth is recommended for top romance potential.
5. BCN Taste & Tradition, 4210 Roseland It is said that Spanish blood runs hot. You and your date may feel some heat yourselves after a few of BCN's elegant variations on gin and tonic or a bottle of reasonably-priced Spanish wine. Service here is excellent, as is the emphasis on high-quality ingredients in preparations such as the poached, salt-preserved cod topped with saffron aioli torched to a golden brown.
4. Da Marco, 1520 Westheimer Da Marco is "old school" in a good way. It could teach other restaurants a thing or two about service. It's not only the kind of place that will bring your entrée under a domed lid and present it to you—it's the kind of place that won't serve your meal until you've returned to your table, should you have needed to step away.
3. Chez Nous, 217 South Avenue G, Humble There's something about servers in black, long-sleeved jackets and starched white shirts wheeling out trays of dishes under domed lids that speak nostalgically of another time. If you're an "old soul" that loves Sinatra and longs for the good old days, you'll find a glowing warmth in this Humble home. Make sure to request a soufflé when ordering the rest of your meal. They take some time to prepare and you will want one of these poofy delights at the end of your meal.
The natural beauty that abounds in and around this 100-year-old log cabin makes you feel like you've been swept away to a huntsman's manor. Here, even the salads are decadent, like the half shell lobster salad with—that's right—half of a carved lobster tail comingling with orange segments, shaved cucumber, and sesame-honey-mustard dressing. Esoteric entrées like elk chops complete the feeling that you might have a pumpkin carriage and mice horsemen waiting outside.
1. The Pass, 807 Taft If you enjoy romance dappled with sophistication and drama, the fine dining half of The Pass & Provisions will be your favorite fancy date spot. Whether you go all the way with the eight-course tasting menu or hold back a bit with the five-course, there's something for everyone, even vegetarians. Sometimes, The Pass proves concepts like the potential elegance of salsify when paired with caviar. Other times, it delves into gastronomic wonderlands, like intertwined, gravity-defying pyramids of dehydrated root vegetables. Dishes rotate regularly, cumulating in a complete menu change on a quarterly basis. So, pace visits a few months apart and there will be a whole new set of surprises in-store.