Over the last four weeks, we have been guiding you around Houston's best patios in several different categories:
- The best places to catch up with friends
- 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 fifth and final category: Houston's unexpected treasures.
From the street, you may think that Kata Robata is merely another sushi joint -- albeit Houston's best sushi joint -- in a strip mall. But the restaurant has cleverly carved out an intimate patio at the rear of its space, perfect for the robata portion of its name. And the sushi bar has also been putting on fabulous happy hours there recently, where sous chef Seth Siegel-Gardner occasionally gives away such goodies as roasted suckling pig.
The East End is only quiet for now. In another 10 or 20 years, this part of Houston may very well look like Montrose does today. For now, enjoy the peace and quiet on the patio at colorful Bohemeo's, which also happens to offer some of our favorite coffee and fish tacos in town. The view of the downtown skyline at dusk is unparalleled, and live music at night is always a treat.
Down in Clear Lake, you could easily be forgiven for driving straight past Mediterraneo; after all, the Middle Eastern restaurant/market is in a slightly run-down strip center that looks like a chunk of Cheshire accidentally landed in Texas in all its Tudor glory. But the patio at Mediterraneo is glorious, all rainbow-colored umbrellas and lush foliage disguising the front entrance itself. Go for the sea breeze, stay for the hummus.
As with Kata Robata, you'd never know there was a patio behind M Lounge above its sister restaurant, Mint Spice, out in Sugar Land. M Lounge itself is an opulent bar and lounge with nearly four times the seating of the restaurant below, and that's before you take the massive patio into account. You can't see it from the front of the strip center, which is nice; it makes the patio into its own private sanctuary (although it could do with some more shady greenery and umbrellas outside this summer).
This isn't exactly hidden, although a green area this nice and this welcoming being created out of the old Market Square was definitely unexpected. It's extraordinary to feel so connected with the cityscape around you as you nosh on Niko Niko's excellent breakfast pitas or knock back a few margaritas with dinner. Bonus: You can bring the kids and the dogs; there are play areas for both. And starting this month, movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and My Big Fat Greek Wedding will be screened on selected nights.
From the street, it's difficult to make out Brasil's entrance (it's on Dunlavy) let alone tell that there's a beautiful back patio waiting for you. But it's there for you, breakfast, lunch and dinner (although you'll do good to stake out a table on busy weekend mornings). After you're done with your meal, you can browse through Domy's books and other offerings -- the bookstore shares the patio, more or less -- and on weekends you can usually catch a movie in the evenings.
What's most unexpected about this longtime Galleria-area haunt isn't the patio itself, but how a little Italian restaurant tucked into an awkward corner in a strip mall on Fountainview turns into a full-blown city-style cafe at night, with sidewalk seating spilling out nearly into the parking lot. But instead of noise and fumes from a busy street, Fountainview is usually much quieter, giving this sidewalk cafe a distinct advantage over its busier peers.
In winter, the patio is heated and cozy. In the summer, it's shaded with azure sails and cooled by misting fans. You're guaranteed to find comfort either way, even though the patio itself backs up to a Randall's in an Oak Forest strip center. But as pretty as the patio is, you're not going to notice. The excellent guanciale cheeseburger and stunning wine selection serve as pretty great distractions.
You can't even see Zelko's patio from the street, which makes it that much nicer once you're back there. A giant wooden fence separates you/Chef Zelko's garden from the steady stream of cars on 11th Street and imparts the distinct sense of dining in someone's backyard. The cute cottage in which Zelko Bistro resides just furthers the aesthetic. Order a burger, a beer and a slice of lemon icebox pie to complete the picture.
Did you know you can sit outside in the open-air Burger Bar that's the kid sister to The Barbed Rose and eat more than just burgers? You can, in fact, order from the entire Barbed Rose menu outside and enjoy the steakhouse's upscale food in a much more casual atmosphere. Not to mention the fact that the patio itself has a pleasant view onto a wooded park just off the town square in Alvin, which makes it feel almost like you've taken a short vacation just a few miles away from Houston proper.