First off, this is a list for adult birthdays, not kid birthdays, because once you pass a certain age, you need more in your life than bad pizza, ball pits and giant mice. You need food, booze, cake, glamour and feeling like a king or a queen, if only for a day.
No matter where you choose to celebrate, here’s some advice: When you call to make the reservation, ask if outside cakes can be brought in and if there’s a cutting fee. Sometimes there is, and the restaurant perspective on that is that it makes up for the extra service, dishwashing and not being able to sell the restaurant's own desserts. That being said, some diners feel strongly that it’s not really in the spirit of a celebration — so call ahead and don’t get caught with any unpleasant surprises.
Here are the Houston restaurants that always go above and beyond the call of duty for celebrations. A big thanks go to the readers and friends who shared their own birthday photos and experiences.
10. Prohibition Supperclub + Bar, 1008 Prairie, 281-940-4636
Birthday people, just skip down to number eight. These first two are really for your "friends."
Okay, cool. Friends, all you really want is to put your buddies into hilarious and slightly compromising positions, right? I mean, if they’re getting a cake and presents and someone else is paying for drinks and dinner, that seems like a fair tradeoff.
Take them to Prohibition for dinner and The Moonlight Dolls burlesque show on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Let the restaurant know when you make the reservation that it's for a birthday. Your friend, male or female, will be in for the surprise of his or her life when he or she becomes part of the show. Check the website for showtimes, pricing and reservation information. Downtown parking can get a little hairy and the valet across the street is expensive, so hire a ride if you can and eliminate any worries about having to drive home.
9. Fajita Flats, 2929 Fondren or 11853 Wilcrest
Eric Sandler at Culturemap Houston brought up the outlandish birthday ritual at Fajita Flats. He wrote, “At Fajitas Flats, they make you wear a giant sombrero and ride around the room on a wooden horse. It's glorious.”
The “lucky” birthday boy or girl gets to ride a stick horse around the restaurant while wearing a giant sombrero to the great amusement of the other diners. Waiters spank the honoree with towels, and fellow diners might throw chips and napkins as the rider passes by. As evidenced in the video below, the whole process involves a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’.
If you’re planning to subject someone to this, buy the victim a good present or at least a drink afterward. Actually, buy the drink beforehand. It makes for a more entertaining ride. If you find yourself in this kind of situation, the best approach is to gamely tackle the challenge with every bit of style you can muster. The guy in the video below did a good job. By the way, the horse head is supposed to be in the front, not the back.
8. Coppa Osteria, Ibiza, Punk’s Simple Southern Food, Salt Air, Brasserie 19
Now we get to start the list of places that you, the birthday person, might pick for yourself. Hopefully, you have substantial influence over your friends. All the Clark Cooper Concepts restaurants noted above do a great job for birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations. At the end, the staff will bring out a huge mass of cotton candy with lit sparklers sticking out of it. It’s fun, it’s pretty, there’s enough to share and you can have your cotton candy and eat your cake, too.
7. Tony’s, 3755 Richmond, and Vallone’s, 947 Gessner
Similarly to those noted above, Tony Vallone’s restaurants will often serve homemade cotton candy decked out in sparklers at the end of a birthday meal — enough for a table full of friends. However, they also say, “it depends on the guest.” That means that if there is a special request, they’ll do their best to accommodate. That’s the kind of service they’ve been known for over the years.
6. Foreign Correspondents, 4721 North Main, 713-864-8424
We heard from some very pleased diners who had a birthday celebration at Treadsack’s new Northern Thai restaurant a few weeks ago. We called, and not only is there no cutting fee for bringing in your own cake, if you let them know at least a week in advance, they can secure a cake for you. Call for pricing and to make arrangements.
5. Taste of Texas, 10505 Katy Freeway, 713-932-6901
Kerry Stessell of Houston hot sauce company Hot Line Pepper Products recommended venerable steakhouse Taste of Texas. He says the birthday person gets a framed photo commemorating the event as well as a free dessert. Should diners choose to bring in an outside cake, there is no cutting fee.
4. Cuchara, 214 Fairview, 713-942-0000
Cuchara in the Montrose area is so dedicated to birthdays that it actually makes adorable, single-serving tiered cakes in house called "mini cake toasts." Order them in advance for $15 each. Co-owner Ana Beaven says they come in three different cake flavors and with three choices of frosting made with Mexican liqueur. She says everything, even the bases, is made from scratch.
4. Hunky Dory, 1801 North Shepherd, 713-864-2450
Chef Richard Knight's modern British restaurant in the Heights has unique and artful desserts in store for the birthday person. In addition to Knight's superb sticky toffee pudding, the birthday guest gets a platter of chocolate mice that even come with nibbles of "cheese." There's even a nice card for the honoree.
3. Arnaldo Richards' Picos, 3601 Kirby, 832-831-9940
The respected Mexican restaurant that started life in a humble area of Bellaire before moving uptown to Kirby Drive gets enthusiastic when people come celebrate their birthdays there. Monica Richards of Picos says, "We sing two birthday songs in Spanish and English with live mariachis and get the whole dining room involved! People love it!"
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2. Vic & Anthony’s, 1510 Texas, 713-228-1111
This is the kind of place where no one is going to bat an eye if you pull up in a rented limo with a gaggle of friends. (Just be sure you make a reservation in advance.) That’s a normal happening at this longtime downtown steakhouse. It’s a great place to share a bottle of wine (ask the sommelier to guide you to reasonably priced selections) and a big steak. At the end, there’s a free dessert for the birthday girl (or guy).
1. Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith, 713-522-9711
Brennan’s of Houston is such a great place for birthdays that there are many Houstonians who have kept their souvenir paper chef’s toques. Bonus: General manager Carl Walker assures us the staff isn’t going to corral the celebrator at the table and start singing. What they do, they do with class, and there’s a good selection of Creole desserts. Walker says, “We always stripe the table with gold ribbon and write the celebration message in chocolate on your dessert plate or on a plate of pralines. We also have dessert bombs and Café Brûlot available.” (Café Brûlot is an elaborate spiked coffee preparation famous in New Orleans. Check out the Brennan's of Houston website to see how it's done.)