When the weather is blessedly mild, Houstonians go running, not for the hills but for the best restaurant patios in the city. We've gathered 20 of Houston's best and ranked them not just for their good looks but for the food and service as well. Take a look, and be sure to make reservations for the ones that are fine-dining establishments. You won't be the only one wanting to secure a place in the sun.
20. Sparrow Bar + Cookshop, 3701 Travis
Chef Monica Pope's restaurant has been a haven within Midtown for years, even when it was previously T'afia. Choose sun or shade on the partially covered patio adorned in lush greenery. Some of that greenery is functional, as the restaurant grows its own small selection of fresh herbs. The Garden Gin & Tonic, with dill, bay, lemon rosemary cubes and cucumber-infused Texas gin, seems like the perfect drink to match the outdoor setting. There's a vegan- and vegetarian-friendly menu that doesn't forget about meat lovers, either.
While you can't exactly dine in the garden, you can certainly dine next to it and still enjoy its utilitarian beauty. Get there early or expect to wait. True story: We waited for an hour on a cold Saturday night in January and still thought the food made it totally worthwhile. Chef Ryan Pera recently won Food & Wine magazine's The People's Best New Chef honor for the Southwest region.
18. Hubcap Grill, 1133 West 19th
When the weather is nice, Houstonians flock to Hubcap Grill's Heights location by the dozens. The place is more patio and backyard than building anyway. Although wait times for the nationally acclaimed burgers grow as more people show up, it's just not a problem to hang out on the picnic benches and enjoy a cold brew in the interim. Good things are worth waiting for. Check the Hubcap Grill Twitter feed before you go. Owner Ricky Craig is good about posting if there's a long wait.
17. El Real Tex-Mex, 1201 Westheimer
It's not that it's fancy — quite the opposite — but whenever there's a festival or parade on Westheimer, this is the coveted spot from which to watch the world go by — or the parade, as the case may be. Besides, crunchy, layered enchiladas and margaritas are best consumed in the open air anyway. If it starts getting too warm, cool off by meandering upstairs to take a look at the museum of Tex-Mex restaurant history curated by co-owner, cookbook author and former Houston Press restaurant critic Robb Walsh.