Last year's list of the 20 Most Romantic Restaurants In Houston ended up being such a popular, year-round resource that we decided to brush it up and put a fresh coat of paint on it for 2016. This year’s compilation integrates both new restaurants that have opened in Houston over the past year or two and longstanding classics that readers recommended.
The trifecta of fabulous food, outstanding service and romantic setting often doesn’t come cheap, but some of these places are rather reasonable, and one is even BYOB. Others are definitely in the pricey “special occasion” category. Either way, anyone should find a restaurant on this list that is a good fit for all but the most casual date nights.
20. Just Dinner, 1915 Dunlavy The little cottage that is the home of Just Dinner faces the busy street of Dunlavy, but is so low-key that diners will be grateful for GPS technology. The menu is vaguely Italian, with crowd pleasers like filet mignon adorned in gorgonzola butter, pastas and risotto, but delves into surprising territory, as evidenced by the chorizo stuffed pork tenderloin. The seasonal touches are very enjoyable. Texas peaches, for example, make multiple appearances when in season. The staff is very friendly, and it’s BYOB with a $12 corkage.
19. Antica Osteria, 2311 Bissonnet Former Houston Press restaurant critic Robb Walsh reviewed Antica Osteria way back in 2007, and it doesn’t look like it’s changed one bit since then — not even the tasseled curtains or the bronze faux finish on the walls. Maybe that's part of the charm. The lights are kept low and the pasta puttanesca is spot-on, with a tomato-based sauce that beautifully melds with capers and anchovies (don’t be afraid; these are needed for depth). The prices are surprisingly reasonable as well. One Saturday night, boneless rib eye was on special for $27, and it’s trivial to land a bottle of good Italian red wine for less than $50. People who have been mourning Mark's since it closed ought to try Antica Osteria, where they will find some similarities.
18. Sud Italia, 2347 University What is it about restaurants located in old houses that makes then so charming? Perhaps it’s simply the warmth of a setting that’s not quite so commercial. Either way, Sud Italia is another romantic cottage that’s quite charming and, as the name indicates, a place that specializes in the cuisine of southern Italy. Ask about the off-the-menu specialties (which vary, but could include things like fresh Sardinian anchovy) and get extra points with your date for your dining savvy. On the menu, the branzino al forno, carved table side, is quite showy, not to mention flaky and tender.
17. Quattro at Four Seasons Houston, 1300 Lamar Four Seasons Houston is a wonderful choice for an in-town staycation, and Quattro is one reason why. If there’s a special wine dinner or cooking class happening during your stay (actually, even if you’re not a hotel guest), definitely take advantage of it. chef Maurizio Ferrarese has a grand sense of fun and showmanship, so it’s bound to be a good time. There’s a huge wine collection — so big it takes a dedicated room to hold the thousands of bottles — so it’s easy to find something appropriate to go alongside the many housemade pasta dishes.
16. Triniti, 2815 South Shepherd Hallelujah! The daunting construction on Shepherd in front of Triniti is finally over. That means it’s easy to stop in for one of chef Ryan Hildebrand’s outstanding meals. Even lunch can be a romantic date, and service is reasonably zippy. Food here is sophisticated but not snobby. The flexibility means diners can treat themselves to $15 burgers or $25-per-ounce A5 Kobe steak. The beautiful wooden box of chocolates and macarons with a glass of bubbly or dessert wine alongside is an exquisite, romantic conclusion to the meal.
15. Mezzanotte, 13215 Grant This Italian restaurant, decorated in fiery red, the color of love and passion, has been a romantic gem in Cypress for a decade. The live music on Friday and Saturday nights — which features a rotating schedule of musicians including jazz saxophonist Ronnie Stallworth and crooners Kevin Weishaar and Kareena Lee — can send diners into a seductive sway over plates of lobster ravioli and sella d’agnello al pistacchio, or rack of lamb with mint pistachio pesto. Diners on a budget should plan to visit on Thursday nights, when a three-course meal of an appetizer, petite filet mignon and dessert spoon is only $18.
14. Spindletop at the Hyatt Regency, 1200 Louisiana Let’s be very clear. The rotating restaurant on top of the tall Hyatt Regency building is “sky high” in every way. Dishes and cocktails here are at “hotel pricing,” but the spectacular view is something every Houstonian should see at least once. The nighttime view is spectacular, but the daytime view is pretty stunning as well. Those who need to mind their pocketbooks can hang out in the bar area, nibble on a dessert or appetizer and sip on liqueur-spiked coffee. For a savory option: The $18 seafood-laden macaroni and cheese isn’t a huge dish but was a much more satisfying snack than expected.
13. Kris Bistro, 7070 Allensby Kris Bistro is one of Houston’s best hidden gems and once diners pass through the business-y reception area, down the hall and into the well-appointed restaurant, they'll enter a romantic setting. Any concerns about whether Kris Bistro has changed any since namesake chef Kris Jakob left to start his own restaurant should be set aside. Under the leadership of chef Justin Santellana, who worked alongside Jakob for years, the food is just as pleasing and beautiful as it has always been. It’s obvious he’s been expanding the menu beyond traditional French, as hangar steak with white cheddar and jalapeño Mornay sauce now sits right alongside foie gras torchon. Since Kris Bistro is also an educational facility for culinary students, the fine French cuisine here is often a better value than elsewhere.
12. Arturo Boada Cuisine, 6510 Del Monte It's in a nondescript strip center, but inside is where boundless chef Arturo Boada and his staff work their magic. This is not a quiet restaurant, as it’s a neighborhood favorite with a loyal fan base, but everything about it screams of fire. Flames lick the interior of the wood-fired pizza oven, above which a golden sun has been painted. A wall of gold metallic tile glitters, and the front of the bar is upholstered in supple red leather. As far as the menu goes — as we said, Boada is boundless, so his eclectic menu sports everything from seared tuna to beef tips to chicken- and porcini-stuffed ravioli — and it’s all great.
11. Mockingbird Bistro, 1985 Welch Chef John Sheely has been cranking out dishes Houstonians fall in love with — just as they’re falling in love with each other — for years. The environment, accented in browns, golds and auburns, is sophisticated but warm and friendly. The menu leans heavily on the classics (think red snapper, mussels, rack of lamb and one of the best classic French onion soups in town), which means Mockingbird Bistro is especially well suited to taking a date to when you don’t yet know his or her palate. The imported charcuterie is as excellent as it is underrated. Couples on a budget should arrive early to snag bar seats and take advantage of delectable burgers and finger foods during happy hour.
10. Américas River Oaks, 2040 West Gray As if it’s not easy enough to get romantic over glasses of South American wine and food, the interior design here practically screams “sex.” (For amusement, check out the “bean mural” very closely. There’s more than a little Kama Sutra going on there.) The red, velvety lamp coverings are “female” and the chairs are chocolate. It’s actually all very tasteful and creative. The shellfish soup known as vuelve a la vida and the corn-smoked crab “fingers” are just the kinds of dishes to get couples fired up for a long night. There’s a location in The Woodlands as well.
9. Etoile, 1101-11 Uptown Park Chef Philippe Verpiand’s restaurant is French, but it’s not stuffy or formal. Diners who crave classic French fare should check out the traditional side of the menu, while those seeking modern twists will find "La Saison" (or “the season”) right up their alley. Break the ice with one of Kimberly Paul’s delightful, creative cocktails, then move on to bubbling hot, garlicky escargot or tuna tartare with yuzu vinaigrette, herbs, cucumber and blood orange “snow.”
8. Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella This 100-year-old log cabin is a picturesque Houston treasure, with vast, perfectly landscaped grounds and stair-stepped wood decks. The inside is like a grand huntsman’s cabin. (This isn’t the place to bring anyone sensitive to taxidermy.) The menu features wild game and Gulf seafood, and the execution is sophisticated without being too precious. The six-course tasting ($122 per person with wine pairings plus tax and gratuity) sounds like a terrific way to celebrate an anniversary.
7. Brennan's of Houston, 3300 Smith Many a Houstonian has celebrated an anniversary or birthday or gotten down on one knee to propose at Brennan’s of Houston. Chef Danny Trace and general manager Carl Walker are constantly coming up with new ideas (the sumptuous seafood tower is a fairly recent addition), but the classic dishes Brennan’s of Houston is known for aren’t going anywhere, either. There are many ways to celebrate here, but “The Kitchen Table” private dining experience is especially memorable.
6. Da Marco, 1520 Westheimer Chef Marco Wiles’s fine-dining establishment highlights the fare and wine of Tuscany and there has always been a penchant for stylish service. Servers go out of their way to ensure diners feel cared for, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so often a top pick for date night. The other reasons include housemade raviolo ricotta, egg and Parmigiano-Reggiano (topped with optional shaved truffles when in season) and the luxurious prime porterhouse for two.
5. 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 speaks nostalgically of another time. If you're an "old soul" who loves Sinatra and longs for the good old days, you'll find a glowing warmth in this Humble home. Be 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.
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4. BCN Taste & Tradition, 4210 Roseland This high-end restaurant, housed in a Mediterranean-style villa on the edge of a Montrose neighborhood, is a traditional taste of Spain right here in Houston. Chef Luis Roger is, in fact, a native of that country and the menu reflects his fondness for both authentic, imported ingredients and fresh, local ones, including the herbs that come straight from the restaurant garden. Dishes such as the bacalao ajoarriero, or salted cod with roasted bell pepper sauce, fingerling potatoes and cherry tomatoes, aren’t exactly on the inexpensive side, but the impeccable execution makes BCN an apt spot for memorable date nights and anniversaries.
3. The Pass, 807 Taft The idea of “dinner and a show” takes on a special meaning at tasting menu restaurant The Pass. Here, dinner is the show. Chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan were semifinalists for the James Beard Best Chef: Southwest award in 2016, and their dishes are as tasty as they are beautiful. The eight-course menu is $105. Wine or cocktail pairings will add another $75, so the budget-minded might consider a non-alcoholic beverage or nursing one of the many fine wines by the glass. 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.
2. Tony's, 3755 Richmond Restaurateur Tony Vallone’s premier establishment has been a fine dining destination for more than 50 years and is an important part of Houston history. Yet it never stands still and often dishes reflect the local harvest as much as Italian tradition, such as spigola or European seabass, enhanced with Texas Ruby Red grapefruit. Tony’s is much more approachable than many might expect for a restaurant of this caliber. Service is always attentive and the lovely dining room, with the striking Three Graces statue near the center, makes a great setting for a romantic dinner. People on the west side of Houston might check out Vallone's in the Gateway Memorial City center instead.
1. Château at La Table, 1800 Post Oak La Table’s upstairs dining room, Château, is one of those “restaurant inside a restaurant” ideas that have been popular as of late. In this case, using the secluded upstairs as a romantic dining spot makes a lot of sense. La Table is managed by Invest Hospitality, the same group behind the famous, Michelin-starred L’atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurants. So they know something about what constitutes fine food and service. Considering the high quality, prices are surprisingly affordable. It is entirely possible to have a memorable, satisfying meal for two for $100 — so don’t just save this one for the occasional date night or anniversary.