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.