Top 10 Most Romantic Restaurants in Houston

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It's that time of year again, Houston! Love is in the air!

No wait, that's just the smell of the refineries surrounding our fair city. No matter. This year, Valentine's Day falls on a Friday, which means couples will be out in force all weekend jockeying each other for prime seats at one of the many local restaurants featuring three-day Valentine's Day specials.

For those of us who would rather not be surrounded by teens on first Valentine's Day outings at restaurants their parents are paying for or sit near that one couple from the gym whose PDA is out of control, the holiday is a day to stay in and nurse a bottle of wine with our cat someone we love. But once the crowds go home and the lovey-dovey feelings and gestures subside (until the next February 14), that's when I want to go out. All of the romance, none of the kissy crowds.

So grab your special someone (though please note that cats aren't allowed at any dining establishments) and check out some of Houston's most romantic restaurants, sure to recreate that lovin' feeling any day of the year.

Honorable mention: Mark's American Cuisine, Kris Bistro, Osteria Mazzantini, Kiran's, Frank's Americana Revival.

10. Backstreet Cafe Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught's "New American Bistro" is a great date spot not only because the diverse menu featuring everything from southern classics to re-imagined Italian dishes is so well-executed, but also because of the gorgeous outdoor seating area, which is reminiscent of a New Orleans patio. There are tall trees whose branches hang languidly over white cloth-covered tables and vine-covered trellises lit with soft spotlights to create a romantic and intimate atmosphere.

9. Latin Bites I once ate at Latin Bites with my mother, and somehow the food, service and décor managed to make even that meal feel like a date (though a weird one). The small, intricate appetizers are ideal for sharing, while a few pisco sours -- the national drink of Peru -- will get you a little loosened up. Many tables seat only two, so there's no room for any third wheels who want to tag along. The atmosphere is very sleek and modern, but the food is all beautiful interpretations of classic Peruvian dishes. No need for a whole vacation. Just spend an evening at Latin Bites.

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8. Dolce Vita Though Da Marco is the most upscale (and expensive) of Marco Wiles's restaurants, I prefer Dolce Vita's more relaxed atmosphere, low lighting and tables crowded together. I know, I know, sitting close to your neighbor doesn't sound super romantic, but the style of seating is very similar to what you might find in an Italian trattoria, and that is romantic. Make a reservation for later in the evening, and you'll avoid the families with small children while you sip wine and share a bowl of pasta, Lady and the Tramp style. The pizza is the best in town, and the prices are reasonable enough that you can afford to splurge on some great Italian wine.

7. Brasserie 19 This River Oaks French restaurant seamlessly blends classic French luxury with a modern aesthetic for a sophisticated dining experience with an emphasis on brasserie-style cuisine. Brasserie 19 is a particularly charming spot for a brunch date, where traditional crêpes and croque madames join lemon ricotta pancakes and some of the best seafood towers in Houston. There's no dress code, but you'll want to class it up a bit to keep up with the well-dressed Joneses sipping Champagne with their profiteroles in the airy, white dining room glittering with warm, round lights and bottles of wine.

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6. Jasper's With a modern but cozy outdoor patio featuring a fireplace and tea candles for lighting and a contemporary interior with tables for large parties or a lovey-dovey pair, Jasper's takes comfort dining to another level. The menu features upscale twists on classic southern comfort food like prosciutto-wrapped shrimp and grits and grilled chicken jambalaya risotto. Unique lighting around the interior of the restaurant draws diners in, while great food invites them to relax in the plush chairs and stay a while.

5. Brennan's of Houston It feels cliché to name Brennan's one of the most romantic restaurants in Houston, but the fact is, it's a chic space with a serene enclosed courtyard, numerous distinct dining rooms and just enough gilded furniture and white linen to make you feel very fancy. The John Staub dining room is the best date spot, thanks to the rustic brick walls and high-back chairs that will make you feel as if you and your love are sitting on facing thrones. Be sure to order the bananas foster made tableside for dinner and a show.

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4. Cafe Rabelais One of the best French restaurants in town is located in an unassuming spot in Rice Village decorated to look like a rustic French farmhouse. The food is more gourmet than rustic, though, with dishes like boeuf bourguignon, seared foie gras, rack of lamb and some of the best moules frites in town. Service is swift but unpretentious, and the small place -- which doesn't take reservations -- fills up quickly for dinner starting at 6 p.m. Get there early for a meal that will have you and your honey on a mental vacation to the French countryside.

3. Mockingbird Bistro John Sheely's Mediterranean and American restaurant is known for two things: quality interpretations of simple, classic dishes, and the off-beat Medieval décor, which I'm told was left by the space's previous inhabitant. There are scarlet walls, red velvet chairs and chandeliers vaguely reminiscent of Medieval torture devices, all of which add to a feeling of both luxury and mystery to accompany the delicious food. The mismatched elements also add to a feeling of levity that keeps the elegant restaurant from feeling too fancy for a fun, relaxed date.

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2. Rainbow Lodge You need only look at all the photos of weddings and engagements that have taken place at Rainbow Lodge to see that it oozes romance. The restaurant is situated on an acre of land that houses a citrus garden, gurgling creeks and spacious outdoor dining areas, as well as the log cabin that serves as the main restaurant building. It's simultaneously rustic and elegant, and the ample wild game and seafood on the menu will have you feeling like you're sitting down to a nice meal after a wildly successful hunt. Stunning views of verdant hills coupled with log walls, glowing chandeliers and roaring fireplaces are enough to make any couple feel like the only two people in the world. At least for a little while.

1. Étoile Though Étoile's atmosphere is not nearly as bucolic as Rainbow Lodge's -- in fact, it's much more traditionally handsome -- the French restaurant edges out the former "most romantic" title-holder for one big reason: the food. Étoile serves one of the best meals in Houston, and the small dining areas with distressed wooden walls, plush high-backed booths, and wine on nearly every wall appeal to celebrants both young and old. The service is impeccable, the prices are just high enough to show you care and the unfussy French food is sure to send you to bed happy, no matter the state of your relationship. Be sure to save room for one of Philippe Verpiand's and Jose Hernandez's stunning desserts, which are perfect for sharing.

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