Dining out in Houston sometimes feels like an unofficial sport, and special occasions take the competitive element up a few notches. Anniversaries, birthdays and, of course, Valentine’s Day are prime times for seeking destinations with extra-special amenities and touches. We rounded up Houston’s most romantic locales for celebrating with your sweetie, whether you are seeking a laid-back affair or an over-the-top event.
What makes dining out romantic (besides the company)? It’s often a restaurant’s ambiance — its look, smell, sound and feel. Decor, lighting, secluded dining areas, intimate spaces and elegant patios help tilt the scales toward romance. Other key components include polished service that gently facilitates a pleasant dining experience, rather than persistent pestering and, of course, the food should be delectable and beautifully plated. Those elements combined should turn on the charm when the guests arrive and continue to weave their spell throughout the meal.
Artisans Restaurant, 3201 Louisiana: Chef Jacques Fox’s brasserie-style French kitchen in midtown offers several seating options to suit your mood. Choose the elegant dining room filled with tufted leather chairs, the chef’s counter with views of the open kitchen or one of the small tables for a more intimate setting. A large picture window — and occasionally live music — contribute to the magic of the space. Your date will adore the tasting menus, which are available in three (at lunch only), six, seven or eight courses. Though the dishes prepared by executive chef Russell Kirkham change with the seasons, expect classics such as Pistachio-Crusted Chilean Sea Bass and La Bouillabaisse Marseillaise: bouillabaisse made with saffron broth, prawns and scallops. There’s also a cozy bar area that’s perfect for cocktails or dessert.
Backstreet Café, 1103 South Shepherd: This elegant-but-homey River Oaks mainstay is celebrating 38 years of serving handcrafted seasonal fare and boasts many of the desired attributes of a quintessential romantic restaurant. The beautiful house is nestled beneath giant oak trees, has two fireplaces and a New Orleans-style patio with bubbling fountains. Go there for the curated cocktail and wine list and dishes such as Bone-In Short Rib, Red Corn Chicken Enchiladas, Bucatini And Spicy Crab and Pan-Seared Cauliflower Steak.
Bludorn, 807 Taft: In a culinary love story fit for the Food Network, Victoria Pappas, member of the famous Houston family behind the Pappas restaurant empire, moved to New York and fell in love with chef Aaron Bludorn, a guest star on Netflix’s “The Final Table” and veteran of such venerable restaurants as Café Boulud. The couple married and eventually moved to Houston. The duo brings know-how and laid-back elegance to an iconic Houston building that once housed the original Antone’s Imports and acclaimed The Pass & Provisions. Tableside theatrics will delight your date as servers carve the top off your Lobster-Chicken Pot Pie, shave fresh black truffles onto your risotto and set your Baked Alaska aflame. Order wines by the glass such as Saint Julien Château Léoville-Barton 2015.
Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith: A mansion setting, outstanding service, well-appointed bar and menu of Creole and Southern dishes are some of the best reasons to make a reservation at this well-respected 55-year-old establishment. We can even vouch for this as a good day-date spot, thanks to the Chef’s Premium Package (choose turtle soup or Brennan’s Salad, then dive into either Braised Venison Osso Buco or Gulf Shrimp Étouffée) and mini-sized, lunchtime-only 25-cent martinis. Add some literal flames to the end of your romantic meal with the classic Bananas Foster or Strawberry Crepe Fitzgerald. Both are flambéd and served tableside. Too full for dessert? Order the Café Brulot Diabolique and enjoy the show. — Phaedra Cook
Brenner’s on the Bayou, 1 Birdsall: Proposals, weddings and anniversaries are de rigueur on the grounds of this lovely restaurant overlooking the waters of Buffalo Bayou. Guests enter beside a decked pond with a rocky waterfall that overlooks a sprawling, manicured green lawn. Order from the seafood-heavy menu with starters such as oysters or tuna poke, and elegant favorites such as lobster bisque and Akaushi filet mignon. The Blue Bar, located on the lawn, provides an extra hang-out spot when not in use by private parties, and has a lovely gazebo perfect for popping important questions.
Inside the dining room, a grand staircase railed with naturally shaped logs gives way to a multi-paneled picture window. Outside the window is a another patio with seating and fire pits, followed by a clearing and then woods. Lights are placed strategically to enhance the romantic vibe. Look closely, and you may catch a glimpse of small woodland critters such as bunnies and raccoons checking out the landscape.
BCN Taste & Tradition, 4210 Roseland: For an intimate, Spanish-themed evening, try this sophisticated Montrose charmer. BCN, a reference to the airport code for Barcelona, is set in a 1920 Spanish-Mediterranean house just off Richmond and Montrose. Be sure and make a reservation, as BCN is often booked weeks in advance. The neutral palate of the décor serves as the canvas for Spanish chef Luis Roger’s cuisine, inspired by the fresh ingredients he sources from Spain and the Mediterranean. The service, Roger’s creations, Spanish wines, unusual gin and tonics and the ambiance combine to create a true fine dining experience. — Sandra Cook, past contributor
Bori, 1453 Witte: Looking for an interactive dinner experience with great service? Upscale Korean barbecue place Bori, located in an off-the-beaten-path area of Spring Branch, provides not only this but thanks to the Peace Garden and in-house art museum, it’s like three dates in one. For dinner, there are several cook-at-your-table meat combinations, including beef cuts, premium beef cuts, pork cuts and the short rib platter. Going on a double-date? Steer towards the Butcher’s Feast, which comes with a selection of four meats, such as beef belly, New York strip, marinated short rib and spicy pork belly as well as banchan (little side dishes). Read more about it in our First Bite article. — Phaedra Cook
Étoile Cuisine et Bar, 1101-11 Uptown Park Boulevard: This French bistro in Uptown Park features glistening chandeliers and high ceiling rafters for an alluring visual. Chef Philippe Verpiand delivers elegant French meals such as Coq au Vin, chicken braised in red wine, or the Pates aux Fruits de mer: linguine in lobster sauce with shrimp, white fish and salmon. It’s worth visiting for the wine list alone, which is filled with aged French varietals. The spirits menu includes an impressive selection of absinthe, which you can have served in a glamorous absinthe fountain tableside.
Grazia Italian Kitchen, 9415 Broadway: Texas meets Italy at this award-winning, family owned and operated mainstay in the heart of Pearland. The atmosphere manages to combine a cozy, homey vibe with an intimate feel, making it just right for date night. Dishes blend the rustic charm of Texan fare with refined Italian tendencies resulting in flavorful steaks, wood-fired pizzas, pastas and more. Try the Wagyu Meatballs with spicy marinara, whipped ricotta and fried basil leaf, Shrimp Diavolo with Cajun Dusted Gulf Shrimp, garlic, roasted peppers, red onions, chili flakes, white wine, marinara, cream and basil tossed in fettuccine, or Lollipop Lamb with bourbon molasses glaze and pancetta risotto. — Ellie Sharp
Killen’s Steakhouse, 6425 Broadway: Ronnie Killen’s original concept opened in 2006, and continues to be a destination-worthy experience. It is also one of the swankiest locales in Pearland with white linen tablecloths, luxe fixtures, mood lighting and a wine wall that anchors the dining room. Go there for the impressive menu of impeccable steaks, Gulf Coast seafood, cocktails and wines. Must-try dishes include Jumbo Lump Crabcake with lemon butter and jumbo shrimp, and the three types of Wagyu: domestic, Japanese A5 Wagyu from the Kagoshima Prefecture and W. Black Australian Wagyu. Try a bit of everything with the New York Strip Flight that includes four ounces each of wet-aged USDA prime, W. Black Australian Wagyu, Snake River Farm Wagyu and Japanese A5 Wagyu. There are plenty of scratch made sides, too, such as Grilled Jumbo Asparagus and Creamed Corn. — Ellie Sharp
Kiran’s, 2925 Richmond: Chef-owner Kiran Verma’s moniker is the Godmother of Indian Fine Dining and her warm demeanor informs the atmosphere of this Upper Kirby restaurant, too. Walk through the golden front doors, take in the sumptuous, colorful decor and then consider one of the Chef’s Tastings. Verma offers three: Sadya (a traditional Kerala vegetarian menu), the chef tasting and the lobster tasting. To go alongside, there’s also an extensive wine list, signature cocktail program and excellent selection of single-malt Scotch. — Phaedra Cook
Le Jardinier, 5500 Main: Located inside the Museum of Fine Arts, the ambiance of Le Jardiner is so enticing that it’s downright proposal-worthy. It is simply the kind of place you want to go to make your date feel special — and that’s part of why we named it one of the Best New Restaurants of 2021. Fair warning: you may drop a very “special” amount of cash here, too, but if you’re going, you may as well “do the deal” and order the Seasonal Expression tasting for $130. (Yes, if you enjoy wine, you should also add the pairings for $110, too.) If these prices have you blushing, we’re happy to say there’s an a la carte menu, too, which will make your experience much more affordable. Whether your date is “the one” or not, it’s still going to be a memorable evening. — Phaedra Cook
Lucille’s, 5512 La Branch: The road was rocky, but despite it all, chef-owner Chris Williams has maintained a warm, hospitable setting for enjoying his take on Southern and Soul heritage cuisine. Get cozy sharing an order of the famed Chili Biscuits, made from his grandmother’s recipe, then slide into Shrimp & Grits with andouille or a perfectly proper Berbere Spiced Cornish Hen with sweet peas. If your love language speaks with a bit of a twang, you’ll feel very comfortable — and being able to relax is part of a great dinner date. — Phaedra Cook
Lucio’s BYOB, 905 Taft: This cozy, wine cellar-style American restaurant also has a patio with a rose garden — a lovely option for good-weather dates. Chef-owner John Sjoberg has created a friendly and elegant space without a shred of stuffiness. Order a la carte or from the tasting menu and pair with your own favorite vintage. The restaurant charges a corkage fee of just $8 per bottle (the fee is waived on Wednesdays), and has its own wine list available should you forget to bring your own. The menu rotates with the seasons, but may include dishes such as the Pork Duo, tenderloin and belly served with a Jerusalem artichoke purée and dolce-forte sauce.
Maison Pucha Bistro, 1001 Studewood: This Heights locale exudes modern luxury with its bright and airy dining room, cool blue tones and gray exposed beams. It is operated by three Ecuadorian brothers: Manuel Pucha is the executive chef, Christian is the sommelier and bar manager and Victor is the French-trained pastry chef. Manuel is the most familiar with the Houston terrain, having gained attention for his role as a chef at Philippe Restaurant + Lounge, then later executive chef at the restaurant’s short-lived incarnation as Table on Post Oak. (It is now in it’s much longer-lived and more successful identity of La Table.) At Maison Pucha Bistro, expect classic, romantic dishes such as Duck a L’Orange and Bouillabaisse. The Magic Cosmo is a cocktail designed to delight, as it’s served under a smoke-filled dome.
March, 1624 Westheimer: This is a great restaurant to visit for the first time with a companion. Even just entering the front door and wondering what’s up on the second floor lends an air of mystery and fun. March was among the wave of tasting menu restaurants that came roaring back into fashion in 2021 (it was also one of our Best New Restaurant picks for that year), and it’s fair to say that it’s also one of the most popular. Chef Felipe Riccio and his staff change the menu a few times a year as they explore cuisines in regions that have overlapping influences of multiple Mediterranean countries. For example: currently the restaurant is exploring an area historically called Occitania, which includes southern France, northeastern Spain and northwestern Italy. Prices for the tasting menu experience start at $175 for six courses. Not feeling it yet? Get a taste of what’s in store by making a reservation in the lounge. — Phaedra Cook
Monarch Bistro, 5701 Main: All of Hotel ZaZa is a chic feast for the eyes, and this includes the window-wrapped main dining room that features bucolic views of the Museum District. The historic Mecom Fountain, as well as the oak and magnolia trees lining the streets on all sides, make for a lovely setting during daylight hours. In addition to the grand dining room, there are smaller, more intimate sections if you prefer fewer distractions. Expect a menu of crowd-pleasers-with-a-twist such as Volcano Salt Garlic Fries and Alaskan halibut seared with Swiss chard. Take a stroll through the hotel lobby on your way out or in to check out conversation starters such as the framed mugshot of Frank Sinatra surrounded by zebra-print wingback chairs.
Musaafer, 5115 Westheimer: Take your date on a magical journey at this luxurious, 10,000-square-foot location in the Galleria VI that evokes the “Maharajas Express,” a gilded train that travels across India. The name Musaafer, which is Hindi for “the journey.” refers to a 100-day trip to 29 different provinces of India that was imagined by The Spice Route Company. (Visit the website for a neat interactive map that describes the experience). The menu is composed of modernized Indian dishes such as the Mishti Doi, a dessert styled like a tiny mushroom garden, or the snapper ceviche with pickled mulberry. Everything is artfully presented and sure to impress.
Potente, 1515 Texas: We can forgive the large TV at the bar since restaurateur Jim Crane also owns the Houston Astros. That aside, the luxurious dining room offers comfortable seating and golden chandeliers, making it one of the most romantic locations in downtown. A dimly lit dining room is no match for menus that magically light up when you open them for easy reading. High-back, padded chairs invite you to sit back and relax. Chef Danny Trace made his fame as the co-host of “Off the Menu ‘ a hunting and fishing show focusing on the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. After spending some time as executive chef of Brennan’s of Houston, he now creates modern Italian cuisine such as Squid Ink Spaghetti with charred octopus and the must-try Spaghetti al Tartufo Nero Cacio Pepe with Parmigiano Reggiano and black winter truffle shaved tableside. Locally sourced ingredients are alway part of the fare and include Frutti de Mare made with golden pomfret, blue crab Texas jumbo shrimp and Matagorda Bay oysters.
Tony’s, 3755 Richmond: Even though this legendary fine-dining restaurant’s namesake has passed away, it perhaps opens the door for it to become something even more remarkable: a women-led restaurant. Now under the care of Tony Vallone’s spouse, Donna, and executive chef Kate McLean, who directly trained under Tony and was previously in the role for four years, the restaurant is exploring new frontiers. Make no mistake: the appreciation of the finer things in life is still firmly in place. Freshly shaved truffles and caviar service with all the trimmings (and a shot of vodka alongside, if you’d like) are available anytime, but also expect new happy hour features, attention to the overall experience and introductions of modern culinary techniques. A few ideas on where to begin: Duck Confit Caramelli with black truffle, Parmigiana Reggiano, mint and Sicilian saffron and Dry Aged Crescent Island Duck with roasted squash and marchand de vin (red wine reduction sauce).
TRIBUTE at The Houstonian, 111 North Post Oak: At lunch, this restaurant helmed by chef Neal Cox tends to be dominated by movers and shakers from both in and out of town (power lunch, anyone?), but at night, the lights dim and it turns into a great place for a date and an anniversary. Cox and his team’s “Tex-Lex” menu celebrates the culinary foodways of Texas, Louisiana and Mexico in dishes such as Smoked Blue Crab Claws, Gulf Frutti de Mer and Braised Lamb Shank Recado Negro. There’s always something decadent for dessert, too, especially on the holidays. Afterward, grab a nightcap at the next-door bar. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the restaurant is in one of the best hotels in the country. Should you spend the night, cap off your visit with a visit to the on-premises spa or a simple stroll along the padded trail that winds through acres of impeccably landscaped, woodsy grounds.
Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella: This iconic Heights destination is wild and romantic. Executive chef Mark Schmidt highlights exotic meats such as elk and antelope, while the cozy 100-year-old log cabin sets the romantic tone. Tables are set comfortably distanced so you can utter sweet nothings with no shame. Rough-hewn log walls, exposed beams, iron chandeliers and a stone fireplace are a feast for the eyes. If the weather cooperates, snag a seat outdoors on the multi-leveled patio built over a hillside, complete with a babbling brook and well-tended landscaping. At night, the lighting conjures a fairytale setting. The newly renovated bar is equally relaxing and a great way to start the evening. Though the menu changes with the season, expect to find dreamy dishes such as Lobster Risotto Diablo and Seared Duck Breast. Finishing touches are likely to be pulled from the lodge’s vegetable and herb garden, which is lovingly tended by staff.
Roma, 2347 University: Nothing says “amore” like a night of great Italian food and wine. While menu changes are coming soon thanks to newly hired chef Kevin Bryant, it’s a fair bet that the essentials will remain the same. Eat the Italian way, and start with antipasti (in this context, the word simply means “starter” rather than cold appetizers) such as the Street Food Napoletano sampler of arancini (rice balls), mozzarella in carrozza (breaded mozzarella) and panzerotti (mini pizzas). Next, move on to one of the dishes featuring handcrafted pasta. The cacio e pepe tossed tableside in a hollowed pecorino romano wheel is particularly showy — perfect for date night. For an entrée, choose between the fish and seafood selections, such as Grilled Tuna with Artichokes over lemon risotto tonno alla griglia, or something meatier, like the hefty osso buco with creamy polenta & tomato gratin.
Parking in Rice Village can be tricky, but Roma has made it as easy as possible with complimentary valet on weekends and renting the PNC Bank parking lot across the street for self-parking on weeknights. There’s also the Rice Village Arcade parking garage a short distance away. — Phaedra Cook
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