Last weekend's low humidity and mild temperatures saw Houstonians flocking to restaurant patios to soak up a little sun with their meals. The return of patio weather feels like a gift from Mother Nature after the summer's punishing heat and humidity makes any attempt at outdoor dining a strictly late-night affair.
While places like Batanga, Backstreet Cafe and Beaver's are all can't-miss classics, CultureMap's savvy readers demand to know the newest, freshest spots. Even newish favorites like Caracol or Coltivare's 3,000 square-foot garden might not be current enough. Consider the 10 all-new options below as a place to get started.
Pax may be Houston's hottest restaurant — Adam Dorris's locally sourced, constantly evolving menu is attracting diners from all over the city. However, the noise level when the small space fills can make conversation impossible. While restaurateur Shepard Ross has promised some sound deadening is on the way, Pax's patio looms as a potentially peaceful alternative, even amid the sounds of traffic from Montrose. Besides, Dorris's chunky beef tartare, red oak salad with Taleggio panna cotta and Gulf shrimp will taste even better with the wind in your hair.
The newly opened restaurant on the Menil campus features a 40-seat patio set far enough away from West Alabama that traffic from the busy street is only a faint murmur. It's a lovely spot to try one of chef Greg Martin's globally-inspired pizzas and enjoy a carafe of wine from the many cask selections. Of course, the bistro's liquor license allows them to sell beer and wine to go, which means the sprawling Menil lawn is also an outdoor seating option. Ask about borrowing a picnic basket.
Museum Park Cafe, Justin Basye's new upscale neighborhood restaurant in the recently opened Parc Binz building, features well-executed American fare made with rigorously sourced ingredients. Despite being a route to several Museum District destinations, Binz is quiet enough that sitting near won't ruin a meal.
If roast fluke or beet salad seem a little delicate for outdoor dining, Basye's blue label burger, a high-quality riff on New York restaurant Minetta Tavern's famous black label burger, makes for a perfect patio meal. Even when Museum Park isn't open, neighboring wine and coffee bar Bosta is open from 7 a.m. to midnight everyday, so it's practically always available.
Speaking of burgers, the Bellaire brick-and-mortar outpost of the popular food truck serves some of Houston's best. As chef/owner Justin Turner predicted, serving his food on a plate, rather than in a bag, does make it taste better. The patio at Bernie's is covered and has fans, so it's easy to mitigate a sudden spike in temperatures.
Still need to cool down? Try a milkshake (sadly, no longer available with alcohol) or a locally-brewed craft beer.
This newcomer brings authentic, homestyle Mexican cuisine to The Woodlands. Pork dishes are can't miss, and, of course, the margaritas deliver an appropriate mix of sweet, tart and boozy. A restaurant named for a popular song has to deliver on entertainment, and the patio is no exception. Although it was still a bit of a work in progress on my visit, the restaurant plans to have trained songbirds entertain diners. That might even make it worth the drive from points farther south.
Montrose's newest sports bar features a solid selection of craft beer and bar bites that offer a bit of a twist on traditional pub grub. More importantly for this list, Revelry features two patios, one front and one rear, that maximize outdoor seating possibilities. With football season in full swing, the bar also provides enough TVs to catch as many games as possible.
Kevin Naderi's Asian-fusion restaurant takes the inherent patio goodness of the former El Gran Malo in Lazybrook/Timbergrove spaces and improves upon it with brighter colors, more comfortable seating and a more diverse menu. With a broad selection of shared plates available, the patio is an ideal destination for a group of friends who want to catch up over a couple of beers or a cocktail.
Technically, the "patio" at this fried chicken pop-up from the food truck masterminds at H-Town StrEATs in the Heights is really just a few picnic tables in front of a space designed to be take-out and drive-thru only. However fried chicken's status as ideal picnic food and the overwhelming deliciousness of chefs Jason Hill and Matt Opaleski's real vegetable sides makes it a great spot to meet up with friends for an afternoon meal. Besides, the price break comes with eight ($25) and 16 piece ($50) orders that come with sides and biscuits.
The spirit of Montrose favorite Bocados lives on at this near Northside Tex-Mex and burger joint. Owners Terry Flores and Lily Hernandez have kept customer favorites like fajitas while adding a few new burgers and other entrees. The patio is covered, and a roll-up garage door helps make the entire dining room an al fresco experience. Try it on Wednesday, when Hernandez takes to the grill for steak night.
Relocating to Upper Kirby has been a boon for the 30-year old Mexican restaurant, which has seen packed since its March opening. In addition to a more upscale interior, the expanded features two covered patios. One runs along the dining room and would make an ideal spot to sip margaritas and linger over Sunday brunch. The other, located next to the bar, provides a look on the busy Richmond/Kirby intersection. Downing Street refugees take note — the bar patio is cigar friendly.
Honorable Mention: Julep
Consider Julep a more focused take on the recent trend of bars that serve good food. Chef Adam Garcia's plates of cold seafood and fried snacks are unlikely to serve as a meal, but they do provide a pleasant companion to the bar's Southern-inspired cocktail menu. Set away from Washington Ave, the patio provides a quieter, less crowded refuge from the frequently packed interior. Of course, with the weather improving, finding a seat on the patio may become harder than finding one at the bar.