HTX Best of 2013
Great Date Spots

The best restaurants to take a first date: Don't skimp on the romance — or good food

The best restaurants to take a first date: No-fail romance

News_Americas River Oaks, interior
Between dramatic surroundings of lush fabrics in sexy colors and a Latin menu and playlist, Américas is almost too obvious. Photo by Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
Darla, Cottonwood, October 2012, bar, lounge
Head to Cottonwood for a guaranteed relaxed time that will instantly put you at ease. Photo by Darla Guillen
Just Dinner on Dunlavy, restaurant
The cozy dining room at Just Dinner is definitely a place to really focus on good conversation. Just Dinner on Dunlavy/Facebook
Darla, five best date spots, March 2013, Brooklyn Athletic Club
Brooklyn Athletic Club offers a playful atmosphere with serious food. Photo by Claire Dorfman
Darla, five best date spots, March 2013, Tiny's
Ivy-covered exterior of Tiny's, which overlooks the grassy patio  Photo by Claire Dorfman
News_Americas River Oaks, interior
Darla, Cottonwood, October 2012, bar, lounge
Just Dinner on Dunlavy, restaurant
Darla, five best date spots, March 2013, Brooklyn Athletic Club
Darla, five best date spots, March 2013, Tiny's

First dates are stressful. Deciding what to wear, remembering to avoid over-sharing and snorting while laughing, deciding whether to have a contingency plan with friends should the date go awry — there are a million things to consider.

As a recent dating scene newcomer, I’ve had to remember to mind my wardrobe and mind my manners a little more carefully, but as far as where to go, I won’t even stutter before I can list off some great options around town. Once you narrow it down to location, food versus drinks and your date’s cuisine of choice, it’s smooth sailing.

As a friend recently told me, it’s polite to at least give your date the illusion that he or she is helping to choose the destination. So I’ll always ask for suggestions, but when it comes to local hangouts with great first-date atmospheres, some places are just a given.

Brooklyn Athletic Club

This playful but romantic spot is a no-brainer for the prep to sophisticate with a refined palate. As owner Shepard Ross says, his guests migrate from one side of the patio to the other, playing games or making s’mores by the fire pit. Even if you’re having a miserable conversation, at least you’ll be munching on BAC’S famous Reuben or s’mores bread pudding.

Brunch is a good call if you don’t want to commit to an entire evening, and that way you’ll be able to enjoy chef Jeff Axline’s Nutella and goat cheese-filled French toast. Plus, badminton, bocce and croquet will give you a good excuse to cozy up to your date — proper form is everything, right?

Américas

Between dramatic surroundings of lush fabrics in sexy colors and a Latin menu and playlist, this spot is almost too obvious. And the tasty fare’s presentation is almost as luxurious as the surroundings.

Lobster corn dogs rooted into a wooden cube on your plate, made to look like a giant dandelion, is an option that’s sure to impress your date. Also, even if the date is a bust, you’ll get to experience (yes, experience) the funhouse-like restrooms that are almost as memorable as the Pisco sours. Make sure to sit inside, since the patio isn’t as exciting as the vibrant interior.  

Just Dinner

This is definitely the place you take someone with whom there are little to no doubts. For the first date with that love-at-first-sight lady or gent (or the one whose online profile was witty and charming), the cozy dining room here is definitely a place to really focus on good conversation.

 You’ll feel like you’re dining with friends here, so make sure to not take an awkward speaker to this little treasure. 

It’s quiet and quaint and offers food that’s made to be appreciated, because while the decor isn’t nearly as over-the-top or sophisticated as Americas or Brooklyn Athletic Club's, the food is so fresh and locally sourced that the menu is partially dependent on the owner’s on-site garden offerings or local farmer’s markets, which the chef visits every day.

You’ll feel like you’re dining with a room of friends here, so make sure to not take an awkward speaker or fast food lover to this little treasure.

Cottonwood

For the guy or girl who makes you nervous for whatever reason — maybe it’s the effortless hair toss, the brilliant smile or a James-Joyce-like way with words — avoid the above and head here for a guaranteed relaxed time that will instantly put you at ease. Three massive, sprawled out patios with games and live music, and the menu with everything from smoked salmon deviled eggs to fried-egg-topped burgers will simultaneously satisfy and entertain.

The creative cocktail list and extensive beer menu (ahem, two cask engines) will offer the right amount of social lubrication to get you ready for a game of washers with any stranger.

Tiny Boxwood's (West Alabama)

The patio at this (actual) tiny restaurant overlooks the owner’s other business, a stunning Secret Garden-like nursery of delicate flowers and bold plants. While the French countryside-inspired interior is romantic and sweet, the small grassy plane that divides the restaurant from the nursery is the best place to be on a Saturday evening for their Movies on the Lawn.

If the date is uneventful or ends badly, treat yourself to the best chocolate chip cookie in town.

If you’re having a good date and want a little pick-me-up, skip the affogato and opt for an Undertow — a shot of coffee that folds condensed milk-tasting sweetness into your sips. Ivy lined walls and bottomless mimosas are a nice Sunday brunch alternative to evening meetings. And if the date is uneventful or ends badly, treat yourself to the best chocolate chip cookie in town.

Fellow singles, we’re in the right place for meeting new people at fun places with food and drinks that make up for any less-than-stellar conversations. Just remember to avoid movie theaters on first dates, laugh authentically and smile often.