Houstonians don’t need a weatherman to know it gets hot in August. But you also don’t need to be an epidemiologist to recognize that outdoor dining is preferable to indoor dining during a pandemic.
Towards that end, the City of Houston has initiated the More Space program that allows restaurants to convert 50 percent of their off-street parking spaces into dining areas. The Phoenix on Westheimer became the city’s first restaurant to submit an application to join the program, and others are jumping on the bandwagon.
Of course, some restaurants already feature expansive patios and don’t need to opt-in to the program. They’re already adept at outdoor dining.
Consider this list that includes participants in the program, a couple of stone cold Houston patio classics, and some newer arrivals that diners may not yet be familiar with. All provide a socially distant dining experience, tasty food, and refreshing drinks. For those who aren't ready to dine-in, they also offer to-go.
Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught’s River Oaks restaurant offers both a street-facing patio and an inner, open-air courtyard, both of which provide enough shade to be relatively comfortable despite the heat. At dinner, Backstreet offers four different, three-course, $35 Houston Restaurant Weeks menus: dishes paired with white wines, dishes paired with red wines, vegetarian items, and one with signature items like tortilla soup and red corn chicken enchiladas. Beverage director Sean Beck’s extensive wine and cocktail lists ensure customers will find something refreshing to pair with their meals.
This sister concept to Montrose barbecue joint The Pit Room features a massive covered patio with plenty of fans to keep things cool(ish). Standout dishes include classic cheese enchiladas, carnitas with crispy exterior, and the wood grilled fajitas. A frozen margarita is de rigueur at any Tex-Mex restaurant — and Candente serves a good one — or choose a frozen paloma for a refreshing alternative
Expansive oak trees provide plenty of shade at Ford Fry’s twin restaurants in The Heights. Head to La Lucha for its first-rate fried chicken, instant classic Pharmacy burger, and or roasted oysters, or opt for Tex-Mex staples like enchiladas and tacos at Superica. Both restaurants offer plenty of refreshing beverage options to help diners stay cool.
Chris Shepherd’s Mediterranean restaurant converted part of its parking lot into the Lexus patio, a fenced-off seating area with a big tent to provide relief from the heat. Picking a favorite from the menu is tricky, but the light flavors seem particularly well suited to Houston’s humidity. Best of all, wines by-the-glass are half-off for patio diners.
For its contribution to the More Space program, the Upper Kirby restaurant has deployed planters around five parking spots to extend its north-facing patio with decking extending from the roof to provide shade. All of which means more socially distanced room to enjoy chef Arnaldo Richards’ cuisine from Mexico’s seven regions, including all of the items on its HRW lunch and dinner menus. Look to the restaurant’s extensive selection of agave spirits for a cocktail to cool things off.
Anita Jaisinghani’s all-day cafe only offers patio seating, and the More Space program allows it to extend those efforts with a raised deck that’s shaded by umbrellas. Feast on dishes from the restaurant’s limited-time-only pepper menu that uses ingredients sourced from Knopp Branch Farm such as the pickled pepper pizza or the fried pepper pakora stuffed with paneer cheese. A pitcher of rum-spiked mango-coconut lassi is just one of the many cooling beverage choices.
Relish Restaurant & Bar
An extended awning and ceiling fans keep temperatures pleasant on the Westheimer-facing patio at this River Oaks restaurant. Chef-owner Dustin Teague — hearty congratulations to him and his wife/business parter Addie on the recent birth of their daughter — offers a wide-ranging menu that includes Relish favorites like fried chicken and deviled eggs alongside freshly made pastas, salads, and entrees. A well-priced wine list and classic cocktails complete the experience.
Led by Tastemaker Awards Rising Star Chef of the Year winner Felipe Riccio, the Montrose restaurant recently claimed space from its currently shuttered sister concept Goodnight Charlie’s to create the “Spritz Patio.” The menu includes a selection of shareable items such as arancini, “spreads & breads” such as chicken liver mousse with baguette, and frozen treats for dessert. Beverage options include cocktails, wines by-the-glass, beers, and smoothies.
This Heights establishment features both covered and uncovered outdoor seating. Fresh off a James Beard Award semifinalist nomination for America’s best new restaurant, diners will find the kitchen has recently stepped up the menu with new additions like leg of lamb with spicy harissa and canary melon with tomato consomme. Those who splurge on a $20 Terry’s martini will discover that the staff periodically replaces its glass to keep the drink properly chilled.
The Toasted Coconut
Catch a tropical breeze under the palapa at this tiki-inspired from the team behind Nobie’s. The Montrose restaurant’s eclectic menu ranges from dumplings and chickpea curry to a classic, thin patty cheeseburger. Boozy frozen cocktails pour from the bar’s blenders.