It’s stifling hot eight or so months of the year; you can saddle our mosquitoes; and our population means there are few spaces that are clear of exhaust fumes and the roar of traffic.
In spite of all that, Houstonians get just a little giddy this time of year.
All around the city, patios are packed. For many, a desirable outdoor scene will dictate their dining destination for the next couple of months. So we are here to help.
Here are 25 of Houston’s best al fresco options.
Houston’s Patio Dining Hall of Fame
I’m partial to the backyard patio at this old River Oaks homestead, where you dine under the shade of a camphor tree. It is romantic, almost indulgent. Add the bistro-style comfort fare -- lobster sandwich, seared duck breast, wild mushhroom tart -- and flawless, unhurried service. Well, no wonder it is so popular.
Cafe Adobe (River Oaks)
There’s something oddly hypnotic about the patios -- both street level and rooftop -- fronting Westheimer at this iconic cafe. It’s the sounds: cycles roaring down one of Houston’s busiest thoroughfares, the boom, boom, boom of the restaurant’s Latin soundtrack, the sweet chiming of the bells of St. Anne’s and, of course, the margarita-fueled laughter of guests.
This quirky little restaurant just a stone’s throw from bustling Westheimer has been serving healthy, comfort fare for 35 years. Its front patio is a gathering spot for Montrose neighbors who appreciate its homey, laid-back style and Sunday brunch. A walk through the backyard gardens is a must.
Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurant (West Houston)
The waits for a table at this rambling Tex-Mex restaurant can be interminable, but several generations of Houstonians consider it a Friday- or Saturday-night tradition. The secret to cooling your heals without losing your cool: potent margaritas.
El Pueblito Place
Remember when El Peublito was a “place” and not a “patio”? When it was about the food (amazing grilled fish and pineapple salsa), and not about the scene. Get over it. With its cloth-swathed cabanas, light-wrapped palm trees and bubbling water fountains, this patio is one of the city’s most romantic.
Ripe for romance
And speaking of romance, these are the patios and decks that touch our hearts.
Crapitto's Cucina Italiana
One hundred-year-old oak trees and big green umbrellas shade this lovely patio just a few blocks from frantic fuss of the Galleria. The upscale Italian restaurant housed in a former farmhouse has a loyal clientele that knows to call ahead for a table. You should, too.
The outdoor balcony on Michael Cordua’s Hobby Center restaurant provides show-stopping views of downtown H-Town. And the food is so pretty.
Daily Review Cafe
This little restaurant tucked away off Dunlavy can feel very clubby when the River Oaks ladies who lunch pack the sprawling patio on a gorgeous fall day. While the food is very good. The people-watching even better.
The patio at this cheerful westside cafe is shaded by moss-covered oaks and overlooks a lovely little lake. The Mediterranean menu is filled with surprises, and the staff treats you like family.
Sure romance is great, but sometimes you gotta take the kids along. Here are favorites for families:
Prices are family friendly on the burger- and fried fish-dominated menu. And a super friendly staff keeps the energy level high at this waterfront spot on Lake Houston in Kingwood.
The large patios with adjacent children’s playground make this a hit with Tex-Mex-loving Katy families. It’s a party on nights when there is live music.
The Lake House
The nearly non-stop entertainment schedule at Discovery Green make the patio at this counter-service cafe the place to be on weekends.
Built for fun
These patios are where the party begins and often ends -- late.
Cedar Creek Cafe
Sprawling patios and a “back yard” provide plenty of seating for the hordes who flock to this Austin-themed eatery in the Heights. The service can be haphazard, so order an extra beer and don't let the wait-wait-waitstaff wreck your laid-back state of mind.
Watson's House of Ales
Since taking over an adjacent restaurant space, this west side pub has one of the largest, prettiest patios in town. An outdoor bar helps keep the party fueled.
Think of this patio/lawn as the Central Park of the Washington Avenue strip. On weekends, it’s a non-stop garden party; on Tuesday, there’s movies on a giant screen under the stars.
Water, water everywhere
These are among the best (scenes, not neccesarily meals) among the waterfront spots.
Noah's Ark Bar & Grill
Two decks and two patios offer close-up views of Galveston Bay at this little Bacliff grill that prides itself on its fresh seafood and cheap drink specials. Weekends are a hoot as brokers-cum-bikers and mix with the snowbirds and eccentric locals.
Sam's Boat (Clear Lake)
Belly up to the outdoor bar and take in the scenery at this Clear Lake diner where it’s all about the beer, the burgers and the ballgame.
Boudreaux's on the Bayou
Located off 61st Street in Galveston, this bar/restaurant/live music venue offers a nice view of Offatts Bayou and the causeway from its large partly covered deck. Live music is offered on the weekends.
Landry's on the Kemah Boardwalk
Sure it’s easy to hate the touristy boardwalk, but sitting at bayside table and sharing a big plate of fried shrimp and oysters, it’s hard not to smile.
These spots are all about people-watching as their sidewalk tables put you in the middle of the action.
The Flying Saucer
With the metro train and pedestrians whizzing past, the picnic tables outside this downtown beer/bites emporium attract lovers of city living and hard-to-find brews.
This Cajun restaurant has a wrap-around patio and a Big Easy attitude. Get an order of boudin and a dozen grilled oysters. It's easy eating.
There’s no better place to be on a Saturday afternoon that the patio of this upscale restaurant on the west end of The Woodland’s Market Square where it anchors an action-packed pedestrian plaza. Iron Chef-whipping Kent Rathbun’s “backyard” cuisine is crazy good, but pricey.
This CityCentre patio is muy popular. It’s funny how margaritas seem to be at the center of so many of the best patio scenes.
Editor's note: This list originally was published in April of 2008. It has been updated quarterly since then. The following are some of our past recommendations. (And, yeah, we still think they're good options.
Bodegas Taco Shop
Beaver's Ice House
Market Square Bar & Grill