The Best Houston Restaurant Patios to Enjoy in 2022
With its spring-like autumns, mild winters and pleasant early springs, restaurant patio dining in Houston is more popular than ever. Many restaurants have upgraded their patios to provide enhanced experiences that are fun, romantic or inspiring. Many are outfitted with fans, misters or heaters, which makes them appealing even when the weather isn’t entirely cooperative.
In order to make this best-of list, we considered several desirable patio features. Shade is essential. When it is 90+ degrees outside, no one wants to sit in direct sunlight. Patios should have umbrellas, awnings, cabanas, trees or other means for deflecting the harshest rays of heat. Additionally, we looked for spaces that feature separate areas, coves and nooks. After all, exploring distinct settings in one overall space is pretty fun, and a little privacy is appreciated, especially for an intimate meal, study session or simply escaping city life.
Attractions and amenities are important as well. Who doesn’t like gardens, fountains, decks, swings and games? Of course, the restaurant also has to serve good food, or what’s the point in going at all? We focused less on how long a restaurant has been open and more on what each has to offer. Some are local institutions we return to again and again, while others keep things new, fresh and inviting with intriguing experiences.
The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, 2704 Navigation: The shady and secluded patio is the perfect spot to try the fajitas that made this long-standing neighborhood gem famous. Diners can also opt for wood-fire grilled quail, Bacon Wrapped Diablo Shrimp, grilled chicken, Portobello “Fajitas” or Brisket Picadillo Chile Relleno. Next, choose from toppings such as Berry (named for a regular customer) with tomato, onion, jalapeño and mushroom or Chihuahua with bacon, cheese, onion and pepper.
Perpetual favorites include ground beef enchiladas with beef gravy and cheddar cheese and Texas redfish modernized with chipotle aioli, cole slaw, pico de gallo and poblano rice. At brunch, the Red Chile Pork Pozole is a popular hangover cure. There are also breakfast tacos daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for under $5. Wash it all down with a Ninfarita — a large, tangy margarita made with 100% silver agave tequila. It is not for the weak of heart, and neither is the sangria available by the glass or pitcher.
Tiny Champions, 2617 McKinney: The sister restaurant to Nancy’s Hustle has a spacious backyard patio (and, by the way, Nancy’s Hustle also has a well-appointed outdoor seating area that was added during the pandemic). At this casual café, chef Jason Vaughn prepares naturally leavened pizza, fermented vegetables and housemade pastas. Plus, there is an eclectic selection of wine and cocktails. The pickled vegetables is a tangy, invigorating kickoff before moving on to heartier entrées, such as creative pizzas like Kale+Chard topped with ricotta, mozzarella and pickled garlic or the sausage pizza with sausage, mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil, peppers and onions. Other intriguing fare includes the rotating offering of small dishes with hints of fermentation. The Mushroom Salad is made of thinly sliced criminis tossed with olive oil and shaved parmesan. Whey-Brined Fried Chicken is completed with Fresno chilis, fresh herbs and a spicy honey dipping sauce.
Coltivare, 3320 White Oak: Dining al fresco here is like a dinner party at a community garden. In fact, the outdoor gravel yard is not just a beautiful dining space, but also a functional source of herbs, fruits, edible flowers and vegetables for the restaurant Paying guests can enjoy small plates prepared with natural and fresh ingredients that rotate with the seasons. There are not dish names, exactly. Instead, items are labeled by their ingredients, such as Broken Arrow Ranch Venison Osso Buco Root Vegetables Red Wine. There are a handful of pastas and pizzas available year-round, too, such as Ricotta Gnocchi and Revival Pepperoni.
Harold’s in the Heights, 350 West 19th: The terrace of this 90-year-old building is an ideal place to dine after exploring historic 19th Street. Start in the tap room downstairs before venturing up for Southern fare made with locally sourced ingredients. Try KG’s Fried Chicken — classic buttermilk fried chicken with Texas cheddar mac and cheese and braised greens — or the chargrilled 1855 Ribeye served with potatoes au gratin and vegetables. Lighter fare includes the Pear Salad with ricotta, spiced pecans and a charred pear vinaigrette. Visit on weekends for Saturday and Sunday brunch when there are classics with a twist such as the Creole Benedict featuring a housemade biscuit topped with beef debris, poached egg and Creole hollandaise.
King’s Bierhaus, 2044 East T C Jester: Hidden behind an Austrian castle facade is a nice-sized biergarten with a fountain and hammock chairs. The vibe is cheeky and fun, with dish names such as Inglorious Bastard, a chicken schnitzel sandwich with Jaeger mushrooms and Swiss cheese. The sausage selection is exceptional, from the traditional Scharfe Kasewurst with smoked pork and beef, cheddar and red pepper to the exotic Rabbit and Rattlesnake sausage. There are even plant-based sausages, such as Smoked Apple Sage made with Yukon gold potatoes, apples and sage, and smoked over hickory. Order any sausage hot dog-style or on a board with a side dish. Naturally, there is a lot of beer, too. Drink favorites such as Hofbräu Dunkel from a keepsake two-and-a-half liter boot or a more modest half or one liter glass.
Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella: The lush, impeccably manicured backyard, as well as multiple private dining rooms, make this sprawling restaurant a popular spot for weddings, receptions, company parties and other events. There are also multiple walkways and platforms that wind around trees and over a gentle stream.
The landscaping at Rainbow Lodge’s 100-year-old building is indeed a feast for the eyes, but that’s certainly not the restaurant’s only positive attribute. In addition to executive chef Mark Schmidt’s dishes featuring wild game such as elk, venison and pheasant, guests can expect seafood, steaks and vegetarian options. Start with a luxurious Lobster and Avocado Wedge Salad with bacon and jewel tomatoes on little gem lettuce with buttermilk herb dressing or the perpetually popular Smoked Duck Gumbo before moving on to one of the hearty entrées. The South Texas Nilgai Antelope Loin, for example, is served with smoked mustard glacé and served atop jalapeño, cheddar and bacon grits. Seafood lovers may want to try Seared Alaskan Halibut Filet or Garlic Blue Crab Claws with broccolini sautéed with Texas 1015 onions and Calabrian chilis. Vegetarians can feast on Sweet Potato Flautas served with charred mushroom salsa, avocado crema and pickled onion.
Beverage director Marc Borel sources wines and spirits from across the globe. Selections such as the French Les Grandes Mises Mommessin Gamay, 2015 and Haitian Barbancourt Rhum are worthy of exploration. Come early to enjoy the recently remodeled Tied Fly Bar outfitted with luxe seating and exquisite nature-themed art.
Axelrad, 1517 Alabama: This block-long beer garden just east of downtown is a popular gathering place for Houstonians wanting to meet up for parties, take in some live music or simply just chill out. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to suit just about every social encounter, including an inviting forest of hammocks. Nosh on fare from the truck food court or pick up pizza by the slice, lasagna and calzones from Luigi’s, a full-fledged pizza parlor that shares Axelrad’s backyard. Axelrad also offers table service, perfect for enjoying its hefty menu of beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks. The whole space is bordered by a garden full of native, regional and heirloom plants and sculptures, and heaters are available for cool nights. Check the online events calendar or Axelrad’s social media for live music, film screenings, festivals and other events.
Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith: A beautiful and lush patio awaits diners at this classic New Orleans-style eatery. The Snapping Turtle Soup splashed with Lustau sherry is a house tradition, and Brennan’s Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes are legendary served over chayote, a little herb salad and melted leek and roasted corn sauce. For fun dinner drama, order Shrimp Chippewa which is flambéed tableside in Cognac with sun-dried tomatoes, and served over goat cheese stone ground Texas grits. For libations, don’t miss the lush and creamy Brandy Milk Punch.
Bar Boheme, 307 Fairview: If a wine cellar and a honky-tonk reproduced, their spawn would be this Montrose patio bar. It has hide-a-way booths for privacy, distinct areas to explore and the front patio is great for watching the lively intersection of Taft and Fairview. Catch belly dancers or Latin dancers on Fridays, or a drag show for Sunday brunch. Bar Boheme’s specialty is wine, and there is a rotating list of diverse choices. The food, prepared in a nearby food truck and brought to the table by servers, includes Argentinian beef empanadas spiced with cumin, oregano and house chimichurri and Truffle Mushroom Pizza crafted with wild mushrooms, garlic and truffle salt. All is made to be shared with friends. Adults can appease their inner child with slushie-style drinks such as Frozen Rosé, which offers a unique twist on the traditional glass of wine.
Brasil, 2604 Dunlavy: Owner Dan Fergus’ green thumb has turned the front patio of this coffee shop into a magical garden canopy with an incognito view of its bustling Montrose neighborhood. The more spacious back patio offers seclusion from the street and a bit more room. There is an industrial sophistication to this long-standing coffee-shop and gallery space, too, that reflects an ongoing relationship with Houston’s art community.
Place all food and drink orders at the counter, take a table number and a server will bring out the goods. At just $10, the avocado toast is a starving artist’s dream, and other must-try options include tamales with fillings like heritage pork or black bean and sweet potato. Brasil is also popular for fresh pizzas, such as the one loaded with fig and prosciutto. Sip hot and cold coffee drinks prepared with beans from local roasters Cleo Roasting Co.
Kau Ba Saigon, 2502 Dunlavy: Chef Nikki Tran serves her Vietnamese-Cajun (or “Viejun,” as she calls it) cuisine at this playful and inviting pergola-style patio. Expect many pleasant surprises here, including the Seafood Viejun made with prawns, clams, mussels, corn, potatoes and viejun sauce and Saigon Sunrise, a pork chop with egg cake, kimchi apples, shredded pork skin and a fried egg. Don’t forget to stop inside and check out the beautifully remodeled bar area.
La Grange, 2517 Ralph: Get lost in this cactus-adorned, two-story patio tucked away in Montrose. Heated booths are also available for chillier weather. Choose approachable dishes such as Shrimp and Crab Empanadas filled with peppers and seafood and served with cilantro cream or Tac-itos, crispy beef and bean mini tacos served with sour cream, guacamole and salsa fresca. Drinks run the gamut from traditional to original. The latter includes the CBD oil-infused Willie Nelson’s with Garden Saint George Terroir Gin, lime juice, simple syrup and fresh rosemary.
El Pueblito, 1423 Richmond: There’s shade a-plenty at this long-running patio restaurants thanks to both semi-private, curtained cabanas and overhead palm and banana trees. The decidedly tropical vibe permeates the entire menu. For example, Cocorita cocktail is served in a coconut, and ceviche is served in pineapples. Chips come with complimentary pineapple salsa. The seafood-forward menu features fun dishes such as Spanish Salmon with Spanish artichokes, diced tomatoes and white wine lemon butter sauce and Pez de Dios, rainbow trout marinated and topped with roasted almonds.
Piggy’s, 3412 West Lamar: This patio is a big, playful garden with squash growing from old freezers and corn hole games for unwinding. The grub is hearty fare. Chicken fried steak is served with bourbon gravy, mashed potatoes and broccolini. The burger choices are creative, such as the Piggie Burger that replaces ground beef with smoked andouille sausage topped with crispy shallots and arugula. Appetizers include Pretzelaches (knockwurst kolaches) served with 1836 Beer Cheese.
The Phoenix On Westheimer, 1915 Westheimer: There are essentially three patios at this community-centered Montrose bar and eatery: a fenced dining area that wraps around the front, one in the front parking lot and another in the back. Any of the spaces are ideal for trying Lockdown Brown, one of many proprietary brews. Bites from the varied menu include Jameson Salmon with Jameson Whiskey glaze that evokes the highlands of Ireland, and Jalapeño Chicken ― stir-fried chicken with onions and jalapeños over Jasmine rice ― that feels like a homey Houston dish. Vegetarians won’t feel left out; the Vegan Street Tacos are one of several meat-free options.
Lucille’s, 5512 La Branch: Discover reimagined soul food at this cool and cozy restaurant in the Museum District that has a lovely backyard patio. Must-try dishes include Gumbo Z’Herbes, a hard-to-find gumbo style with mixed greens. Chef Chris Williams makes his rendition with ham hock andouille and serves it with potato salad. There are also braised oxtails with serrano-cheddar grits and rich oxtail jus, and lighter fare such as the brunch-only watermelon salad with baby arugula, iced red onions and pistachios in a lemon-ginger vinaigrette or the roasted acorn squash stuffed with collard greens, quinoa and kuchela (a green mango relish popular in Trinidad and Tobago).
Turkey Leg Hut, 4830 Almeda: When COVID-19 came to town, this popular spot simply moved the party outside. The series of cabanas that sprung up around the building each seem to have a unique function, such as for live music, DJ’s, bars or smoking from hookas. The lively place, as much cultural center as restaurant, has drawn celebrities such as Kevin Hart and 50 Cent, among others. As the name implies, stuffed turkey legs are the specialty. These are injected with brine and slow roasted to keep them juicy. The fillings include Cajun Crawfish Mac and Cheese or Alfredo Shrimp. There are more Gulf Coast essentials, too, such as fried catfish, boudin balls and wings. Drinks are sweet and boozy, like the Thug Passion with Remy Martin and passionfruit purée.
Hungry’s, 2356 Rice: Choose the upstairs or downstairs patio at this oak-lined Rice Village eatery. Either way, expect healthy fare in the form of pizzas, sandwiches, grains and pastas such as Ahi Tuna Tartare on a bed of guacamole with homestyle crisps or Organic Tricolor Quinoa Salad with turmeric roasted zucchini, broccoli, red bell pepper and red onion.For something more substantial, try the Honey Ginger Salmon with basmati lentil rice, seasonal vegetables and garlic toast. Sophisticated cocktails round out the menu, with selections such as the Green Garden with Ketel One Botanical cucumber and mint, lemon, agave and jalapeño. The Memorial-area Hungry’s and newer plant-based restaurant Heartbeet, both at 14714 Memorial, share an equally great patio.
Roma, 2347 University: The patio deck at this Rice University spot has all of our favorite things: comfy chairs, twinkling lights, shade and heaters. Leafy vines hang from the patio’s awning, creating a green fence around the dining area. Start the meal with one of the perfectly crafted pastas such as Carbonara made with Guanciale (cured pork cheek) or fettuccine with pecorino Romano tossed tableside in a hollowed cheese wheel. Classic Italian entrées are available, too, such as Osso Buco or Veal Scallopini. Wine director Jeremy Parzen helms the carefully curated Italian wine program, which is bolstered by in-person and virtual educational wine dinners.
Backstreet Cafe, 1103 South Shepherd: This classic 1930’s house-turned-restaurant gives you the feeling of being invited to a River Oaks home to dine. Five-time James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur semifinalist Tracy Vaught opened it in 1983, and she runs it with her husband, James Beard Award-winning chef Hugo Ortega. Visit for main courses such as oven-roasted duck and Berkshire pork chop to pair with upscale sides such as corn pudding, sweet potato terrine and charred Brussels sprouts. Pizza, pasta, and beverage director Sean Beck’s lovely wine and cocktail lists round out the offerings. Enjoy it all on the quiet, elegant patio shaded by a new, 23,000-pound live oak that was airlifted to the back patio on Earth Day 2021.
Brenner’s on the Bayou, 1 Birdsall: One of the most wedding-worthy patios in Houston, its manicured grounds lay alongside a heavily wooded part of Buffalo Bayou. An attractive gazebo dubbed the Blue Bar is a lounge-y destination ideal for private parties. There is also a casual lower deck and upstairs loft for more casual affairs. Dine on wild boar rack with caramelized onion marmalade and raclette or lemon-pepper spiked local Renaissance Farms Roasted Chicken. For a romantic dessert, choose a soufflé flavored with Grand Marnier, Chambord or Godiva chocolate.
Tiny Boxwoods, 3614 West Alabama: Vines crawl up the walls of this picturesque, tree-lined patio, and a chalkboard menu greets guests at the counter. Order refreshing, non-alcoholic drinks such as Orange Julia, a frothy orange juice concoction, or grab a bottle of Spanish 1994 Urbina Gran Reserva Rioja. Most of the dishes are on the lighter side, such as avocado toast with honey, organic sourdough, and fried egg with bacon. There are also more indulgent dishes such as the Espresso-Rubbed Ribeye with chimmi [chimichurri] and fries.
B.B. Lemon, 1809 Washington: Bistro fare under white canvas cabanas provide a virtual French experience right in the heart of the Washington Corridor. There is lawn seating, too, and the patio is well-appointed with fans, heaters, string lights and plenty of elbow room. The seafood-focused menu is bright and accessible. Look for favorites such as tuna tartare and campechana. Cajun-inspired dishes include Blue Crab Beignets and Pistachio Crusted Fried Shrimp with mixed greens. Carnivores will appreciate carefully chosen meat dishes such as pork schnitzel with brown butter spaetzle and a poached egg. The cocktails keep a variety of palates in mind, too, like the Social Butterfly made with tequila, passion fruit syrup and apricot liqueur. Sister restaurant B & B Butchers offers exceptional aged beef and some seats on the upper terrace have a stellar view of downtown.
Xin Chao, 2310 Decatur: It’s easy to see why fans flock to this establishment from Masterchef 2012 winner Christine Ha and Tony Nguyen. The Southern-meets-Vietnam menu is brimming with flavorful, enticing choices. Start with a Ube Daiquiri or milky Pandan Colada, then choose from four kinds of oysters, such as grilled topped with pork cracklins, scallion oil and peanuts. Don’t miss the Nguyen-er Nguyen-er Chicken Dinner, a lemongrass buttermilk fried chicken with pickled cucumber, beef tallow aioli and hot saté honey. The fenced patio offers plenty of outdoor seating, with blue picnic tables and perky orange umbrellas for shade. Expect a bustling scene both inside and out on Friday and Saturday nights.
Clay’s, 17717 Clay Road: Multiple decks line this Wild West-themed restaurant. It even has a chapel, saloon and corral surrounding a central courtyard with a charming ghost town vibe. It is supremely kid-friendly, too, with a giant sandbox located near the lodge and a pony rail lined with coin-operated rides for younger children. There is plenty to do, see and explore. The cuisine is basic Texan, with chicken fried steaks, fried catfish and jalapeño poppers along with a host of burgers including a veggie burger option.
Treebeards, 9655 Katy Freeway: The newest location of this Cajun comfort food institution in Bunker Hill simply opened a wall-sized door to the outside making it more like a three-sided restaurant than a patio. The result is a restaurant and bar with plenty of fresh air. Perfect red beans and rice is the secret to Treebeards’ 40-year success, along with staples such as shrimp etouffee and seafood or chicken and sausage gumbo. Comfort food classics such as blackened or fried catfish and pot roast are served alongside lighter dishes like Pear Walnut and Blue Cheese Salad. Patio heaters are available for outdoor seating.