Tony's

Image: Julie Soefer

When the holidays roll around and it’s time to celebrate with friends and family, you want a night out to feel like an occasion. Head to one of these fancy, festive Houston restaurants for dinner with a heaping helping of love and cheer. 

Backstreet Cafe

One of the main attractions at Backstreet— helmed by chef Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s, along with his wife, Tracy Vaught—is the heated patio seating in the big backyard of the restored River Oaks manse that houses the restaurant. The other is the pioneering seasonal American menu—which also includes thoughtful vegetarian and gluten-free dishes—as well as a smart beer-and-wine list that, like the food, features a little something for everyone.

BCN Taste & Tradition

Anyone lucky enough to have spent time on Spain’s Mediterranean coast will immediately recognize the energy inside BCN’s renovated Montrose bungalow. It’s not the original Picassos and Mirós hanging from gallery-smooth walls that make this place so vibrantly Spanish, it’s the cool Costa Blanca white tones, the gentle, elegant service, the pops of color you see everywhere—in the edible violets floating in the artful gin-tonics, say, and the bright orange prawn atop bomba rice cooked in black cuttlefish ink.

Brennan’s of Houston

Housed in the old Junior League of Houston building on the edge of Midtown where it meets Montrose, this stalwart Creole palace was also the site of Aurora and Garrett’s lunch date in Terms of Endearment (the film for which a room in the restaurant is now named). Pearland native Joe Cervantez helms the kitchen these days, sticking to staples such as the authentic turtle soup, bread pudding, and Bananas Foster, which was invented in 1951 at the original Brennan’s in New Orleans. Those dishes remain as popular as ever.

Brenner’s Steakhouse on the Bayou

Too few places in Houston afford a picturesque view, hence the appeal of the lush bayou backdrop at Brenner’s, which is nearly next door to Bayou Bend and shares the same verdant, rolling, flora-covered terrain. In keeping with the rustic appeal, the menu features abundant game, from ostrich tenderloin to crispy duck leg confit. For something less filling, grab a glass of wine and some parmesan fries at the restaurant’s Blue Bar, which affords an al fresco view.

Coltivare

Morgan Weber, who, along with chef Ryan Pera, also owns Revival Market a few blocks down the street, designed Coltivare’s handsome worn-wood interior. Outdoor tables sit practically in picking distance from the raised-bed gardens, where the restaurant grows most of its herbs and some of its salad ingredients. Seasonal small plates, pizzas, and pasta dishes are all spot-on.

The Baller Board at Georgia James is perfect for special occasions. 

Image: Amy Scott

Georgia James

Chef Chris Shepherd’s steakhouse is a celebration of Houston’s fascination with meat, with standout offerings such as a wagyu zabuton and 100-day-wet-aged hanger steak. But there are other reasons to visit this hip steakhouse: the over-the-top raw bar, Viet-Cajun roasted oysters, devilishly delicious house-cured charcuterie, Tejas Heritage chicken, and whiskey-forward bar among them.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

If there’s a Platonic ideal of a Houston steakhouse, this may be it. At both locations its dark, wood-paneled interior swarms with crisply dressed waiters shouldering platter after platter of mouthwatering seared beef and all manner of classic sides like creamed spinach and mashed potatoes. Just about any steak you order here will be among the best you’ll get in town. There’s an encyclopedic wine list heavy on French and American reds, with more than a few big California cabs and some French selections that cost more than the car you drove there in.

Tony’s

Chef de cuisine Austin Waiter’s creative tasting menu, which changes often, wows with the type of dishes that should make the Michelin Guide take notice: a duck press for two, a foie gras flambé, and that famous gigantic soufflé. Add in any of the house-made pastas and the always-impeccable service at this Greenway Plaza favorite, and there’s reason to believe that Tony’s is still at the top of its game after 54 years in business.

Image: Jenn Duncan

TRIS at the Woodlands

Chef Austin Simmons’s fine-dining restaurant, named after his daughter, offers a menu influenced by his travels to places like France, Italy, and Thailand. You must get the tender, butter-poached, chile-dusted crab, served on a snappy kimchi pancake with a sumptuous butter sauce and pickled daikon. Simmons is also quite skilled with steaks.

Yauatcha

This revered “dim sum teahouse” has locations around the world but only one in the U.S.—in Houston. The place is internationally famous for a host of reasons, including its Instragram-worthy dumplings—get the duck-and-pumpkin puffs. Other must-orders include the sweet and spicy Thai-style chicken and the gorgeous Euro-style desserts.