By Joanna O’Leary
Gone are the days when hungry moviegoers had to satiate their appetites with over-salted popcorn and jujubes. Houston is currently home to multiple theaters that offer patrons more than snacks, and some—perhaps in an attempt to compete with our city’s stellar restaurant scene—are even going real (reel?) classy, y’all!
The original intersection of cinema and cuisine is the Alamo Drafthouse, which started in Austin and is now a nationwide chain with three area branches (Sugar Land, Mason Park, Vintage Park). The theater offers a full bar featuring local brews and spirits, and its regular menu is extensive. You can nosh on truffled butter popcorn, fried pickles, mozzarella sticks, and avocado before moving on to a pizza (with your choice of gourmet toppings including fried rosemary, brussels sprout, and chipotle cream sauce), fish and chips, hatch chile macaroni and cheese, or a burger. (Psst . . . those determined to stick to a diet even on movie night out should try the Drafthouse’s beet-and-goat-cheese salad.) For a sweet, boozy ending to your meal, go for an adult milkshake like the “Grasshopper” with crème de menthe and crème de cacao, or the “Maker’s Mark Milk Punch.”
Downtown Houston became an even more attractive evening destination with the arrival of Sundance Cinemas. Unlike other dinner-and-a-movie outlets where food is served in the theater itself, Sundance has appetizers, entrées, and beer and wine available for purchase in the lobby that can then be taken in to the movie. One advantage of this system is the ability to assemble your entire cinematic picnic of sorts, so that you can graze as you please without having to order course-by-course and tolerate unpredictable service times. Menu highlights include the sweet, piquant pear and Gorgonzola pizza, the rich Parmesan breadcrumb-crusted mozzarella sticks, and the house-made potato chips. Also not to be missed are Sundance’s signature cocktails, the most creative of which are the “Doctor Jones” (pecan-infused whiskey, ginger beer, mole bitters, lime) and the “Moonraker” (pear vodka, pineapple juice, jasmine syrup, and lavender bitters).
Thanks to its location in west Houston’s bustling CityCentre, Studio Movie Grill is an ideal setting to kick back and take a breather between meals, shopping, and frolicking in the fountain (hey, why not?). In addition to booth seating and relatively smaller screening rooms that allow for a more intimate experience, the daily specials (such as $5 Long Island iced teas on Tuesday) and $25 prix-fixe menus (one starter, two mains) can really help with your date-night movie budget. Studio Movie Grill has familiar fare such as soft pretzels and pizza, plus some more intriguing bites like coconut chicken tenders. Their dessert menu—including frozen hot chocolate, brownie sundaes, and Nutella beignets—deserves special mention.
The most luxurious film experience can be found near the Galleria at iPic, where roughly $20 buys you a premium VIP seat (covered by an on-call server) that is actually half of a two-person cubbie stocked with pillows and blankets. Enjoy a blockbuster while you sip designer drinks and eat deliciously untraditional movie snacks such as lobster rolls, buffalo-chicken spring rolls, and flaky, fresh-from-the-oven biscuits with ham, cheddar, and maple butter. (And by the way, contrary to what some online reviews might claim, those bags of popcorn liberally dispensed by passing servers are free.)
Before or after the show at iPic, stop at The Tuck Room, a nearby gastrolounge designed by James Beard Award-winning chef Sherry Yard. The communal seating, attentive bartenders, and extensive shared-plate menu are especially helpful if you’re herding a large group. Don’t miss the potato and sweet-corn croquettes, ahi tuna poke with edamame and macadamia nut crunch, loaded tater tots with bacon ketchup, and our favorite, the “pappas bravas,” a veritable mountain of meatballs resting on a bed of crisp fingerling potatoes. The Tuck Room takes its drinks just as seriously as its food, so try the “Norma Jean,” a flirty collaboration of vodka, lemonade, and strawberries, or the “Bees Knees,” a liquid tribute to the Lone Star State featuring blue corn whiskey, Texas wildflower honey, and Griffin Apiary black currant mead.
Whether you dream of pitchers of beer paired with the latest Marvel flick or a curated charcuterie plate alongside a rom-com, Houston has many appetizing options. Just remember to buy your tickets early, as these experiences tend to book quickly.
Joanna O’Leary is a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.