Houston’s Hautest Hotspots

I have a weird two-career professional life. The IT consulting sends my kids to college, while food writing and photography (usually in collaboration with my husband Chuck Cook) satisfies my creative side.

A backpack and laptop are my constant lug-along companions, and I’m always on the lookout for places to work while enjoying a good meal and a tasty beverage. With the input of some Twitter friends, I compiled the following list of places offering free WiFi where you can settle in and get some real work done.

Gratifi, 302 Fairview, 832-203-5950, gratifikitchenandbar.com

Gratifi Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon

The recent beneficiary of a makeover courtesy of Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible has a brand-new menu and also free WiFi. The revamped grub includes noshables like savory shortbread, seared tuna with jicama slaw and shaved apple and a soup of the day. Fans who love Gratifi for its vegetable offerings need not fear; there are still plenty of those, including roasted acorn squash and beet salad.

Reserve 101, 1201 Caroline, reserve101.com

Reserve 101 rolled out its food menu in late 2013. It features a variety of flatbread pizzas, a “big ass pretzel” and a mezcal-spiked tomato salad (photo below). Best of all, they specialize in whiskey, so I can stop in with my laptop and channel Ernest Hemingway with a stiff drink by my side. (You know… for inspiration.) Choose from one of more than 300 whiskeys or a cheekily-named cocktail, like the Tequila Mockingbird. 

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Blacksmith, 1018 Westheimer, 832-360-7470, facebook.com/blacksmithouston

Blacksmith Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon

Too early for whiskey? There are solutions for that. Go for a creamy mocha or an enlivening shot of espresso at Blacksmith where there are always people working or social media-ing on their laptops. Unlike most coffee shops, Blacksmith also offers a hearty breakfast and lunch menu. The crispy-bottomed tender biscuits are without peer, and when you get the sausage, cheese and egg rendition, it’s a great start to the day. Note that Blacksmith is only open until 5 pm.

Double Trouble Caffeine & Cocktails, 3266 Main St. Suite D, 713-874-0096

Double Trouble Caffeine & Cocktails on Urbanspoon

So you can’t decide if you want coffee or a cocktail? That’s why we have Double Trouble. There are so many people who work there in the mornings that the place looks like an Internet cafe. Early morning, enjoy a selection of espresso drinks, and after 11 am (noon on Sundays), you can opt for a cocktail or one of the local craft beer selections. There are very limited food offerings here (generally only a few pastries or breads), but Tacos a Go-Go is just down the way. You’re welcome to go pick up a bag of tacos and bring it back.

Downhouse, 1801 Yale, 713-864-3696, downhousehouston.com

Down House on Urbanspoon

You can get just about any kind of beverage you want at Downhouse, whether it be coffee, a cocktail ( maybe the Big Ol’ Bloody Mary with a chicken wing and beer back, photo below), beer or a glass of wine. On a chilly day — how many more of those can we expect this winter? — try the delightful hot toddy with smokey Compass Box whiskey and chamomile tea. The kimchi burger and fries will assuage all but the most ravenous appetites.

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El Big Bad, 419 Travis, 713-229-8181, elbigbad.com

El Big Bad on Urbanspoon

Chef Ben Rabbani and crew have been nailing the menu at the new downtown restaurant and bar (in the space where Cabo used to be). With or without a laptop, you’ll be happy to perch with a basket of their superior fish tacos at the side. (Better keep a napkin handy.) The chips and trio of salsas are highly munchable and, like their predecessor El Gran Malo, there’s an offering of a wide variety of exotic infused tequilas.

(Note: The original El Gran Malo (2307 Ella Blvd.), by the way, also offered free WiFi, but it closed on Sunday, February 23. They are expected to reopen at a future date in a new place, as yet unannounced.)

MKT Bar/Phoenicia Foods, 1001 Austin, 832-360-2222, phoeniciafoods.com

Mkt Bar on Urbanspoon

It’s a happy thing to settle into Sunday morning with a breakfast plate from the buffet bar at Phoenicia Foods. Or visit MKT Bar for the hummus or the harissa roasted chicken. There are several tempting desserts, too, and a selection of exotic teas, such as roobios and chai.

Also… Bubble Tea Houses

The Teahouse on UrbanspoonT House Houston on UrbanspoonBubble Tea House on Urbanspoon

There must be some kind of kindred relationship between bubble tea and technology, because every bubble tea house I’ve been to also has WiFi. Try Teahouse Tapioca & Tea (2089 Westheimer), T-House Tea & Coffee Bar (10826 Grant Road) or Bubble Tea House (1560 Eldridge Pkwy.).

by Phaedra Cook, photos by Eric Kayne (for the Chronicle) and Becca Wright | SideDish | Date February 25, 2014

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