Best Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Houston
At times, being a parent is so exhausting you’re simply too tired to cook. Other times, you find yourself driving from school to music practice with a carload of hungry children. Then there are times when it’s just nice to go out and enjoy a meal together for fun, convenience, celebration or simply to expand the palates of your young ones. Whatever the reason, Houston has a plethora of family-friendly dining options.
In theory, any restaurant can be kid-friendly from higher-end establishments such as Theodore Rex (which incidentally is named after chef-owner Justin Yu’s young nephew) to joints serving up longtime kid favorites like Good Dog Houston and ultra-casual taco trucks like Tacos Tierra Caliente.
After 12 years of being lucky enough to share chicken fingers, sample sushi and slurp down oysters with my daughter, I’ve picked up few tips and tricks to help make dining out with children more pleasant for parents, children and your fellow diners.
- Be mindful and flexible: When people go out to eat, they often have a specific experience in mind. This experience may or may not include the addition of children. Being mindful of this will ensure respect for the expectations of other paying customers. It’s true that some dinning rooms can be distractingly loud, but no one really wants to dine next to a sobbing baby, a tantrum-throwing toddler or tweens hurling themselves around a patio. If your child starts to act up, remove them from the situation, explore alternative distractions or simply leave and try again another day. It also helps to discuss expectations with your children, so they understand what is going to happen and how they should behave. Most importantly, be prepared, be flexible, and be mindful of your children’s behavior and your fellow diners.
- Dine early or during off times: If possible, visit restaurants during slower times, when dining rooms are less crowded. If you are dining out in the evening, especially at a nicer restaurant, try to go around 5 p.m. For lunch, go early, around 11 a.m., or after 1:30 p.m.
- Patios are your friend: Patio dining is often more casual, even at higher-end restaurants, so they are ideal for children. Children often have a little more room to move around and noise is often less of an issue. However, patios aren’t a license for your children to run wild. You still need to be mindful of others.
- Dining with devices and other forms of meal-time entertainment: Though it’s a controversial topic, it’s my experience and opinion that dining with devices is fine provided the location and situation is appropriate. Coloring on an iPad app during a casual lunch, while parents get a much needed break from the kitchen, is okay, but wearing headphones while watching a movie at a nice restaurant is less appropriate. When dining out, I recommend one of the many coloring, drawing, and educational apps that are now available. You can also interact with your children by playing device-based games together. In all cases, make sure the sound is off. Plus, it helps to bring non-digital options like crayons, a pad of paper, a coloring book, a favorite toy or two, and books to read.
Despite these guidelines, some places are just inherently more kid-friendly. Here are a few of my go-to favorites in Houston.
Coffee shops can be very useful for parents because they are usually versatile and laid-back. Use them for business meetings when you need to bring your child along or for casual social gatherings with other parents and kids. Most shops also offer all-day menus so a quick breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack is simple, easy and fulfilling. Caffeine is optional, but often needed.
Antidote Coffee 729 Studewood: I might be biased because my daughter met her life-long best friends at Antidote but this family-friendly third place is great for on-the-run coffee for you and breakfast for your kid. At lunch, you can grab sandwiches. In the evenings, stop by for a beer-and-wine nightcap with other parents while the kids enjoy ice cream. If you’re in Montrose, visit its sister location Black Hole at 4505 Graustark.
Dandelion Café 5405 Bellaire: Tucked into a plaza that includes fellow kid-friendly spots Bernie’s Burger Bus and Blood Bros. BBQ, this Bellaire establishment offers not only a much needed pick-me-up for parents but also a variety of breakfast items and sandwiches that adults and children will enjoy.
Morningstar 4721 N Main: This hotspot in the Heights owned by David Buehrer and Ecky Prabanto can be crowded in the morning, but after that it’s a good spot for a quick late breakfast or lunch with your kids. There are doughnuts, too, with creative flavors like the olive oil and sea salt old-fashioned doughnut and lots of other fun combinations for kids. Savory choices range from breakfast tacos to kolaches and biscuits plus one of my favorites, the shaken beef salad.
Slowpokes two locations, 1203 W 34th and 2925 Richmond: Cool off, warm up or wind down with coffee, local craft beer and wine at both locations. Hungry families can appreciate quality flat breads — try the Squash It with butternut squash, gorgonzola and caramelized onions — and sandwiches served for lunch and dinner. The Richmond location is perfect for hungry families that have spent the day at Levy Park whereas the Garden Oaks/Oak Forest location is a fun, family-friendly hangout. Look for a third location opening soon in Spring Branch.
El Asador 3750 S. Mason: In the Houston area, most neighborhoods have at least one Tex-Mex restaurant where families gather for fajitas, enchiladas and margaritas. El Asador in Katy is my current favorite. No-fuss finger foods like marinated, grilled skirt steak wrapped in thin, flavorful flour tortillas or delightful chips dipped in piquant green salsa make casual dining with the family fun and enjoyable.
Les Ba’get 1717 W. 34th: After converting their Montrose location to Les Noo’dle, owners Cat Huynh and Angie Dang have recently reopened Les Ba’get in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest. They still serve some of the best bánh mì in Houston — I’m a big fan of the Lemongrass Pork. They also serve good phở and a variety of excellent kid-friendly spring- and eggrolls — my daughter likes the Royal (a crunchy eggroll stuffed with tender crab, shrimp and pork). The menu is a winning combo for any hungry family.
Bernie’s Burger Bus locations in Bellaire, the Heights, Katy, and Missouri City: This mini-chain serves up some of the Houston-area’s best burgers, plus there are shakes for the kids and beer and cocktails for the adults.
Down House 1801 Yale: This Heights joint reminds me of an updated version of the all-purpose restaurant in the small town where I grew up that was simply called The Place. It boasts a good patio and a solid selection of burgers, sandwiches, fried chicken, salads (try the steak and blue cheese salad), vegetable dishes, and consistently good cocktails. It’s a good choice for a family outing at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Flower Piggy Korean BBQ 1411 Gessner: Many children are entranced by watching their meal grilled right in front of them and this spot, with a fun name, offers delicious food with built-in entertainment. Located just off Long Point in Houston’s Korea Town, this Korean barbecue establishment offers a large variety of meats to grill along with a tasty array of banchan. It also offers many other Korean specialties. Try the marinated beef short ribs, crispy seafood pancake, and japchase (sweet potato noodles with beef and vegetables).
Fu Fu Cafe 9889 Bellaire. My daughter loves dumplings. They are one of the world’s perfect foods and this Asiatown stalwart offers a good selection plus sundry other delectable Chinese dishes that will please everyone in the family.
Good Dog Houston 903 Studewood and 1312 W. Alabama. The Heights locale is a personal family mainstay that serves that perpetual kid favorite, hot dogs. However, it goes beyond a basic ketchup and chili dog with Texas-style franks and housemade condiments. Try the Ol’ Zapata topped with bacon, muenster cheese, caramelized onions, tomatoes, jalapeño relish, ketchup, mayonnaise and let your kid indulge in the Rodeo Dog with cheddar mac & cheese, house BBQ sauce, bacon, scallion, and parmesan breadcrumbs. Vegetarian teens won’t be left out, they offer tofu franks in any of their flavorful combinations. They also serve a variety of specialty sodas and milkshakes, as well as Texas wines and craft beers from Texas breweries.
Harlem Road Texas BBQ 9823 Harlem Road: Texans will drive halfway across the state for good barbecue. A mini road trip to Fort Bend County to try what Texas Monthly considers one of the best new barbecue joints in Texas is, by comparison, an easy jaunt. Bring the kids, slide onto one of the picnic-table benches and try the beef ribs and brisket. But save room for pit master Ara Malekian’s signature sides and desserts.
Melange Creperie 711 Heights: After winning fans at multiple Houston street corners as a food cart, Melange Creperie, operated by Sean Carroll and his wife, Tish, finally found a permanent home in the Heights Mercantile development. Carroll creates perfect, thin crepes with crunchy edges. The fillings, often made with locally sourced ingredients, are inspired by the international dishes that are part of Houston’s multicultural gumbo. A note to parents: Melange Creperie’s pink bungalow across from Donovan Park is the perfect place to lunch with kids after a morning at the playground.
Paulie’s 1834 Westheimer: This classic neighborhood café has a big selection of pastas, which you can order in half portions that are perfect for kids. Combined with the sandwiches and seasonal, colorful shortbread cookies, it’s an ideal stop for weekday or weekend meals with the whole family. Extra perks include good coffee and a nice selection of wines for an energy boost or relaxation as the day requires. I recommend the spicy bucatini all’amatriciana and my daughter loves the spaghetti and meatballs.
Pizaro’s Pizza two locations, 1000 W Gray and 11177 Katy Freeway: Most kids love pizza and there are plenty of pizza joints catering to big groups with kids but, if you want a place that both kids and parents will enjoy, try Pizaro’s. There is something for everyone with three styles: Napoletana, Detroit and New York. I prefer the thin crust, traditional Napoletana style. Those pies are smaller so you can try more than one. My daughter usually gets the Margherita, which is simply adorned with tomato sauce and housemade mozzarella. I’ll get the Calabrese topped with spicy sopressata and pepperoni.
El Rey locations in Copperfield, the Heights, Spring Branch/Memorial and the Washington Corridor: You’re starving. Your toddler is asleep in their car seat but will wake up hungry. What you need is a drive-thru. So seek out El Rey’s golden crown. When you do, drive up and order a couple of Cuban tacos for you, a side order of plantains for your toddler and a large cantaloupe juice to enjoy together.
Shri Balaji Bhavan 5655 Hillcroft: This Gandhi District vegetarian classic specializes in dosa and Southern Indian chaat. Step up to the counter and order an assortment of savory snacks — samosas, green onion pakora (kid-friendly fried fritters), idli, and aloo bonda. With such a large selection of reasonably priced options, you and your kids can try several. Don’t forget to order a dosa that is nearly as wide as the table.
(For more detailed descriptions of Bernie’s Burger Bus, Good Dog Houston and Melange Creperie, see my article on best lunches in the Heights.)
Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino 3215 Westheimer: Giacomo’s operates in that useful space between casual and fine dining, which is especially good for parents wanting a night out when they don’t have a sitter. This Italian establishment is one of Houston’s underrated gems serving excellent pasta dishes, amazing vegetables and very good Italian wines. The tortelli di bietola (half moon ravioli stuffed with Swiss chard) is one of my favorite dishes in town and my daughter enjoys the tagliatelle alla Bolognese, which, like several of their pasta dishes, are available as half orders that are perfect for children.
Goode Company Seafood: 2621 Westpark Drive and 10211 Katy Freeway. The Westpark location, which is partially in a train car (something most kids will love) would easily fit on the casual list. In contrast, the spacious Katy Freeway location leans toward fine dining but would also work for large groups (more details below). Both locations serve the company’s rightfully famous campechana de mariscos, oysters (raw and cooked), and some of the best mesquite-grilled and fried seafood in the city.
Kata Robata 3600 Kirby: My daughter loves sushi and every year for her birthday she requests a meal at Kata Robata, which is her favorite restaurant in Houston. Though dinner can be expensive, it’s worth a planned splurge. It is consistently considered one of the best restaurants in Houston. Strategic ordering or opting for a lunch visit will make the bill less daunting.
Squable: Though I wouldn’t hesitate to take my daughter to Justin Yu’s Theodore Rex, if I could get a reservation, many parents might feel more comfortable taking their children to the more spacious and semi sister-restaurant Squable. Everything at Squable is shareable, so kids and parents can sample several dishes and find something they like. The kids will likely enjoy the maltagliati pasta with buttered braised onions and Parmesan (basically, it’s a more sophisticated take on that quick kid classic, pasta with butter) and most will enjoy the roast chicken with fried bread dumplings. They reserve about half the tables for walk-ins, so go early if you don’t have a reservation, and keep the spacious patio in mind for larger groups or more casual meals.
State of Grace 3258 Westheimer: Though this restaurant with its sleek interior and contemporary sophistication may seem “too nice” for kids, don’t worry. The convivial atmosphere is great for well-mannered children and the menu has plenty to offer for every taste. Modern spins on classics include the juicy Pharmacy Burger, pork schnitzel, and blackened catfish.
Sometimes you have family in town or need a place to celebrate a childhood milestone. These large gatherings can be a challenge, but with proper planning — and proper reservations — they are very doable and equally enjoyable.
Fung’s Kitchen 7320 Southwest Freeway: Dim Sum, with its wide-range of fun bites to try, is perfect for kids. Fung’s has that, plus a large menu of other dishes all served in a plush, cavernous dining room. There’s plenty to satisfy everyone.
Hugo’s 1600 Westheimer: While Hugo’s top-notch margaritas and tangy, fresh ceviche verde are perfect for that much-needed date night, it’s also great for larger groups. In particular, the Sunday brunch buffet accommodates groups of every size and the multiple tables laden with food satiate even the most vigorous appetites. The brunch buffet is available Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations recommended.
The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation 2704 Navigation: This Houston classic is also a classic place to celebrate. It has multiple large dining rooms, great food, good drinks, and you can share fajitas. But check the Astros’ schedule. It can get crowded after a game.
Pico’s: Chef Arnaldo Richards explores interior Mexican cuisine in his generous dining room that’s perfect for big groups. Try the chiles en nogada tradicionales, the succulent pork shank with purslane or one of his rich moles.
THAT HIGHLY RECOMMENDED PLACE I HAVEN’T TRIED YET
Café Mawal 6006 Fairdale: My friend and fellow food writer Nick Hall is also the father of three, so he’s learned a few things about dining with children. He recently recommended Café Mawal as a great kid-friendly restaurant with a sprawling backyard and a big menu of Middle Eastern favorites. I can’t wait to try it.
As is often the case when discussing dining in Houston, this list just scratches the surface. The Houston area has many cultures, cuisines, and definitions of family and family-friendly. This list reflects my current kid-friendly favorites and restaurants that, over the years, have worked well for our family. I hope it, along with the basic guidelines, encourages you to go out, try something new and enjoy a good meal with your family.