It all starts with a whimper. A slow-building, blood-curdling moan of discontent. One minute your little one is gleefully coloring in a pizza pie maze on the back of a paper place mat. The next, he’s reaching for your glass of chardonnay. Horror washes over you like a tidal wave. Little Johnny is over sitting in his kiddie chair and the appetizers haven’t even arrived yet.
Anyone who’s tried to bring their child to a restaurant knows the struggle. Regardless of age, temperament, or the mountain of toys you bring to keep the kids occupied, some eateries are more suited to families than others. Here are six of my favorites family-friendly restaurants in Austin in alphabetical order.
Criteria: Restaurants on this list had to check at least three of the following boxes:
- Kid-friendly menu options.
- Location has something for children to do other than sit at the table and complain.
- Food must be palatable for kiddos and adults alike.
- Ease of escape, just in case the little one turns into a raving lunatic.
While most don’t think of this beloved east Austin culinary hotspot as a place to bring the kiddos, Contigo offers the best of both worlds. Not only does the ranch-to-table concept produce exquisite cuisine for adults, but dishes like the chicken meatballs, grilled cheese, and absolutely stunning burger satisfy the most finicky of child-sized stomachs.
The only drawback to Contigo is it’s a sit-down restaurant, meaning an early escape due to meltdown can be a challenge. But thanks to the eatery’s outdoor block party vibe, complete with washers and dog run, you shouldn’t need a reason to do so. A restaurant made for family members of every age and appetite.
2027 Anchor Lane – Website
2/ Flores Mexican Restaurant
If you don’t know, now you know: kids love Tex Mex. From classic enchiladas, to traditional plates like chile relleno and pozole verde, Flores Mexican Restaurant has everyone in the van covered. While there’s no official kids menu, I’ve never met a child who didn’t like enchiladas or quesadillas (or daddy-dillas, when I make them for my little guy).
Flores is also home to an excellent playscape, giving little ones ample opportunity to work off those carbs, as mom and dad sip margaritas in comfort. Viva el tortilla!
8300 N. FM 620 (4625 W. William Cannon Dr. location also has playground) – Website
3/ Hat Creek Burger Company
When discussing this list with a friend of mine, he said, “Are you going to include low brow places like Hat Creek?” He and I haven’t been on speaking terms ever since. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan of everything Hat Creek Burger Company does. With lightning fast service, delicious burgers, and a play area at every location, it’s a haven for families. Hand me and my little guy a pair of Little Hats with a side of tots, and I challenge any “high brow” joint to give us a better meal together.
Multiple locations – Website
4/ Mandola’s Italian Market
Back in my beloved home state of New Jersey, weekends were spent either at a Chinese buffet or red sauce Italian restaurant. Mandola’s Italian Market brings back memories of those evenings of lasagna, fettuccine, and family fun.
While parents can enjoy dishes like the incredible gnocchi with meat sauce and caprese paninis, kids (like my two-year-old) will devour cheese raviolis off the children’s menu. Add to the sauce an outside play area and free scoop of gelato with every kids entree, and you have a win-win for children and parents alike.
4301 W. William Cannon Dr. E-1 and 12815 Shops Pkwy #400, Bee Cave – Website
5/ Phil’s Icehouse
While your eyes may be rolling at the mention of “another burger joint,” the menu at Phil’s Icehouse goes above and beyond. With a burger menu loaded with 11 varieties, and entrees like hot dogs, Frito pie, and grilled cheese, there’s a dish for everyone. If my son grabs the kids chicken tenders, don’t judge me if I steal one while he has fun on the playscape.
Plus, Phil’s Icehouse has a secret weapon nobody else does. Each location has an Amy’s Ice Creams attached to it. Timing of the sugar rush is vital, but kids + ice cream = happy family.
Multiple locations – Website
6/ Top Notch
Rolling up to a speakerbox and ordering food from the comfort of your car is a classic experience everyone needs to experience at least once. Doing so with the family at Top Notch, one of Austin’s finest burger stands, is required. My pro-tip is to try the fried chicken. But the burgers, cooked on an ancient charcoal grill, are second to none.
And while there isn’t much for kids to do (unless you don’t mind them running around a parking lot), there’s one amazing advantage: your kids are already in the car eating. If they act up, just hit the gas and escape! This is especially crucial if nap schedules are currently running your life. All jokes aside, Top Notch is exactly as advertised. First class eats for the whole family.
There is also an indoor dining area with high chairs available, if you prefer to keep your seats crumb-free.
7525 Burnet Road – Website
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
What are your favorite family-friendly restaurants in Austin?
The original version of this article was published Sept. 2, 2015.