With more than 8,000 restaurants to choose from in the Houston area, it can be daunting trying to find a spot that's kid tested and parent approved. While plenty of well-known, national chains dot the city's landscape-Chili's, Rainforest Café and iHop, among others-there are just as many uniquely-Houston options that are certain to please. Check out the local spots that score big in H-Town.
The Cordua family's casual Amazón Grill concept remains a popular, counter-service destination among West U families. The self-serve eatery sends out creative Latin cuisine (puffy tacos, enchiladas and Yuca fries) for the adults and approachable items like quesadillas and popcorn chicken for the kids. Although the kid plates come with cotton candy, Amazón also offers fun-filled, tabletop s'mores on the dessert menu. The campfire favorite comes with marshmallows, milk chocolate and graham crackers, along with a mini grill for DIY treats.
Not as diverse as the original Fairview location, the roomier River Oaks-set Barnaby's Cafe bustles with a cross-section of cool families toting tots, Gen X-ers, single straights and gays. There's a bit of West Coast influence on the menu-Chicken La Jolla and Petaluma salad, for example-and a coloring placemat menu for the little ones, advertising mac & cheese and corndog offerings. Pups of all shapes and sizes are welcome on the dog-friendly patio, too, making visits to Barnaby's a true family affair.
Finally, a great place where you can have your cake and eat it, too. At the Dessert Gallery guests choose from soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches and kid-friendly food like mac and cheese and PB&J sandwiches. Top off the meal with a scrumptious dessert while the kids chow on cupcakes, the super-fun "Design Your Own Cookie Platters" or the "S'mores Pupu Platters." The sweet shop also keeps board games on hand, so no one should be, well, bored.
Part attraction, part restaurant, the 500,000-gallon Downtown Aquarium complex is multi-functional destination boasting a Ferris wheel, an aquatic carousel, Shark Voyage, a white tiger exhibit and a restaurant. The spectacular wall-to-wall aquarium view complements the surf-and-turf menu. Parents can dig into silky lobster bisque and crabmeat-topped Gulf red snapper, while the little ones nosh on popcorn shrimp, ‘sand dollar' pizza and ‘Captain's' grilled cheese. During dinner, keep an eye out for scuba divers feeding fish in the restaurant-set tank.
Good things come in small packages, at least when it relates to dim sum. Take the family for a cultural experience in Houston's southwest Chinatown area, where places like Fung's Kitchen, Ocean Palace and Kim Son send around carts filled with an endless variety of steamed dumplings. Note: Some restaurants only offer cart service during lunch on the weekends, call ahead to verify.
Hungry's has been bringing in Houston families for American fare for more than 35 years. The neighborhood café has locations in Memorial and Rice Village, both of which offer well-priced, heart-healthy dishes like grilled chicken-and-vegetable wraps, salads and soups. Kids' can choose from pasta, sandwich and burger options.
Jenni Tran-Weaver, of Jenni's Noodle House fame, knows how important it is for kids to eat their veggies, which is why the restaurateur sends out all the snow peas, broccoli, carrots and mushroom sides a kid could want with the rice, noodle and soup dishes offered on the kids menu. As an added perk, Jenni's Heights location boasts a fenced-in backyard with sidewalk chalk and a 12,000-lb concrete pipe for little ones to play in.
Macaroni and cheese finally gets the respect it deserves at Heights-set Jus' Mac. The kid-friendly food is getting plenty of play at the family-friendly outpost. Take the brood for lunch and choose from panini, salads and 18 varieties of the cheesy classic. Little ones will find the 'All American' to be familiar, while parents can branch out with the pan-seared 'Chik Chik' or the spinach, onion and mushroom-mixed 'Popeye.'
Located on the south shore of Kinder Lake, square in the heart of Discovery Green park, The Lake House is a family-friendly, fast-casual concept from the Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group (of Café Annie fame) that turns out burgers, Kobe beef hot dogs, signature salads and seasonal sips. Take a seat within the contemporary interior, outside, on the shaded veranda, or enjoy a picnic-style meal in the park. After eating, the kids can burn off pent-up energy sailing motorized boats in the lake, playing in the fountains or climbing on the playground.
Craving comfort food? Hit Midtown's Metrorail-set Natachee's Supper 'n Punch. Inside the quirky spot, eclectic, down home décor rules the roost. Grab a seat inside or find a picnic table on the patio, where kiddos have plenty of (fenced-in) space to run free and a sandbox to play in. While the adults savor the fried pickles, turkey burgers and chicken fried steak, the kids are treated to sliders, PB&J sandwiches and hot dogs, sent out in vintage lunch boxes. Youngins that clean their plates can also snag a freezer pop from their server.
Niko Niko's - which first opened in Montrose more than 30 years ago - added a sidewalk-style kiosk for Downtown's on-the-go gyro lovers in late-summer 2010. Expect to find the Greek institution's classic menu with an emphasis on to-go foods-perfect for picnics in Market Square park-as well as a kids menu with grilled cheese pitas, Jimmy Gyros and Pitza. Bring the family pup to play in one of the park's two dog runs, too.
Mexican restaurants are almost always a sure bet-they're colorful, food comes quickly and everyone is usually able to find something they like to eat. Molina's Cantina is a great choice, as is Pappasito's Cantina, which has been around for decades, and Guadalajara Hacienda. Chuy's, with its hubcap decorations, is also fun, as well as the come-as-you-are Berryhill Baja Grill.
From its original West U location, Skeeter's has expanded to suburban outposts in Sugar Land, Katy and The Woodlands by sticking to its formula: moderately priced comfort foods in a casual, low-hassle atmosphere. Butcher paper covers the tables of this counter-service mainstay, providing a canvas for burgeoning artists to let loose. While you may not want to show up on weekends without your own soccer team, the weekday lunch hour tends to attract a mature crowd. Adults enjoy mesquite-grilled sandwiches, chicken salads and ice-cold beer, while the kids fill up on taco, fajita and grilled cheese offerings.
To download high-res images, visit photo gallery.