Blogger, Writer, Urban Adventurer
Houston’s food scene is as diverse as the city itself. In fact, when famed chef Anthony Bourdain visited earlier this year to film Parts Unknown, he bucked a number of traditional assumptions about Texans and their food (not everything is drenched in melted cheese, you know). What he found, and what I’m sure you’ll find, too, is that Houston is a city where you can get pho for breakfast, BBQ for lunch and Tex-Mex for dinner. Just don’t forget to throw a few Southern comfort food classics and sweet treats in the mix, too. Here are 30 of our favorite dishes to get your kids started exploring the vast (and delicious) Houston food scene!
Why kids need to try it: Torchy’s is a quick and easy spot to get your queso fix. Made with green chiles and topped with guacamole and cojita, it doesn’t get much better than this. And don’t get us started on the tacos (especially fried avocado). You really can’t go wrong ordering anything off the menu, and at around $4 a taco they’re super affordable.
Why kids need to try it: Crawdads. Mudbugs. Freshwater lobsters. No matter what you call them, crawfish are southern staple. There is something special about eating these little suckers fresh out of the pot with a group of friends, usually poured right on the table. At Ragin’ Cajun, ask for them on the mild-side if you are worried about spice for your little ones. Our kids also love eating the potatoes, corn and sausage that come with the boil. It is a lot of work for a little meat, but worth it!
Why kids need to try it: Don’t get me wrong, the grilled cheese at Little Matt’s is great, but we would eat anything off the menu just to visit this place. This West U restaurant is a huge family-favorite due to their food, arcade/iPad games for the kids and overall atmosphere with excellent service. Did I mention there is “free” wine or beer with order of an entree? (Tips highly encouraged there, but we don’t mind.)
Why kids need to try it: Hank’s Ice Cream has been in business since 1985 and is famous for its Southern-inspired flavors. The menu is different each day, but expect to find offerings like banana pudding, sweet corn and sweet potato pie. There are traditional flavors, too if your kids aren’t feeling so adventurous. Peruse all of the photos in the shop, and you might even spot a teenage Beyonce with Destiny’s Child.
Why kids need to try it: It’s a mystery, but all kids seem to love meals that involve dipping. And hummus? Mine would eat it up with a spoon if they could. Introduce your kids to some traditional Persian flavors at Kasra and they will be begging for the taftoon bread on the regular.
Why kids need to try it: With candy, chocolate and cake filling every corner of this store, The Chocolate Bar is a kid’s dream come true. Their hot chocolate is so good that on the one cold day of the year, it’s worth batting Rice Village parking just to try it. In the summer, try the frozen hot chocolate to satisfy your craving.
Why kids need to try it: I think the name says it all. Marini’s is a restaurant completely devoted to empanadas. No matter your fancy—sweet or savory—this spot has you covered. They have traditional offerings and flavors I guarantee you haven’t seen before. Your kids will probably be begging for the mac & cheese or pizza version as soon as they spot it on the menu.
Why kids need to try it: While the kids might call it “chicken soup,” we know better. There are a lot of great pho houses in Houston and Pho Binh is honestly just one of them. With several locations around the city, it’s a reliable spot to get your pho fix. The kids love trying to use chopsticks before giving it up and slurping the flavorful noodles right out of the bowl.
Why kids need to try it: If your kids have not been introduced to the awesomeness that is pan dulce, El Bolillo Bakery is the way to do it. With over 20 different pan dulce offerings as well as cakes, and tres leches, it is hard to leave this bakery without wanting more. I even heard a rumor that they are making unicorn pan dulce now. *Swoon*
Why kids need to try it: There’s a reason why the line wraps around the block to get in to the Breakfast Klub. The classic southern dish is the perfect balance of sweet maple syrup and crispy fried chicken wings. Granted, all my kids need to hear is “waffles” before they are ready to jump in the car.
Why kids need to try it: The self-proclaimed home of Tex-Orleans cooking, BB’s is the best spot to get a taste of Cajun eats in the Houston city limits. The can’t-miss dish is obviously a Po’ Boy— fried seafood, lettuce, tomato, pickles and spicy mayo. What kid doesn’t love fried shrimp sandwiched by crunchy French bread? But they’ve got a regular fried shrimp basket if that’s not quite up their alley.
Why kids need to try it: Must be something about being born in Texas, but our kids love ribs, and have from a very early age. Now Pinkerton’s is not the cheapest BBQ in town, but it is all wood-fire smoked and super tasty. Plus, it’s fun to see your littles with happy, sauce-smeared faces.
Why kids need to try it: You go to enough kid birthday parties and you become a cupcake expert. We all get excited when we see that the hosts sprung for Crave. Everything from the frosting and never-dry cake to the inventive (and rotating!) flavors make these cupcakes stand out. Add in gluten-free, vegan and sugar-free options, mini sizes and even doggie treats—everyone leaves here happy.
Why kids need to try it: You can’t make a Texas food list without including Goode Company. We generally love all of the BBQ at Goode, but we particularly enjoy their brisket. Pretty sure it’s written somewhere in the Texas handbook that all kids must love smoked meat as soon as they can eat solid foods.
Why kids need to try it: Kids need to try breakfast tacos, period. But Tacos A Go Go (locations in the Heights, Midtown, Oak Forest and Cinco Ranch) is an especially fun spot. You build your own taco entirely, which makes it a great spot for picky eaters, and the Katz’ coffee will get parents sufficiently caffeinated. You can’t go wrong with bacon, egg and cheese wrapped in a corn tortilla.
Why kids need to try it: Head to Chinatown on the weekends for the fun experience that is a dim sum brunch with kids. The six aquariums at the entrance to the restaurant are certainly a distraction for little ones (maybe don’t tell them you’re eating the contents later?). And the high action of trying and sharing a variety of dumplings, pork buns, noodles and sweets from the roving carts makes for a dining experience they won’t forget.
Why kids need to try it: I’ll admit it. We are currently stuck in a quesadilla rut. No matter where we go, the kids want to order quesadillas. Since we are now connoisseurs, I can say that Lupe Tortilla has some of the best. It really is all about the tortillas. (And the fact that several locations have an outdoor playground.)
Why kids need to try it: Showing up early to Shipley’s has its benefits, and nothing beats a freshly glazed donut right out of the fryer. While you might see this staple outside the Texas border nowadays, it had its humble beginnings right in H-town in the 1940s. These days, you don’t even have to get out of the car for this one. Three cheers for the drive-thru!
Why kids need to try it: If you’re going to indulge in some fried chicken, then Frenchy’s is the place to go in Houston. You can get a family meal for everyone to enjoy, and tack on sides like dirty rice and collard greens. It’s greasy and it’s wonderful.
Why the kids need to try it: Ninfa’s on Navigation is a Houston Tex-Mex legend, so go for a legendary Tex-Mex dish: Fajitas. Fajitas can easily feed family (especially if you get the large), and everyone has fun building their own little tacos with sizzling grilled meat, pico, guacamole and cheese. Part of the fun is in the whole presentation!
Why kids need to try it: Cloud 10 is known for its elevation of the ice cream arts by the hand of their award-winning Pastry Chef Chris Leung. There’s a viewing area where you can watch in awe as they put together the ultimate banana split for your fam to share. You can choose from original flavors or seasonal favorites like peach-curry or elderflower. Don’t forget to dress it up with toppings.
Why they need to try it: Nothing can cure what ails you faster than a good soup. For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to have our own family recipe for matzo ball soup, Kenny & Ziggy’s comes in a close second. You can also get some of the best lox and bagels in town here, or a huge pastrami sandwich.
Why they need to try it: Punk’s Simple Southern Food is another one of Houston’s fantastic family restaurants. There’s a great grassy area for kids to roam free, which we love, and their comfort food options include treats like the sweet corn hushpuppies served with a spicy remoulade. They’re bite-sized, and might actually live up to their namesake…at least as long as the kids are chewing.
Why they need to try it: There is no shortage of places to get kolaches around town, but trust me when I say it is worth a visit to the Kolache Shoppe. Meat, veggie, sweet, savory—they have it all and have been in business for nearly 50 years. Kids will probably go for traditional ham or sausage and cheese, but grown ups can try something new like the ranchero jalapeño.
Why they need to try it: What started out as a food truck is now a bonafide brick-and-mortar with three Houston locations. The menu (and atmosphere) is not only school-themed and family-friendly, but darn tasty, too. Everything is made from scratch with 100 percent angus beef, and the mini burger options (one standard cheeseburger, the other with bleu cheese and bacon) are perfect for mini mouths. Don’t get us started on the tots.
Why they need to try it: Another southern dish that has to be sampled? Chicken Fried Steak. And Mia’s Table makes a great one. With jalapeño gravy and two side options (cole slaw, potato salad, etc.), you’ll probably leave with a to-go container or two. The promise of free ice cream cones help the kids focus on finishing their meal before dessert.
Why they need to try it:
You can’t go to the rodeo (and you must go) and not try something fried from one of the many we-fry-anything booths. Fried Oreos are a family favorite, though Twinkies are a close second. Fried Snickers are also wonderful, and we still need to try fried butter. We haven’t worked our way up to that one yet.
Why they need to try it: We love Ruggles for their “Eat Green” messages and the tasty, healthy menu. The quinoa mac & cheese will not only satisfy your kid’s desire for the gooey, cheesy meal, but quinoa pasta adds some (hidden) protein for kids. Also, if you have any vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free people in your life—this is where to take them!
Why they need to try it: Houston parents’ IG feeds have been jam packed lately with birthday morning photos of kids blowing out candles on donuts that spell out their names. I get it. I want my name spelled out too, I just need to remember to order that in advance, and Houston’s trendiest donut shop is where to do it.
Why kids need to try it: This 24-hour diner and pie shop has been in operation for more than 45 years. But we hardly think you’ll have to fight your kids to try out the local favorite. Bayou Goo is the house special, and aside from a name that’s fun to order, it manages to pack all the good stuff into one pie—think chopped pecans, sweet cream cheese, whipped cream and powdered sugar on top.
Originally Published on Mommy Nearest