Arts & Culture, Food

Houston’s Chinatown with Kids: Always An Epic Adventure!

We’ve been trekking to Chinatown (aka Asiatown) for years, but the last several weekends we’ve made it a point to head down to Bellaire near the Beltway to give some extra support to a community that’s been hurting lately. Irrational fear has recently kept people away from Chinatowns in cities all across the country because of the COVID-19 virus. It’s definitely a scary thing, but it’s also scary when local businesses and the families who run them are hurting. We decided to try our best and help out by heading down to Chinatown as much as possible to support them.

If you’re trying to plan your weekend with kids, Chinatown is a place for endless fun (and food!), and double bonus: you get to help people out while you’re having a blast. Here are some of our favorite things to do with our kids.

Snacks abound in Chinatown – the trouble is choosing which ones to take home, because they are all so interesting and delicious!

Go get some groceries!
Yes, you already do this multiple times a week, but it’s different in Chinatown. Among the things you can do in any Chinatown grocery store:

  • Explore the produce: even if your kids have well-traveled palates, you’ll find at least one fruit or vegetable you haven’t seen or tasted before. Make it a point to go find the jackfruit – it’s spiky to touch and gigantic – and marvel at the wide variety of root vegetables. Pick up a few items to try at home too!
  • Marvel at the fish: you can’t get fresher than live fish, and the grocery stores in Chinatown have an incredible selection. You can see fish in giant fish tanks swimming around, watch the crabs and lobsters scuttle around, and if you’re lucky the person behind the fish counter may even cajole a live geoduck or scallop. One grocery store had live frogs! Which one? You’ll have to go explore to find out.
  • Go on an import shopping spree: whether your vice is sweets, salty snacks, tea of all kinds, or something else delicious, you’ll find it in a Chinatown grocery store. Our favorite things to get are these sesame and coconut crackers at H-Mart, every flavor of Hello Panda and Pocky under the sun, Ramune (the marble drink!), and of course every wacky flavor of Lay’s chips you can find (Cucumber? Short rib? Why not!).
  • Ask nicely for a sample: the folks giving samples aren’t as plentiful as HEB, but when have you had sea bass at HEB – and sea bass that your kid gobbles down in a blink, no less. Last time we got to try these lemon wafer cookies that are now an after dinner staple in our house!
  • Shop for kitchen goods and gadgets: Need a real wok? How about some adorable his and her chopsticks? Some beautiful bowls for soup or rice? The perfect bamboo spoon? A bargain basement rice cooker that makes perfect rice? You can find all this and more at the grocery store, and the kids love to check it all out while you shop!
The jackfruit is spiky and giant, and often there’s one cut up next to the whole ones so you can see the inside too!

Grocery stores to check out (they are all on Bellaire Blvd within blocks of each other on the north side of the street – easy to find!):

  • H-Mart: This is actually a Korean grocery store, and it’s got a fantastic selection from all around the world. It’s our favorite for the snack selection, though all of them are good.
  • Jusgo: Here you’ll find all sorts of interesting household wares, and it’s got the best selection of live aquatic animals.
  • Welcome Food Center: A solid produce and snack selection, and don’t miss the roast duck hanging in the prepared foods area.

Run Around!
Kids need a little energy burned before you sit down for a meal? Never fear, there’s a giant park just minutes away! Arthur Storey Park is right on the Beltway. It’s easy to access and fun to run. There is a playground and swing set near the front, and you can walk along the bayou or follow the trails to explore the larger park. We never have taken photos here because we are too busy running around having fun, so you’ll have to see for yourself!

We loved the ramen at Tiger Den so much that we accidentally re-enacted Lady and the Tramp in a race to the bottom of the bowl!

Get Your Grub On
When you’re ready to grab some food, you can go one of two ways – just pick a random option (you probably won’t be disappointed) or go with some of the perennial favorites. There are tons of great articles, including the ones we reference quite often in Eater and Houstonia, so we won’t provide an exhaustive list here. These are some of our favorite with kids:

  • Tiger Den: This place is always packed and there’s a good reason – the ramen just can’t be beat. It’s perfect for kids of all ages! Our kids gobble everything down, including fried octopus balls, tonkotsu ramen (mild and traditional – ask for an extra soft-boiled egg or two!), and meat and seafood skewers of all kinds.
  • Okome Don: Probably the best poke place we’ve been to, Okome Don is a light and fresh choice that allows your kids to get all their veggies in while not even noticing.
  • Fufu Cafe: Known for its soup dumplings, pretty much everything on the menu is inexpensive and awesome. Just remember that even though it’s inexpensive, it’s still a ton of food! If your server looks at you strangely, it’s probably because you ordered enough to feed a small army.
When a normal ice cream cone just won’t do the trick, add some “fairy floss” and a toasty marshmallow at Aqua S!

Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
It would be an absolute travesty to not save room for dessert in probably the best area of town to get any sort of dessert you want! We’ve had more dessert trips to Chinatown than we have fingers and toes, so here are our top picks:

  • Aqua S: Right next to Tiger Den, this incredible soft serve ice cream place won’t leave you feeling weighed down, but you will be impressed by the wild toppings you can choose!
  • Nu Cafe Houston: The perfect food on a hot day is a giant pile of shaved ice covered in fruit and gelatin. I feel like I think about it in my sleep at least once a week, and my kids can’t wait to get there and chow down!
  • 85 degrees C Bakery Cafe: If pastries and cakes are your thing, this is the place to get a gorgeous and delicious selection of desserts. Bring your crew so you can try several!

What are your favorite Chinatown spots? Let us know in the comments!

Day Trips from Houston, Food, Helpful Hints

Houston Day Trip with Kids: Rosenberg, for Nature, Great Food, and Trains!

It’s hard to call a trip to Rosenberg an actual day trip from Houston (it’s basically still Houston all the way past Highway 99 these days), but there’s so much to do there that it’s well worth planning a whole day of family fun!

To start, pack up your snacks and water and head straight to Seabourne Creek Nature Park. Located just off 59, it’s just past the National Guard Armory (look to the left when you’re driving to see a big tank!) and the Rosenberg Civic Center. Maintained by the Texas Master Naturalists, this former plain green field with a detention pond has turned into a natural oasis hosting an abundance of wildlife. These wonderful volunteers have painstakingly recreated three beautiful Texas habitats in a single park: woodlands, prairie, and wetlands.

Part of the wetlands habitat at Seabourne Creek Nature Park

The hiking’s easy at Seabourne Creek – it’s perfect for small kids, because each habitat has one main trail that is about 1/3 mile long. You can easily see all of them in just over an hour. Logistically, the parking is plentiful and the bathrooms are clean and right up front. Just a few of the things to do when you’re there:

  • Take binoculars (or just use your eyes!) and see how many birds you can spot – we found egrets, roseate spoonbills (they look like flamingos with spoons on their bills – cool!), and so many more
  • Enjoy a snack on the picnic tables in the woodland area
  • Run along the boardwalk in the wetlands
  • Count the ducks in the lake
  • Search for butterflies in the butterfly garden
  • Check out the greenhouse where they are growing the native prairie grasses and restoring the habitats

When the kids start saying “pick me up!” or “I’m hungry,” head over to the Ol’ Railroad Cafe in Rosenberg (the old downtown – it’s pretty adorable) for a lunch that satisfies both kids and grown ups. The salads are outstanding, and the burgers are on fresh-baked buns, but pretty much everything is delicious.

The tour is a must-do at the Rosenberg Railroad Museum

Next up, walk just a couple blocks over to the Rosenberg Railroad Museum (closed Mon/Tues). Well worth the entry fee, you start at the small indoor museum, and kids get to do a fun scavenger hunt that ends in them getting to pick a special prize when they complete it. Outdoors is an amazing scale model of Rosenberg 70 years ago with trains chugging through the landscape. If that weren’t enough, there’s a play area where the kids can climb all over a wooden train play set, and you can check out the REAL trains chugging by from a platform to get the perfect view!

Also included is a tour you can take as a family: even if you don’t think your kids can handle tours (we generally don’t do them because we’re pretty rowdy and easily distracted), go for it! They are great with kids and the tour is fascinating to everyone, and it includes a trip through two train cars – a shiny red caboose and a very fancy passenger car.

Put a cherry on top of your day at Another Time Soda Fountain in downtown Rosenberg!

Now that you’re thoroughly exhausted and your kids are almost to the point of losing it, head across the street to Another Time Soda Fountain to wrap up the day and reward everyone for being troopers. You can belly up to the bar on old-time barstools if your kids are old enough or settle in at a table and enjoy the ambiance there. Choose from a great selection of delicious shakes and malts, or introduce your kids to the ever-classic Coke Float.

By this point, there will almost surely be naps in your future on your way home, if they haven’t happened already. Enjoy the quiet time and that drive back to Houston!

Do you have any other favorite Rosenberg haunts? Let us know in the comments!

Food, Helpful Hints

Eating Your Way through Houston’s Food Scene With Kids

Izayaka Wa in Memorial is a kid-friendly place where kids can explore new tastes!

Ever since that GQ article crowning Houston the “new capital of Southern cool,” people around the country are beginning to notice the treasure we already knew was here. One of the benefits of raising kids in Houston is that they get to learn and play alongside people different than they are, hear different languages, and explore new and amazing flavors through all the culinary traditions imaginable. If you’re just beginning to uncover Houston’s incredible food scene, or you want your kids to experience it, we’re here to provide you some recommendations for getting started – even if your kids don’t yet eat everything under the sun.

Here are some tips on adventurous dining with young kids before we dive in:

  • Start ’em early – if eating raw fish is normal when you’re a toddler, it’s no big deal your whole life! I started eating sushi in college, but my kids started when they were two. If your kids are a little older, the time is now to start your adventure!
  • Start with “normal” (for your family) and work up to exotic – we all have our specific ways of cooking, so it may take longer for kids to get used to more unusual flavors. Try and pick foods or cuisines that have familiar elements in the beginning.
  • Pack emergency snacks – You never know when picky’s going to strike! Bring backup snacks to augment the meal just in case if your kid has a particularly narrow view of what they’re going to try or eat
  • It’s a win if you try – even if your meal isn’t successful this time, it’s ok – you got out there! Try again and again, and retreat a little if you need back to something more familiar.
  • Sharing is caring – try to eat family style so everyone can sample different dishes and decide their favorite. In restaurants that serve appetizers and entrees, focus on lots of appetizers rather than one or two large plates to get a feel for the place.

Getting hungry? Here are a few of the key cuisines in Houston that you’ll want to try. This is by no means an exhaustive list – there are so many wonderful types of food here! The goal is to give you some ideas, and for you to find your own treasures and create your own memories. Let’s get started!

Killen’s Barbecue is a drive, but it’s well worth it. The kids can nap on the way back!

Barbecue – Nope, it’s not exotic, but understanding what makes really good barbecue also makes you a true Houstonian. Places like Corkscrew (Spring), Tejas Chocolate and Barbecue (Tomball), Killen’s (Pearland), Truth, or Pinkerton’s are good spots to start. With kids it’s crucial to order ALL the sides (mac n’ cheese, potato salad, beans, coleslaw, etc), and of course get 1/4 to 1/2 lb of every meat you can find! If you decide to take a pilgrimage to Killen’s, Tejas, or Corkscrew, remember – get there early (10am), because you’re going to wait in line, and they go until they sell out. Killen’s and Corkscrew have space for the kids to play – don’t forget the sunscreen and an umbrella if it’s blazing hot that day.

Chinese (not the American kind of Chinese food)Wanna Bao and Pepper Twins inside the loop. Even better – go to Chinatown! While we have our Chinatown favorites, Eater’s got you covered on a selection of really delicious places that are time-tested. Dumplings are a kid fan favorite (bao – soup dumplings – are king at Wanna Bao), and the rice dishes are plentiful. The servers at multiple Pepper Twins locations have been more than accommodating in trying to find a good not-so-spicy option for kids.

These are the dumplings at Pepper Twins – they are on the menu at the Fairview location and one of the best things we’ve ever eaten.

Japanese – There are tons of sushi places all over town these days, but Japanese food doesn’t just mean sushi. Explore other special elements of Japanese cuisine at the original Izayaka Wa in Memorial. It’s a family-friendly place that’s unique and memorable!

Real Mex – The places to get legit Mexican food are endless in Houston. El Rey Meat Market near the wonderful collection of produce vendors formerly known as Canino’s or Brother’s Taco House for solid tacos and a great, authentic experience. You may not know what’s in all those tacos, but that’s part of the fun! Or, play hooky from work, grab your kiddo, and head downtown to Irma’s if you want something fancier. There’s no actual menu, but the lemonade is always a must-drink. If you’re looking for a weekend option, try Hugo’s for brunch. It’s expensive, but it’s beyond worth it. Don’t pass up the chance to eat a grasshopper, either – they’re on the buffet – do it!

South Asian – fast food Indian is a great place to dip your toe in the water if your kids are new to the cuisine. Try Tarka Indian Kitchen to start and get a variety of foods to try, such as samosas, biryani, a mild tikka masala or korma curry, and of course a delicious mango lassi to sip on. Finish off the meal with gulab jaman (deep fried pastry balls in honey syrup) and everyone’s happy. If you’re up for more adventure (do it!), try the revered Himalaya or any number of wonderful restaurants in the Mahatma Ghandi District near 59 and Hillcroft.

Can’t go wrong with the tacos (those TORTILLAS!) at El Rey Meat Market!

Tex Mex – We can’t not mention it. Perhaps the only truly Texas cuisine other than barbecue, any Houstonian can point you to some incredible gems like Ninfa’s on Navigation, El Tiempo, or the always-packed Pappasitos. You’ve probably already hit them all up, and the kids have tried every kind of enchilada. If you haven’t yet, a few great menu items to try with your kids are enchiladas, fajitas, and of course a ginormous bowl of queso. Don’t forget to order yourself a margarita as a reward for making such a good choice.

Vietnamese – This healthy and kid-friendly cuisine is an easy go-to when we’re trying to figure out what on earth to eat. Nam Eatery in the Heights and Huynh in East Downtown (pronounced like “win”) are delicious inside the loop options, but Asiatown (AKA Chinatown) is of course the place to be. What to order? Try pho if your kids like chicken noodle soup. Banh mi (sans jalapeno) on fresh, crispy French bread can’t be beat for the sandwich lovers. Banh cuon at Huynh is a sure bet if your kids like lots of different textures – we like to call them “Vietnamese fajitas.”

We hope you now have a few more ideas for Houston food adventures with your kids. What’s your favorite Houston cuisine, restaurant, or dish to share with your family? Let us know in the comments!

Food, The Great Outdoors

Ode to the Donut Picnic

What do you do when the kids wake you up at 5:45 on a Saturday morning and you can’t get back to sleep? You have a donut picnic!

To avoid the Houston heat and humidity (a normal thing after 9 a.m. most of the year), take advantage of those early morning kid wake ups and get outdoors. A few great reasons to do this in Houston:

  1. You beat all the traffic and the long lines at the donut shop
  2. The weather is pretty darn nice in the early morning, even in August
  3. You get first choice of all the best donuts
  4. Your kids get the sugar they crave AND get to run it off before they crash for nap time
  5. You make some great memories with your kids!

To make this happen, you need 2 things – donuts and a really good, kid-friendly park. If you’re not the biggest fan of donuts, any breakfast item will do! Here are some combos that have worked well for us (you can tell we do this a lot):

  • River Oaks Donuts and River Oaks Park – these two establishments are right across the street from each other. River Oaks Donuts gives you kids a cool crown (pictured above), and you can get some delicious coffee. They also have FILLED donut holes and really creative donut options! River Oaks Park is great for kids ages 5 and under – they have a Cinderella carriage and plenty of great age-appropriate play structures. It’s tucked away on a quiet street and there usually is plenty of street parking, especially early.
  • Shipley Do-nuts and Jaycee Park (or ANY park for that matter!) – you just can’t beat Shipley for warm glazed donuts…especially the one at 3410 Ella. Go through the drive through and make sure to order at least half a dozen of the glazed donuts, because they are always perfectly fresh and warm at that location. Don’t forget kolaches too, another Houston tradition! Jaycee Park is tucked away just outside of the Heights, not too far from the Shipley mentioned above, and it’s got everything you need for the perfect donut picnic for kids of any age: picnic tables, a playground for younger and older kids, and a big field for running after eating.
  • Kolache Shoppe and Levy Park – you’re right, these aren’t donuts, but these kolaches are pretty much the best thing ever and worth calling out. If you’re not from Houston and you don’t know what a kolache is, race over to the Kolache Shoppe immediately and grab at least a dozen! If you’re going to Levy Park, hit up the Greenway Plaza location (note: this Kolache Shoppe location is closed on Sundays). Levy Park is by far the most awesome park in Houston for so many reasons. You can spend hours here, and everyone in the family can enjoy it.
  • Hugs and Donuts and Donovan Park – The donuts at Hugs and Donuts are special and a lot of fun to both eat and pick out. Bring ’em over to the “train park” as Donovan Park is affectionately called, and you’ve got a home run!

Don’t forget to grab some juice and coffee as well to enjoy with your breakfast. We usually eat the donuts so fast we don’t need paper plates, but a few napkins will do in case you need to lay them down. Find a picnic table or nice spot on the grass at the park, and you’re in business!

A small note about cleanup – part of the fun is to let the kids get icing all over themselves, so make sure you’re armed with every parent’s secret weapon: WIPES.

As you can tell, we eat a lot of carbs and spend a lot of time outdoors. I guess it balances out…