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!