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!
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.
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.
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!