Each March, as the film, music, and interactive media worlds make their pilgrimage to Texas for the iconic South by Southwest festival, a spotlight shines on the vibrant food and restaurant community in Austin. In a town known for it's superlative barbecue and Tex-Mex -- which are not to be missed -- there is an outsized energy around the food scene, with so many inspired and creative and delicious options to explore in a short time!
With SXSW coming up, there will be an influx of visitors to Austin, (some of whom will be parents traveling with infants, toddlers, young children), but that doesn’t mean the restaurants will be as busy as you might think: with so many shows and events going on it can be a great time for families to get into some of the best restaurants.
For those parents traveling down to Austin with their pipsqueaks this week, or any time of year for that matter, our lovely Austin host, Kelsey, has put together her favorite spots in ATX -- feel free to bring your crazy crew as there are a ton of kid-friendly options and all these restaurants are very warm and welcoming:
This is my spot. It’s got that perfect neighborhood vibe, and while the setting is casual, the food is phenomenal and they have a killer wine list that rotates constantly. I love everything on the menu, but the snapper carpaccio, matzo ball caldo and bone marrow Bolognese are favorites (and my kids love the burger and fries.) They are open all day and have the best happy hour from 4-6, which is conveniently when my kids eat. There are highchairs for the younger kids, but the space is a bit small so be prepared to sit close together. It’s worth it, I promise.
If you’re the type of person who is willing to wait in line for the best BBQ, I would do it at La Barbeque. If you go with enough adults that one can hold the line and one can play with the kids, there’s enough space to have them run a bit. Plus, you can get a coffee or beer while you wait. Go for the brisket and beef rib, but the sausages, pulled pork, sauces and all the sides are phenomenal and worth the wait.
A revival of an Austin icon, Mattie’s is in an impeccably renovated Victorian home on gorgeous grounds. The food is seasonal and the biscuits and fried chicken are not to be missed. If you’re going with kids, they have a picture-perfect lawn that has a pared down menu. You can sit under their beautiful live oak trees while sipping porch cocktails as your kids have a bit of space to run. There are also peacocks that live on the grounds and my kids love spotting them in the trees!
This Vietnamese café and boulangerie in Bouldin is a beautiful neighborhood spot. About as Instagram-worthy as restaurants come, ESC also has amazing pho and super fresh spring rolls and noodle bowls. They also have delicious French pastries and a fun kids menu that isn’t just the standard.
Michael Fojtasek’s Olamaie is a perfect interpretation of southern food with a focus on local ingredients. More upscale than some others on this list, the food here is thoughtfully prepared and delicious. Don’t miss the off the menu Biscuits, especially if bringing the kids! Reservations recommended here and this one you’ll want to dress a little nicer for.
Chef Kevin Fink and his team consistently impress with their unique dining experience on Rainey Street. They mill their own heritage grains, source local ingredients and have a nifty Dim Sum cart with small, inventive plates to try. The menu rotates but the Cacio e Pepe is a staple and I love the Short Rib Carnitas.
Upscale Hill Country cuisine in a beautifully designed A-Frame setting. This restaurant is gorgeous and their delicious food is a good representation of Texas cuisine. I loved the Ruby Trout Crudo, Marinated Broccoli and the Sweet Potato Rosette. The Fried Chicken is also a hit. I have admittedly not taken my kids here yet, but it’s fairly new so I just haven’t had a chance.
The patio at Perla’s doesn’t get much better. Right on South Congress, it’s a perfect place to watch the bustle of the famous Austin strip. I’m a big fan of the Wood Grilled Oysters and Grilled Octopus. My kids love the Shells and Cheese, as do all of the adults.
Odd Duck has a small bites menu that is always changing with the seasons. It’s one of the best restaurants here that captures the culture of Austin in its cuisine and vibe. Everything is handcrafted from the cocktails to the entrees and flavor here is king. There are always a couple of dishes that my kids like but no dedicated kids menu, and I’ll admit it’s a little more adventurous than usual for them.
Everything here from the food to the drinks to the vibe is so well done and so wonderfully Austin. The flavorful food has a Mediterranean influence and their desserts are not to be missed. The Birthday Cake Ice Cream Sandwich is one of the best desserts in Austin and super kid friendly at that. They have a dedicated kids menu, wikki sticks and colorful straws for the littles also.
As a disclaimer, Kemuri is not the most kid-friendly and really fun late at night, but I wanted to put on the list because if you want to feel the pulse of Austin food right now, it’s here. The Japanese/Texas cuisine is really unique and immensely flavorful. If you can get a reservation, snag one but otherwise go willing to wait and have a drink in their outdoor area in front.
This is a great kid-friendly option in South Austin that also happens to have delicious food. They have an amazing outdoor space that kids can run around in and a special menu for the kids as well. Parents can feast on tacos, healthy bowls and wood-grilled chicken and steaks, as well as all the guac and queso you can handle. Because you aren’t in Austin until you’re eating queso.
I don’t know if many people see ramen as kid-friendly, but my kids love it. Ramen Tatsu-ya on South Lamar is some of the best ramen you’ll find in the city – super flavorful broths and inventive add-ins. It’s popular for good reason, but if you’re going with kids get there early (for lunch or dinner) so you don’t have to wait in line.
Breakfast tacos are like a religion here and Veracruz are my family’s faves. They use handmade tortillas and salsas and their Migas Taco is one of the best around. One of their locations is at a coffee shop (Radio Coffee and Beer), which has a big outdoor space for the kids to run around while you wait for your tacos.
Other Family-Friendly Spots in Austin
One of my favorite things about eating and drinking in Austin is the amount of restaurants/coffee shops/breweries that have wonderful outdoor spaces for the kids to run around while you get to have coffee or a beer with friends. Some of the places we frequent the most are Radio Coffee and Beer (mentioned above), Cosmic Coffee (has Leroy and Lewis BBQ), ABGB (a beer garden that has pretty great food and live music), Friends and Allies Brewing Company (next to a sweet climbing gym with a kid area, Austin Bouldering Project), and Live Oak Brewing Company.
In addition to all the eating and drinking you can do, there are so many fun activities to do with kids here. The Zilker Zephyr train in Zilker Park is a hit with any kid I know and we love walking or running the nearby Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail with the stroller. The Thinkery is an amazing children’s museum with tons to do for pretty much any age of kid. The Austin Nature & Science Center is wonderfully eclectic and a great outdoor space to explore and dig for dinosaur bones. If you’re coming for SXSW, there are also a lot of kid-friendly shows at various venues around town. Check out Do512 Family for suggestions on which shows are kid-friendly.
After 9 years of living in New York City, Kelsey moved down to Austin with her family. Originally from Colorado, she attended the University of Colorado at Boulder where she earned a degree in Marketing. In NYC, she spent 6 years at advertising agencies and then 3 years at Cisse Cocoa Co., a startup food brand, as their Director of Marketing and taste tester of their delicious products. Dining out is one of Kelsey's favorite activities and she loves exploring Austin's booming dining scene and of course trying out all the tacos. She specially loves doing so with her husband and young children, Archer and Wren.