Discover the eateries in Austin, Texas that will bring your family together over homemade tortillas, ample chile con queso ladled onto Tex-Mex, and fresh churros.
If Austin, Texas were cologne it would smell like brisket, with undertones of migas tacos and pecan pie. Essentially, the aromas in the capital of Texas are so enticing your taste buds will always be asking for more.
As a city that has long been known as the "Live Music Capital of the World," they're quickly adding "Food-So-Good-You'll-Stand-in-Line-for-an-Hour Capital of the World" to its resume, with laid back joints like Franklin Barbecue that's churning out nosh so divine they attract international food aficionados.
We were going to write an "Austin's Top 10 Family Restaurants" piece, but that would be impossible, seeing as there are hundreds of "top" places to eat in Bailey's quirky hometown. So instead, we curated a guide to our fave Austin eateries, organized by genre, that aren't a nightmare to visit with children, and offer such diverse, high-quality food that even your pickiest of eaters will find something to savor.
Kerbey Lane Cafe or Magnolia Cafe
If you have one kid that will only eat mac and cheese, another that's only into Mexican food, and a partner who's all about that beef, it can be tricky to find a spot that pleases all. Except when you're in ATX and have access to Kerbey and Magnolia cafes.
These are both "something for everyone" eateries - but unlike many similar establishments, they've ensured everything they offer tastes really good. You can close your eyes, randomly point to something on the menu and be sure your mouth will have a love affair with it.
Favorites (Kerbey): Cowboy Queso, Green Chile Mac, Cuban Sandwich, Frieda Avocado Tacos, and Texas Benedict
Favorites (Magnolia): Love Migas, The Queso Omelette, Gingerbread Pancakes, and Magnolia Enchiladas
Bouldin Creek Café
Any vegetarian joint that's popular amongst omnivores must have something special going. We first went to Bouldin Creek Cafe because we wanted to make a healthy choice after five days of BBQ and various iterations of melted cheese. We were shocked to find that Bouldin was able to achieve both health and taste in all of our selections.
Beyond their creative non-meat versions of enchiladas, stir fry, breakfast favorites and more, they offer coffee so good even Aussie coffee-snob Eric gave it five stars. Regardless of whether you're having a "healthy day" or not, you'll leave with a happy belly and (for those on the fence about eating meat) a clean conscience.
Favorites: Grilled cheese con hierbas, Joe's smokin' omelette, Garden bagel, Equinox enchiladas, and South Austin stir fry
Tex-Mex + Tacos
No trip to Austin feels complete without stuffing our faces with Torchy's Fried Avocado taco and chile con queso... and pretty much any other taco they sell. While offering egg, cheese and potato basics, Torchy's goes well beyond classic taco ingredients, mixing in creative flavor blends that are like a festival for the tongue.
If you're gluten-free, they offer corn tortillas, but if you're good with the G-stuff the flour tortillas are fresh and fluffy, helping these savory treats reach an unimaginable level of deliciousness. Say yes to Torchy's.
Tip: While you should definitely indulge in the queso, it's best to order it on the side and ladle it on right before you enjoy the taco. Having them pre-ladle that gooey goodness can make your taco sad and soggy if you don't eat it right away.
Favorites: Fried avocado, Trailer Park, Independent, Crossroads, and chile con queso (duh)
Mi Madre's Restaurant
This small, simple joint serves up authentic Mexican fare with a Texas twist. Mi Madre's is owned by an adorable couple who have been insuring taste and quality is valued above all else for almost three decades. As a quintessential laid-back family eatery, this is a good place to take young kids who might be high on the rowdy meter, and will only eat carbs and melted cheese.
Favorites: New Mexico breakfast plate, Mexican style street corn, chicken mole enchiladas, chile relleno
This massive, fun and always festive establishment is another must on our Austin trips. Much like every other good Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin, you should probably consider smothering your food in their chile con queso, because it's that good. But even without a queso smother, Trudy's offers an extensive and eclectic mix of Tex-Mex selections, ranging from stuffed avocados, jalapeños and sopapillas (everything is better stuffed), to Cholula honey chicken and fajita relleno.
Favorites: All the stuffed stuff, chicken fajita queso, crispy beef tacos, and the el pastor quesadilla.
Veracruz All Natural
Homemade chips, salsa that we could eat with a spoon, and tortillas that instantly become BFFs with your mouth, all combine to compliment the divine fillings for the famous tacos at Veracruz All Natural. We always feel a lovely mix of nourished and decadent at this spot, as we savor fresh-from-the-Earth ingredients, perfectly seasoned meat, and just the right amount of cheese (well okay, we could always use more cheese, but we have issues.)
We're pretty sure the secret of the sisters who founded this cash cow of a taco hub is that many of the recipes have been passed down for generations from their Veracruz, Mexico ancestors.
Tip: The lines can get long (especially on the weekends) at many of their locations so try to hit it during non-peak hours (7am or 2pm) on a weekday, or drive up to their location in North Austin or Round Rock. And order ahead online!
Favorites: Migas poblanos, chicken mole, and the pork quesadilla
First and foremost, their tortillas are made fresh daily, which in our opinion, is everything. We would live off homemade flour tortillas if it didn't lead to obesity. Beyond the classic Tex-Mex (a food genre we're fairly sure was born at Chuy's), each location has vibrant, quirky decor perfect for youngins who need constant visual stimulation (and no, we don't judge if part of that stimulation is a screen.)
In addition, Chuy's is often so noisy, rowdy kids won't attract side-eye. While they provide sumptuous Tex-Mex selections like Queso Compuesto and the Chuychanga, they also blend in flavors from New Mexico (we're looking at you Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken), home to many foodie hot spots.
Tip: Because their chips taste like crispy pieces of heaven, it can be easy to fill up on them. Resist the urge to lose yourself in chip-chow-town by checking out the eatery's decor while waiting for your main course, which often comes out shockingly fast.
Favorites: Appetizer plate, tortilla soup, Tacos Al Carbon, chile rellenos and Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken
Fresh chips, huge portions, and a delicious dose of authenticity are what you can expect from this eatery. The space is fairly small, but what they lack in size they make up for in flavor. Because the portions are so massive, it’s ideal to get an extra plate for your kiddos and share, especially if they’re light eaters. They have a kid’s menu, but it also includes a generous amount of food that Hudson can rarely finish.
And please friends, for the love of the culinary Gods, do not leave without noshing on an order of the sopapillas. These fried clouds of yumminess are at the top of our favorite things list, and are made all the better with a drizzle of honey.
Tip: It’s cash only. They have an ATM, but if you want to skip the service charge load up on bills before you go.
Favorites: Flautas, beef fajitas, chori-migas, and sopapillas
Have you ever scoffed at the idea of standing in line for over an hour to get some food? Yeah, us too. Until we found Franklin, which is so delectable it seems to imprint on the tiny hearts of our taste buds, causing our mouths to fill with saliva whenever we hear the name Franklin. Swoon. This home-to-smoked-meat-masterpieces is not just an Austin phenomenon, or even a Texas phenom - it’s known as one of the best barbeque joints in the country. Do it.
Tip: They open at 11am and close at 3pm, or earlier if they run out of meat, which happens. If possible, go on a solo-mission to pick up to-go food, as standing in long lines with children can be….
And to ensure you don’t experience the pure hell of waiting in a long line only to hear, “Sorry y’all, we’re all out. Come back tomorrow,” join the line at 10am. Bring a book and chalk it up to a good excuse for some alone time, while obtaining one the best meals your family will ever have.
Favorites: Brisket, ribs and pulled pork
While the meat at Lamberts is fabulous (and I'll get to it in a moment), I have to start with the sides, as they're on another level. I'm lucky we didn't live in Austin when I was pregnant and ravenous for mac n' cheese, because the way they do it here is not easily surpassed - and I know, as I've tried over 50 varieties of this classic comfort food and have the under-butt cellulite to prove it. Beyond the mac is the expertly seasoned tater salad, collard greens that they were kind enough to add bacon to, and coleslaw with a refreshing mix of cilantro.
So do the sides, but also do the meat, especially the brisket meat that is lovingly rubbed with generous helpings of brown sugar and coffee, creating a rich crust as the meat is cooked to tender perfection in a gas-fired smoker. The pork ribs also serve as a decadent and unique selection as they're coated in a fennel and coriander rub, and maple glaze.
Tip: If you want to make sure your kids sleep well, give em' a helping of the uber-yum whiskey-heavy bread pudding ;-)
Favorites: Mac n' cheese, more mac n' cheese, brisket, and ribs. Get the bread-pudding to-go, as you probably won't have the stomach space to eat it there. (To reheat bread pudding, preheat oven to 350, put pudding on oven-safe-anything, cover in foil and cook for 5 - 10 minutes.)
An institution in the Austin area, Salt Lick is where my family would go when we had something to celebrate, or were hosting out-of-towners who wanted an authentic hill country experience. As they've been thriving since the 60s, you're always sure to score melt-in-your-mouth, fall-off-the-bone, finger-lickin'-good nosh.
The Salt Lick in Driftwood is the classic location, offering massive picnic tables where piles of whatever meat and sides you order (family style) are piled in front of you. Then, you count to 10 and go at it... Nirvana.
After the kids chow down they can have the idyllic experience of running on a grassy lawn amongst a rainbow of wildflowers, and if they're like my son, relieving themselves on one of the towering oak trees... With a slogan like "Smell our pits from miles away" you just know this is the place to go for a good time.
Tips: CASH ONLY
Favorites: sausage, ribs and sweet tea
Southern Comfort Food
An excellent choice for authentic Southern cuisine, Hoover’s offers all the comfort food essentials with a devout focus to the foundation of many of these dishes – the meat. As a sauce-obsessed family, we were shocked when we found the pork ribs and fried chicken to be succulent and flavorful without a drop of help.
Everything is made from scratch and you can taste the care in every dish, making every choice on the menu a good one. Come to think of it, as much as we appreciate the meat here, we would be more than satisfied savoring a meal of only sides.
Tip: The portions are significant, so unless you have a mammoth appetite plan to take home leftovers and, much like Thanksgiving leftovers, get another one or two meals out of the food.
Favorites: Catfish Poboy, Texa-Mexi-Que Queso (it has brisket in it), fried catfish, pork ribs, black-eyed peas, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, and peach cobbler
This is my happy place for many reasons. It was the first place I tried the true Southern classic, chicken fried steak, the first place I saw Bob Schneider perform (he even winked at me! Or maybe just had something in his eye...) and the first place I swiped some booze from my dad's glass when he went to the bathroom. Good times. So many memories have been made here, because the food has been consistently delicious for over 20 years.
While this certainly ain't the spot to score health food, it is the place to experience authentic, affectionately prepared Southern fare that will both please your belly and warm your heart.
Kids are more than welcome and treated to numerous areas to run off some energy. Music-lovers should check the schedule to see if they can time their meal with live music, but even if that doesn't work out, they'll still revel in the endless signed photographs of legendary musicians who have all graced the stages of Threadgill's, which used to be the famous Armadillo World Headquarters.
Favorites: Texas cavier, fried green tomatoes, pickles and okra, chicken fried steak, Seafood Poboy with catfish, Bronzed catfish.
This tasty gem, tucked away in an unassuming strip mall, serves some of the best Cajun food we’ve ever had, even compared to the many eateries we’ve tried in Louisiana. As Cajun food can be known for its spice, many families stray from this genre of food, but, the spice here isn’t overwhelming, and they offer non-spicy dishes for kiddos and adults who don’t do hot. Spicy-sensitive Hudson enjoyed the Stuffed Pistolette, and the catfish on the kids menu.
Adding to the Southern congeniality is the thoughtfulness of the Evangeline staff, but especially the owner Curtis, who has a perpetual smile.
Tip: If you’re looking for Anthony Bourdain-worthy bragging rights, give the frog legs or gator bites a try.
Favorites: Seafood gumbo, Peacemaker Poboy, Muffaletta sandwich and the homemade bread pudding
The deep-dish Detroit-style pizza served at Via 313 has been crafted by expert bakers who use quality ingredients for their edible masterpieces, which are soft and crispy in all the right places. While we would be happy to only eat the thick crust, the toppings are just as divine with hand crushed tomato sauce, the perfect amount of caramelized cheese, and tasty optional toppings like Gorgonzola, Natural Casing Pepperoni, Balsamic Glaze, Fig Preserves, Shaved Black Forest Ham, Shaved Parmesan, Gouda, Shaved Proscuitto and so much more.
For picky eaters not into the idea of fig preserves and prosciutto on their pie, they provide personal pizzas.
Favorites: Cadillac and Mitch Ryder pizza
Planted in a very "Austin-y" part of town (South Congress), Home Slice serves a classic Austin experience with hand-tossed pizzas, loads of pizza-friendly booze (try a Lone Star!) and occasional events like the Carnival of Pizza, which features a fortune teller. The cheeky menu is fun to browse, and offers a bit of background on the various combos. For those with active little ones, post up at a picnic table in the contained back patio.
Tip: Sometimes, a friendly staff member will give kids some dough to play with. If you have an antsy child, mention this little tip and you may get lucky.
Favorites: White Pizza, Pepperoni and Mushroom, and Margherita
We believe burger stands that have a super paired down menu provide premium burgers, as all they have to tinker around with is the burgers. P. Terry's affirms our belief, as their burgers have just the right proportions of meat (or veggie patty), cheese, tasty bun, and fresh fixings.
The first time we ate here we thought the burgers seemed a bit small, but we soon discovered that they sneak up on you, making you feel more than satisfied after just one, especially if you're pairing it with fries and a shake, which we recommend.
These stands are scattered through Austin and, much to the joy of parents who loathe getting their kids in and out of the car, many offer drive throughs. While we would happily pay top-dollar for these high-quality burgers, we love P. Terry's all the more for their shockingly low prices. This place is a must after a long day playing in one of Austin's many lakes, or riding the train over and over and over again at Zilker park.
Favorites: Cheeseburger with onions and pickles added on, or a double w/ cheese if we're extra hungry, french fries, and double chocolate shake (we've almost listed the entire menu)
Hopdoddy Burger Bar
If you like more options for your burger endeavors than back-to-basics P. Terry's offers, try Hopdoddy, which has numerous, unique toppings that suit any range of tastes. They have a killer mushroom burger for the herbivores, and hormone and antibiotic-free beef from humanely raised cows for the meat-inclined.
Adding to the homemade goodness are the hand cut fries and buns made from scratch. While it's hard to peg the "best burger" in a city with so many high-quality offerings, many claim that the best lives at Hopdoddy - you be the judge.
Tip: These burgers are pretty messy, so stuff some napkins in your kid's collar, or bring a change of clothes if you plan on going somewhere fancy after chow time.
Favorites: Magic Shroom, Llano Poblano, Breakfast Burger, truffle fries, green chile queso fries (a bit spicy for kids), and Nutella Chocolate Pretzel shake
This is a super laid-back eatery where you don't feel embarrassed if your kid is hollering, or littering the ground with french fries. But hopefully, they'll be happily entertained with the endless sports memorabilia on the walls, and irresistible food on the table.
While Hut's only sells burgers, they offer a wide range, like buffalo meat, boneless chicken breast, Longhorn grassfed beef or 100% vegan veggie patties. And regardless of what you select, you're guaranteed to have a juicy (without being too greasy), flavorful burger that makes you close your eyes and do a non-sexual "this food is so good" moan. Hudson even commented on the deliciousness.
Favorites: Fat's Domino burger, Alley-Top, Mr. Blue, chocolate malt
Top Notch Hamburgers
Lovers of the cult stoner classic Dazed and Confused will geek out at Top Notch, as it was one of the prime filming locations. But even more appealing than the film fame are the charcoal-grilled burgers and juicy fried chicken that have kept meat-lovers returning to this unassuming establishment since the early 70s. The patties here are thin discs, staying true to typical diner specs, and create a nice ratio of meat to toppings. Much like Hut's, the ambiance is mega-retro and family friendly, while the prices are fabulously low.
Favorites: Longhorn special, cheeseburger, fried okra
Creative deliciousness is constantly blooming in the kitchen of Odd Duck, where ingredients like oven roasted quail, oyster stuffing, grits, cider glaze, apple, and almond make a foodie out of even the most conservative eaters. A fun component of this elegant, yet cozy, restaurant is that the dishes are meant to be shared, so if you can't choose one, no worries, just order numerous options and savor a few bites of each.
Because the menu can be a bit perplexing for folks (like us) who aren't well-versed in the fine art of flavor combos, the servers are keen to offer captivating menu explanations and recommendations that result in an unforgettable meal. We especially loved this spot because it helped us feel much more cultured than we actually are.
As this isn't a spot for picky eaters, hire a sitter if your kids gag at the notion of sunny duck egg and goat sausage.
Tip: Visit during happy hour (Sunday - Thursday, 5:30pm-6:30pm) when many favorite dishes are half off.
Favorites: Pretzel, burger, chive and cheddar biscuit, open-faced omelette, over roasted quail and triple creme flan
This is an ideal choice for parents looking for a semi-affordable romantic date night, or a family with older children that have a taste for items like bacon wrapped pork tenderloin, blackened redfish or a premium selection of steak. All entrees are prepared on, or in, a wood fire rotisserie, open flame grill or wood oven, giving all their food a tasty Old West flair.
If you're up for eating between 4 - 7, the Roaring Fork happy hour is a big fat yes, specifically because of their Big Ass Burger, in addition to worth-the-indulgence sides and cocktails that are kind to your credit card. We're also suckers for the mood lighting here, which adds to the romance.
Tip: If the idea of a vacation-date-night sounds appealing, Care.com is a great place to find a quality, last-minute sitter in almost any destination. (And they're not paying us to say that.)
Favorites: Kettle of green chile pork, fried avocado and crab, queso con puerco, spit-roasted half chicken
Amy's Ice Cream
Austin vibes emanate out of the ice cream, people and decor in Amy's, which has become a dessert fixture in the city since its establishment in 1984. When we're in Austin we don't just stop at an Amy's if it's convenient - we make it a point to seek out an Amy's once, or preferably five times, while we're in town. Luckily, there's an Amy's in the airport, helping to soften the blow of leaving one of our most beloved cities.
We relish the ice cream here so much because it is like nothing we've ever had - there's a one-of-a-kind silky creaminess to the ice cream, in addition to ever-changing flavors that are almost always unique to Amy's. They're famous for their Mexican Vanilla, but our go-to is usually the Sweet Cream, unless we're intrigued by one of the speciality flavors.
Taking the deliciousness and customization up a notch are the abundance of "crush-in" options (toppings that are crushed into the ball of ice cream) that include cookie dough, Junior Mints, and pretty much any other topping you can think of.
Enhancing the fun-factor are the "Scoops" (Amy's employees), trained to toss the ball of ice cream in the air and catch it in a cup - or even juggle numerous ice cream balls. This has become such a famous attraction Amy's now hosts Trick Olympics, where Scoops can show off their skills. So yeah, this spot is a must for families who like ice cream, with a side of entertainment.
Favorites: Sweet cream and chocolate chip cookie dough, Belgian chocolate and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, After Dinner Mint, and All Thai'd Up (when we're feeling sassy)
Ah, churros... When they're done right, and eaten fresh, there aren’t many things more magical to put in your mouth. But, this cinnamon-sugar-fried-magic is often hard to find, unless you’re hanging with Mickey, or under six flags. It’s a crying shame. Luckily, Austin is now home to the motherland of churros - Churro Co. Heaven.
The churros here are always served fresh, with just the right amount of light crunchiness, an optimal ratio of cinnamon and sugar on the outside, and a soft (without being soggy), light and fluffy filling on the inside. But wait, there’s more. They blast churros into a new stratosphere by offering goodies like graham cracker coating, Nutella and caramel sauce, popcorn sugar, ice cream, apple pie (!) and many other irresistible accompaniments.
Go ahead and make the day of your kids by skipping lunch and binging on churros - you’ll thank us later ;-)
Favorites: Date Night, Campfire, traditional
Two of our greatest loves are homemade cookies and Santa Barbara's McConnell's ice cream. But rarely do we get to enjoy both at the same time. As luck would have it, a genius couple in Austin combined these divine dessert options at their brain child Moojo - an ice cream sammy shop.
Moojo offers 12 varieties of cookies, and 16 flavors of ice cream, creating a tasty wonderland for anyone willing to skip calorie counting in favor of a totally-worth-it indulgence. Beyond the magical experience of biting into warm crunchy-meets-soft cookies that are hugging a ball of creamy ice cream, is the fun ambiance of this dessert-ery that features swings and entertaining people watching, as it's located near the University of Texas campus.
Tip: Parking near campus can be tricky, so skip the hassle and park in the public garage on San Antonio Street.
Favorites: Chip off the Rock, Cookie Dough ice cream w/ Chocolate Chip Chunk cookie, Strawberry ice cream and Butter Sugar cookie
If you want your dessert with a side of culture, check out Holla Mode where you can witness the creation of Thai rolled-ice cream, and then savor its deliciousness. You get to choose between a coconut cream or cow's milk base for the ice cream, which is mixed with other natural ingredients, like cane sugar and fruit, before being kneaded, spread on a chilled plate, then rolled. It's tempting to order numerous cups as it's so fun to watch them make it.
While Holla Mode offers flavor combo recommendations, your ice cream concoction is only limited by your imagination, as you can request any combination of available flavors.
Tip: There is usually a line, and each cup of rolled ice cream takes about 2-minutes to make, so visit when you're not in a rush.
Favorites: Mint chocolate, mint coffee, graham cracker and marshmallow