With patio weather season in full swing, Houstonians are absolutely spoiled for places to enjoy the day outside. And sometimes all you know is that you're in the mood for a patio, but can't figure out where to go. So how do you choose?
Over the next five weeks, we'll be guiding you around Houston's best patios in several different categories:
- Unexpected treasures
- The best places to catch up with friends
- The best places to pretend you're on vacation
- The best places to drink a glass of wine
This week's category: The best places to bring the kids.
Get your little ones a mesquite burger or a cheese quesadilla from the five-item kids' menu here, then give them a handful of pennies and take a seat next to the giant fountain on the patio. They'll spend the entire time trying to get the pennies into the mouths of the little concrete crocodiles that sit in the water and you'll get plenty of time to eat your food and drink a Corona.
My entire complaint about Ruggles Green at CityCentre was the noise from the wild throngs of children that roam the place like Lost Boys. My annoyance is your gain if you've got little ones, too, as they'll fit right in here. The patio at Ruggles and the lush lawn at CityCentre are basically one in the same, and your kids will have plenty of beautiful open space to play in while you eat. Plus, Ruggles has a truly fabulous kids' menu with items such as Quinoa Mac & Cheese and Wood-Fired Organic Cheese Pizza.
See? We don't hate Lupe Tortilla. Especially the location in far West Houston, tucked into a little village of old houses that have all been transformed into cutey-cute restaurants. The playground here is vast and will appropriately tucker your kids out while you're waiting to be seated. Because there's always a wait. But you knew that.
The spacious patio and beautiful trees at the Augusta location of Beck's Prime make it ideal for stretching out and relaxing over a burger, even as it starts to get hot outside. The kids' menu is short and sweet, with options like grilled cheese sandwiches and butterflied hot dogs, and the atmosphere is one blanket shy of a picnic, so spread out and let someone else cook the burgers this weekend.
It's as if this restaurant was purpose-built as a mini vacation destination for families with kids in town. The kids' menu is nicely straightforward here -- burger, hot dog or chicken nuggets -- and your little ones can spend the afternoon sailing tiny motorized boats in the Discovery Green pond, looking at turtles, getting soaked in the fountains or playing on the large playground while you have a glass of Chardonnay and relax.
It's the West Alabama incarnation of this burrito chain that's best for babies (or toddlers or kids), and that's because of the giant playground out front. Let your kids build their own burrito -- you can't be fussy about the food when you're choosing the ingredients, right? -- and then let them run it off in the mulch and on the jungle gym outside.
Every schoolkid in Houston has probably visited the Cypress Circle on Duck Lake without realizing it, so take your own kids back there and enjoy what is admittedly very basic food (chicken tenders, burgers, etc.) but with one of the prettiest views in the city. And don't forget to feed the ducks afterward; it's half the fun of eating there, after all.
It's impossible to dislike Jimmy Changas if you have kids, especially if you have kids and you're on the southeast side of town. The palatial Tex-Mex restaurant has an enormous play area for the smaller kids -- Jimmy's Jungle -- and some beautiful outdoor lounging areas with fire-ringed fountains for teens who want to be cool and dine apart from their parents. The "Little Jimmys" menu also has a nice assortment of Tex-Mex and standards like macaroni and cheese.
Syd Kearney at 29-95 hipped me to this fabulous little restaurant on a very not-little piece of land out in Northwest Houston. The counter service-only Red Balloon faces Carolyn Wolff Park, and its generous allotment of old oaks, perfect for playing tag or whatever kids do these days when given green space and no portable gaming systems. I also hear the chef performs magic tricks for the kids on occasion...
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Another northwest favorite, the La Ha on Telge in Cypress is just as popular for its massive playground as it is for its patio -- it's a surefire bet all around. Six options in the "Kiddie Corner" for food and great margaritas for the adults ensure a fabulous evening for the entire family.