The blog for inspired travel with children

Monday, September 17, 2012

Austin, Texas: Seven Old-School, Kid-Friendly Eats

Wherever we go, I like to find places that have a kind of authenticity to them - what you could call “old school,” whatever the local language.   As Austin’s population has exploded over the past decade, bringing with it all kinds of cool new places to eat, these old funky places have become increasingly rare.  So, I present to you, my picks for Old-School Austin Eats - all welcoming to children, naturally.  Visit them while you still can.

As you may notice, the dining establishments listed below are not the most healthful sorts of places - this is just how they rolled back in the good old days in Texas.  Burgers and ice cream figure heavily.  However, they do all have character and that counts for quite a bit in my book!  

Top Notch on Burnet Road

Top Notch
Top Notch is a fully-functional drive-in restaurant that serves burgers, fries, onion rings shakes, etc..  They also serve fried pies, which even my husband is nervous about eating.  Top Notch opened in 1971, and seems to have barely changed; you can get a look at it in Richard Linklater’s 1993 film Dazed and Confused.  
Dirty Martin’s
Another funky old burger place - this one has served the University of Texas community since 1926.  It was originally called Martin’s Kum-Bak place, but the dirt floor - now gone - earned it the nick-name “Dirty’s” or “Dirty Martin’s”. 

Cisco's on East Sixth Street

I will be honest and say that I have never ordered anything other than migas and biscuits while dining at this East Side institution.  I happen to find them divine.  My son adores the biscuits with a bit of honey. The walls are covered with framed news clippings about the owners and other miscellany. There is plenty for kids to gawk at and the service is pretty quick.

Nau's Enfield Drug on West Lynn

Nau's Enfield Drug 
This is a rare and precious thing nowadays - a real old-fashioned neighborhood pharmacy with a small lunch counter (and other seating) in the back.  Nau's serves the basics: grilled cheese, hamburgers, etc.  We usually go for the ice cream sundaes, which are just perfect.  

Sandy's on Barton Springs Road

Sandy's Frozen Custard
Sandy's has been handing out soft-serve custard (also known as ice cream - as well as burgers and other lunch grub) from it's walk-up window since 1946.  Located right in the middle of town on Barton Springs Road, it's still the perfect place to stop by on a ridiculously hot summer day.  Picnic tables are in the back.

Quality Seafood on Airport Boulevard

Quality Seafood
This place is part fish market and part restaurant (a little bar in the center divides the two).  It's my son's favorite restaurant - he is obsessed with their fried calimari.  I like it too - it is super casual, quite tasty, and one of a kind.  Sharks and other sea life hang from the ceiling, and the staff are nice as can be.

Matt's El Rancho on South Lamar

Matt’s El Rancho
Warning: this place is popular.  Go early or you may face a bit of a wait.  Otherwise, it’s your basic tex-mex served in a big, rambling, high-energy (but laid-back) space.  Lots of rooms for wandering through (when baby needs to move around); lots of sympathetic friendly people; a great spot for big groups.

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