This is the 4th time I’ve been down to Austin, TX in the last 6 years to visit my brother who moved down there from Chicago, but this is the 1st time we have taken the kids.
Austin is a totally different experience when you have kids… and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just different.
Last September I spent a long weekend down there for my brother’s wedding. Unfortunately my wife could not go as she was 8 months pregnant at the time, and seeing as how I was standing up in the wedding, it would have been hard for me to bring our 2.5 year old daughter with me, so they all stayed home while I flew down there myself.
The time before that was in August of 2014. My wife and a good friend of ours flew down there for the weekend and had a blast. We also found out, the day before we left Chicago, that my wife was pregnant with our first kid. So her experience was a little bit different since she couldn’t drink while we were down there. But we still managed to have a great time going to the bars and restaurants on Rainey Street and 6th street.
The first time I went down there was in 2013 with my friend Nick. I drank more that weekend than I think I’ve drank in the subsequent 5 years (outside of that one day at Fremont in Chicago), and we were out until all hours of the night.
Those trips were definitely a different experience than this one.
Austin Texas With Kids
Don’t fly with a one year old.
Ok, that’s kind of a blanket statement. If your one year old can’t sit still, it’s probably best not to take them on an airplane. But if you do, make sure to bring a shitload of cheerios, puffs, milk, and water.
Just as he was on our flight to Tampa Florida earlier in the summer, our son, who is now almost one year old, did not do too well on the plane. He was better than he was in June, but still not the most pleasant experience for us, nor the people around us, but we did our best to keep him calm and quiet.
Our daughter, who’s now 3.5 years old, didn’t make a peep the entire time as she watched Paw Patrol on the iPad. It’s really the only time she gets to use the iPad, so she gets immersed pretty easily.
Once we landed in Austin, my brother scooped us up at the airport and took us back to their new house. The new house is just a little outside of downtown, which is a lot different from their old condo at the end of Rainey Street, but with the kids this time, it was absolutely perfect.
After dropping off our bags and picking up my sister in-law, we decided to head out to South Lamar and grab some lunch.
Matt’s El Rancho
Before we even landed in Austin, my wife and sister in-law were trying to find some cool restaurants for us to go to when we were in town. At the top of that list was a place called Loro. Loro is an Asian-BBQ fusion restaurant from the brains behind Uchi and Franklin Barbecue.
The menu looked pretty good… for the adults, but there was no kids menu, and certainly no chicken fingers and fries, which wasn’t going to fly with our daughter.
So despite really wanting to try it, we decided to forgo the nightmare that is no kid menu, and head over to Matt’s El Rancho instead. It was right down the street from Loro, and it had a kids menu, so it all worked out.
Matt’s El Rancho is a Tex-Mex restaurant that is apparently famous in Austin. The original restaurant was opened in downtown Austin in 1952 by Matt and Janie Martinez. Today the restaurant resides on South Lamar, seats 500 guests, and is still run by the Martinez family.
When we arrived at the restaurant on Friday afternoon, there was a 20% chance of rain, but we decided that it looked clear enough to sit outside on the patio. Plus, the little one is easier to deal with when we sit outside for some reason.
We were initially offered a table under an umbrella, but as we started to feel a little drizzle, we asked to move underneath the awning, and it’s a good thing we did, cause not 2 minutes after we sat down did it start to absolutely pour.
Safely under the awning and away from the rain, we put in for an order of chips and guacamole to compliment the chips and salsa that they had already brought to the table. We also ordered some chicken fingers for one of the kids (the other one doesn’t eat much yet).
I don’t really eat guacamole so I can’t comment on that, but everyone, including my one year old son, really seemed to enjoy it, so it’s probably a safe bet to order if you go here.
As for our entrees, my sister in-law went with the chicken fajitas, which she liked, but was a little disappointed in the amount of chicken they brought out with the plate.
As you can see from the photo above, it’s pretty hard to make out the actual chicken, but there was some… even if it was only about 3 pieces. So that was her only major complaint about the dish, otherwise it tasted great.
My brother went with the Grilled Old Fashioned Tacos, and I believe he got 2 brisket and one chicken, with their traditional, normal, toppings of cilantro and onions. I’m sure they were just fine as he ate them all.
I also ordered the Grilled Old Fashioned Tacos (pictured at top), but instead of being daring, I went with my go-to, seasoned ground beef. And then I replaced the onion and cilantro with cheese and lettuce, because Taco Bell.
The beef was pretty good. I believe it had some sort of jalapeno, or peppers, mixed in with the meat which gave it a little kick, but it wasn’t anything over powering, and I actually really enjoyed them.
I will say though, my favorite part of the taco was the homemade hard shell tortilla. I’m so used to taco places wrapping their tacos in either soft corn or flour tortillas, that these crispy fried(?) flour tortillas were a very welcome change.
In addition to the tacos, the meal came with a guacamole salad, which I did not eat, but what I did devour was the margarita we ordered…. Have I mentioned that I love margaritas?
Overall I would say our lunch at Matt’s El Rancho was a success, and a great first stop on our Austin journey. And, it bought us some time to let the rain clear up so we could head over to the Zilker Zephyr train at Zilker Park, which was supposed to run every hour.
Oh, but apparently if it drizzles just a tiny bit, they can’t run the train. So despite the fact that they said they were going to run the train at 3:15 (already delayed 15 minutes because of the wetness of the tracks from previous rains), and we had already purchased our tickets and were literally sitting on the train, they informed us that because it drizzled again for about 60 seconds, they were postponing the 3PM train ride until 4PM.
But seeing as how we weren’t about to sit around for another hour to see if they decided to run the train, we went and got ice cream at Amy’s Ice Cream instead and head back to the house to figure out dinner.
Jester King and Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza
After an hour or so of relaxing and trying to figure out where to go for dinner, we decided to head out to Jester King / Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. It looked as though the weather was going to cooperate, and it was a perfect place to bring kids and enjoy a few pizzas and beers.
This place is a pretty cool spot. Jester King is a brewery that brews up a bunch of different beers that I know nothing about. I won’t pretend to be a beer connoisseur, so if you’re curious as to what beers they serve, I would just check out their website. I ended up having a weiss beer with some lemonade added to it, to make it a shandy. It was pretty damn good, and I don’t really care for beer.
The property is huge, and apparently it gets pretty packed during the days on the weekend, but this was a Friday night, after a lot of rain moved through the area, so it wasn’t super crowded, which was great. There are two areas in which to order food and beer, and then a covered area with a bunch of picnic tables and live music, in addition to an outdoor seating area with a sandbox section for kids to play in.
I definitely get why it would be more popular for day drinking than night drinking, but we still had a great time.
In addition to the brewery, you can also order wood-fired pizzas from Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza, which is right in the same area as everything else.
We opted for a Margherita pizza as well as a straight up pepperoni pizza, and they were pretty tasty.
I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan some of these wood-fired pizza places, I feel like they are trying to get too fancy with their food. I don’t really care for the dough, and the slightly burnt taste that always comes from being cooked in a super hot pizza oven, always kind of turns me off. So for me to say that this pizza was my absolute favorite would be a lie, but that’s not to say it wasn’t decent.
Maybe it’s cause I’m from Chicago, and we have an insane selection of pizza in, and around, the city, but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to order pizza from Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza if I had the choice. That being said though, being the only food available at Jester King, it definitely hit the spot on a Friday night while having some beers. And I’m sure it would hit the spot while sitting around outside in the Texas heat while day drinking.
And that was our Friday. We had a great first day and we’re excited about the fact that the rain looked like it was going to hold off for Saturday.
Torchy’s Breakfast Tacos
I’m not sure if my brother and his wife were used to waking up as early as we get up, but that didn’t stop us from putting together an order for Torchy’s Tacos for breakfast.
I went with the classic bacon, egg, and cheese, while my wife went with chorizo, egg, and cheese, and a spinach, egg, bacon and avocado. And even though the classic breakfast tacos are ridiculously simple in their ingredients, they are absolutely delicious. We almost went back to Torchy’s on South Congress for lunch, but instead ended up just down the street at Magnolia Cafe, which I’ll get into in a minute.
I’ve been trying to find a good, basic, breakfast taco in Chicago and have had zero luck outside of the Nation’s Number 1 Mexican Restaurant, Taco Bell. I’ve had some breakfast burritos come close, but there’s just something about these Torchy’s Tacos that hits the spot. It was the perfect, fast, breakfast for our Saturday morning to get us going.
After breakfast we made our way into downtown Austin and walked around the 2nd street shops and the farmers market. The only food we got around there was some giant-ass lemonade that was basically just all sugar. I wish I knew the name of the place so I could thank them for keeping my daughter running on high all afternoon with no nap… but in all seriousness, it was pretty good, and I don’t really drink lemonade.
But I mean, load any drink with enough sugar and it’s a win in my book.
So after wandering around downtown for a bit, we made our way to South Congress to check out the Yeti store, among others, more Amy’s Ice Cream, and lunch at Magnolia Cafe.
Magnolia Cafe Austin
Apparently Magnolia Cafe is a famous restaurant to eat at when in Austin; President Obama even ate there, but I don’t know if it was really anything special, but maybe it’s just what we ordered.
We started with an order of chips and queso, which was good, and a pitcher of mimosas, which was needed at this point.
As far as our entrees, we basically just ordered breakfast food, even though it was like 2pm. So that’s probably why I didn’t really think much of the restaurant. I mean, it was fine, but it was just breakfast food, so I can’t really say much bad or good about it.
They didn’t mess up my eggs, which is good, so I guess it was good?
I feel like our breakfast Sunday morning at Kerbey Lane Cafe was just about the same, and that was basically in between Walker Brothers and iHop… so nothing that extraordinary.
So take that as you will, and by all means, if you want to say you ate at Magnolia Cafe in Austin, please do so. I’m sure they have some great menu items that aren’t your basic breakfast foods, that’s just not what we had on this visit.
And that was basically it.
We grilled burgers and hot dogs at my brother and his wife’s house on Saturday, had a few drinks, hung out, and went to bed early. And as I mentioned briefly a second ago, we had breakfast at Kerbey Lane Cafe before gathering up our stuff and heading to the airport.
It was a quick trip, but we packed a lot of stuff in, and it’s a totally different ballgame when you go to Austin with kids.
We didn’t hit a single true bar, we didn’t go to 6th street, we didn’t hunt down our favorite korean BBQ burrito food truck – chi’lantro – at 1am while stumbling back from Rainey Street, and we didn’t even get a chance to stand in line for any BBQ…
but we’ll be back, with or without the kids, and we can’t wait.