You've probably had those couple-friends. Back in the day, you had to ban them from beer pong — or at least put them on separate teams —because they won every game. You'd come to rely on their photographic recollection of every craft cocktail list in town. But then they seemed to disappear after the baby shower. Now, "craft" means safety scissors and dried macaroni.
Well, we have a secret: Your cool friends aren't gone. They like local brew, brunch and patios just as much as before. Maybe you've even joined their ranks.
Our ancestors quietly suffered mystery meat and animatronic rodentia at the few places that willingly welcomed their climbing, singing, screaming, rambunctious offspring. No more. Parents need playdates, too. Here are spots to enjoy a grown-up meal or adult beverage while the kids act like children.
Hat Creek Burger Co.
Like so many Austin originals, this meaty place to meet friends started out as a food truck. Soon, founder Drew Gressett found himself father to three adorable little girls, and he saw an opportunity.
While emphasis had always been on making burgers with fresh, high-quality ingredients, Gressett parked Hat Creek at a permanent flagship location and put in a playground. Today, that's the centerpiece of the company's 10 locations, including newly opened North Texas outposts in McKinney, Rowlett and The Hill at Walnut Hill in Dallas. Others are expected to open this year in North Dallas, Sachse, Allen and Woodway (outside Waco), a rep says.
Locations vary slightly in style and layout, but most include indoor and outdoor picnic bench seating; think of the setup as a bit like Katy Trail Ice House, but here patrons are encouraged to run around, climb and slide.
Menus stick to classics. You'll find burgers and fries, chicken sandwiches and nuggets, salads and fried pickles, plus add-ons like spicy sauerkraut, avocado and feta to keep it interesting. Breakfast is popular, too, providing an opportunity to run off energy early in the day. Served daily from 7 to 10:30 a.m., breakfast options include tacos, pancakes and egg platters.
Drinks for grown-ups include Austin-based favorite Cuvee Coffee, plus local craft beer, cocktails and wine. Drinks for kids (well, not just kids), include healthy ones like milk and juice and more indulgent options like build-your-own milkshakes.
Weekly specials include Family Night every Tuesday, with half-price burgers from 5 p.m. to close, and $1 draft beer every Thursday.
A cynical younger set might shy away from East Dallas as the place where people couple up and "retire" from nightlife when they turn 30. For the rest of us, it's heaven on earth.
Children go to bed early. Here, "nightlife" can happen during the afternoon.
The Lot became an immediate hit when it opened in 2013. Located off the Santa Fe Trail near White Rock Lake, the expansive space features several patios with specific purposes.
Bigger, older children (and grown-ups) can play volleyball, washers, corn hole, foosball and other pick-up games in the Sand Lot. Smaller, younger children can make sandcastles and play gently in the Tot Lot. There's also a dog friendly lot, a beer garden and area for live music, plus adults-only areas around the bar.
Sound complicated? Here's a handy map.
Good food and drinks are a big deal at the Lot, and the menu reflects the restaurant's weighty size. It's a great place for a quick bite or a full meal (not to mention weekend brunch), and the kitchen focuses on sourcing ingredients locally. (You'll find offerings from Henry's Ice Cream, La Mexicana Tortilla Factory and Emporium Pies, to name a few.)
There's a solid kid's menu to boot, with healthy options like a cashew butter and honey sandwich on grain bread and kid-approved fun like state fair-style Corn Dogs.
Drinks for grown-ups include craft beers, many local, plus cocktails and wine, with regular happy hours most days of the week.
Central Market (Plano, Southlake and Fort Worth)
If you've not yet discovered the pleasure of plucking a rare beer (or a local brew you've not yet tried) from the Central Market shelf and pairing it with your choice from the prepared foods section or cafe, there's no time like the present.
Be adventurous. Have you tried a Lakewood Temptress ice cream float? Grab a container of ice cream from the frozen foods section, to share with the kiddos of course, and go for it. Or, ask a cheesemonger — yes, that's a real title, and they're generally quite friendly — for a fancy cheese and wine recommendation. The options are good, and the goods are aplenty.
The play-sets — Plano's is barnyard-themed and both Fort Worth's and Southlake's are castle-themed — feature slides and climbing equipment surrounded by fencing on all sides except the entrance. Outdoor picnic tables sit nearby, and there is also covered patio seating with good sight-lines.
Blink and you might miss it. Located in a shopping center in Carrollton, this Mexican restaurant with an unassuming storefront is a well-kept secret of the suburbs. That's because its enterprising owners sought to re-imagine, rather than simply rearrange, the former daycare space.
Nico's Cocina boasts a brightly colored backyard playground next to its covered patio. Parents sip margaritas and munch chips and salsa (locals love the complimentary black-bean dip, too) while children play on an expansive soft plastic set with slides and platforms. The enclosed space can be clearly seen from the outdoor dining area.
On the menu, you'll find traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes like enchilada platters, fajitas nachos and tamales, as well as a lengthy soup and salad section with healthier options, and a solid children's menu for the 10 and younger set with chicken tenders, tacos and quesadillas among other kid-friendly choices.
Brunch is also a big deal on weekends with an omelet bar and buffet. Options change throughout the morning, so don't wait for a second trip to try something that looks good. The buffet often features waffles and fresh fruit, as well as authentic, handmade tortillas. Did we mention $1 mimosas and $4 Bloody Mary's?
More family-friendly spots
Founded in 1988, Dream Cafe is known among longtime Dallas foodies for its delectable breakfast and weekend brunch menus (options range from healthy to healthy-indulgent, made with organic, hormone-free ingredients; vegetarians and vegans also rave about the animal-free dishes, which can be difficult to find in Dallas), but it might not immediately come to mind as a family spot.
Locations in Dallas' Quadrangle and in Addison feature lovely little play areas with small jungle gyms, chalkboard walls and buried tires. The kid's menu includes organic oatmeal, fruit and (whole wheat) Mickey Mouse pancakes.
This locally owned "better chicken" chain started out as an exploratory endeavor by mega restaurant corporation Yum before being bought by a Dallas restaurateur who is obsessed with making sure the menu is up to par.
Locations in North Dallas, Frisco, Richardson and Fort Worth keep the options simple: chicken, fries and custard. There's a similar vibe in small outdoor play areas with chalkboards, small play-house structures and hopscotch and Twister boards painted onto the concrete.
The children's menu features breakfast, lunch and dinner options ranging from chicken tenders and quesadillas to pasta Alfredo and a giant cinnamon roll. Plus, it's right across the way from Bookmarks children's library.
Sharing an expansive outdoor seating area with popular Oak Cliff bar the Foundry, Chicken Scratch was built on the idea of family picnic nostalgia. On the menu, you'll find hormone-free, locally sourced fried and grilled chicken dishes (including, of course, a pairing with coconut waffles), plus sides like buttermilk biscuits, mashed potatoes with gravy and green chile and hominy mac and cheese.
Stick around for the fresh fruit popsicles, which come in seasonal flavors. (Nice bonus: a child's order of boneless chicken fingers includes one of these better-for-you treats.) While you're enjoying a nice patio day, kids can hang around on monkey bars or climb half-buried tires in the rustic play yard or run free around the spacious patio area. Bands often play free music on the nearby stage, and dogs are welcome, too.