As I mentioned last week, I find myself eating out way more frequently than normal in the past few weeks. Now that Winter Break has started, I don’t really see that changing much. In addition, we’ll have family in from out of town and everyone will want to go some place festive. Also, since it’s a special time of year, we are more tempted to go someplace a little more fancy (and look the other way when the check comes and generous grandparents pick up the tab). Here are some of our favorite places to frequent this time of year, plus a few suggestions from friends.
Justine’s Brasserie – 4710 E. 5th St.
This French restaurant on the east side of Austin is definitely not cheap, nor is it fast food, but the food is amazing and the atmosphere is surprisingly casual. For a much more articulate review of the restaurant, you can read about the experience of one of the Chronicle’s food critics. We have always eaten outside, and the people watching is amazing. It’s definitely full-on hipster. There is plenty of space for kids to explore, from the garden to a small swingset to pétanque on the crushed granite, which I had no idea how to play (which didn’t end up mattering since my son made up a game which we played). There can be quite a wait, but if you go early (which usually works with kids, anyways) that can help, and you can make a reservation if you have six or more in your party. Open 6pm-2am Wednesday-Monday. Closed Tuesdays. Closed December 24th and 25th, will re-open the 26th of December. Open New Year’s Eve, and closed January 1st.
Stiles Switch – 6610 N. Lamar
It’s rare to find an out of town guest that’s not looking forward to eating some great barbeque. Yes, there is Salt Lick, but sometimes it’s difficult to block off the time for a trip down to Driftwood. One BBQ joint which we’ve started taking guests to is Stiles Switch in north central Austin. Like many eateries that deal with smoked meat, Stiles is counter service, which means it’s generally a shorter wait than table service. If the weather is nice, the outdoor patio is a great place to sit, and I know my kid can spend our whole visit playing washers, with the exception of the time he’s chomping down on turkey breast and brisket. I will say that Stiles is liberal in its use of pepper, which might bother some tender young palates. There are lots of sides to choose from, and I’m quite partial to the Chocolate & Banana Pudding. Definitely wear your elastic waist when you visit. Closed on Mondays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Closing early (3pm) on New Year’ Eve.
La Condesa – 400A West 2nd
Another nice place to visit during the holidays is La Condesa, which is right in the heart of downtown. In addition to serving fresh and tasty “modern Mexican” lunch and dinner, La Condesa serves brunch and has a cocktail menu which covers all of the bases. I can’t remember what my son had when we went for brunch, but La Condesa was a crowd pleaser for our group of seven. The bonus is that then you are downtown to enjoy all the cool things going on during the holidays. Although metered street parking is available on all nearby streets, you can also take advantage of complimentary validated valet parking on 2nd Street between Guadalupe and San Antonio after 5:30pm. Pay parking is available in the AMLI and City Hall garages. La Condesa validates garage parking for up to two hours between 9am and 6pm Monday through Friday. La Condesa will be open regular hours on Christmas Eve and closed on Christmas Day.
Kobe Steakhouse – 13492 Research Blvd.
I’ve been meaning to take my son to a Japanese steakhouse, but it just hasn’t happened. I have fond memories of going and having the food chopped up in front of you and the stunts that the chefs pulled during the dining experience. When I polled friends about the places to go, a few recommended Fujiyama, which is near 183 and Braker, but I thought I’d list Kobe here, since it would be more convenient for families who live up north. Kobe is open on Christmas Day from 11:30am-8pm.
Chez Zee – 5406 Balcones Dr.
Chez Zee has been one of Austin’s go-to brunch places for years. On the patio, kids can play board games and inside the restaurant, the art is eye catching. Chez Zee offers American fare with southern regional influences and locally-sourced ingredients. A gluten-free menu is available. The restaurant will host live performances throughout the holidays. Chez Zee is open on New Year’s Day.
Estância Churrascaria – 10000 Research Blvd., Suite B
My husband and I enjoyed going to a Brazilian steakhouse when we lived outside of Washington, D.C., but I hadn’t revisited the restaurant concept until my recent lunch at Estância Churrascaria. Here’s the way it works: you first have your first course, which is a salad bar with some nontraditional items, such as artichoke bottoms, tabouli, peppadew pepper, fresh mozarrella and asparagus, along with the more traditional salad greens. Non-meat eaters would have plenty to choose from (and, you can just order the salad bar). When you finish that course, you receive a small card. When you flip the card to green, servers circulating can stop at your table and offer you a choice of 14 different meats, arranged in larger-than-tasting-sized portions on a long skewer, whether it’s filet mignon, sirloin, lamb chops, pork tenderloin, chicken legs or pork sausage. When you are finished (or if you need a break), you can flip your card to red.
The restaurant also has an extensive wine list, cocktail menu, desserts and bring around cheese bread rolls, mashed potatoes, polenta and golden sweet bananas. Like the Japanese steakhouse, children don’t have to wait long for food, and it’s different than a traditional steakhouse, which makes the experience more fun. After having lunch there, I couldn’t even think about dinner, so it’s definitely lots of food. I worked with Brazilians in D.C. and have sampled plenty of caipirihnas (Brazil’s version of a margarita, made with Cachaça, a spirit made from sugar cane) and can attest that the ones at Estância are spot on. Kids under six are free and children between seven and 12 are half price. Estância will be open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
What’s your favorite place to eat out during the holidays?
Disclosure: We had a complimentary lunch at Estância Churrascaria. All the opinions expressed above are our own.