America's Favorite Family-Friendly Restaurants
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Gone are the days when restaurants needed to serve processed chicken nuggets to appease little ones. Today's smaller set is savvy (as are their parents!) and appreciative of more creative child-friendly options. These restaurants across the country go beyond the typical kids' menu with organic options, international adventures and mini versions of adult entrees. Parents will appreciate that many have an activity component, too, curbing tantrums (most of the time) and allowing them to sip a craft cocktail or eat their meal in peace while their little ones expend some energy.
New York: The Meatball Shop
This pick-your-own-meal Meatball Shop already has the ideal menu for families, giving picky diners the ability to customize each component along the way. Pick your ball, your sauce, your side and even your dessert for a quick, all-pleasing meal. Kids who don’t want to choose from the adult menu can make their selections from the Baller in Training menu, picking two meatballs (chicken, veggie or beef), a sauce (tomato, mushroom or Parmesan cream) and a side. If there’s room left for dessert, kids and adults can create their own cookie ice cream sandwich.
Multiple locations across NYC
Go to: The Meatball Shop
The owners of this neighborhood gem love serving families and have come up with plenty of ways to make them happy. Little ones get a fun “busy box” — a lunchbox filled with all sorts of goodies, such as notebooks and crayons, Old Maid cards, mini Slinkys and googly eyes. The kids’ menu goes beyond typical child-friendly fare with options like a stir-fry with shrimp, and cream of tomato soup. There are also little nibbles — ants on a log or soda crackers with honey butter — for kids more intent on snacking.
Go to: Tilia
Washington, D.C.: Beefsteak
Leave it to Spanish food wizard José Andrés to innovate a new way for parents get their kids to eat veggies. This quick-serve spot is all about the vegetables — and although it’s not a vegetarian restaurant, the meat takes a back seat. Kids will love picking out their own bowl and watching it be prepared before their eyes, dunked into fryers filled with water for healthier cooking. Vegetables take on the life of superheroes — as kids get to color in their very own from the “Veggie Universe” while they wait.
Multiple locations across D.C. and Philadelphia
Photo courtesy of Rey Lopez
Go to: BeefSteak
Seattle: Ballard Pizza Company (Ballard and Frelard locations)
Ethan and Angela Stowell run some of Seattle’s more upscale restaurants, but with two little ones of their own, they also wanted a place where the whole family could grab a bite and be happy. While Mom and Dad are indulging in pizzas like the Primo with Zoe salami, red onions, pickled peppers and fresh mozzarella, kids can keep it simple with a margherita or pepperoni pie. The Ballard location has a huge backroom perfect for celebrating birthday parties, and the Frelard location has a kids’ play area integrated into the design of the restaurant, so parents can enjoy a glass of wine while their kids burn off the pizza.
Photo courtesy of Geoffery Smith
Go to: Ballard Pizza Company
Shannon Allen became practically a pro at preparing healthy game-day meals for her NBA star husband, Ray Allen, and lightened versions of game-day favorites in general. Her expertise blossomed into a full-fledged Miami restaurant, Grown, which caters to both kids and adults, and pays special attention to those that have severe allergies. The menu serves 100 percent organic food, including panko-crusted chicken tenders and gluten-free blueberry pancakes that can be prepared relatively quickly. While kids are waiting for their food, there is an interactive iPad wall filled with nutrition- and fitness-themed educational games.
Go to: Grown
New Orleans: The Backyard
This aptly named NOLA restaurant serves dishes you’d expect to find at the ultimate backyard get-together, including smoked chicken wings, coleslaw, burgers, dogs and sloppy joes. The kids can indulge in the same – their versions are served with tots or sweet potato fries and fruit. The backyard is full of wood picnic tables and a playground that kids can explore; local beer on tap offers amusement for adults.
Go to: The Backyard
New York: The Living Room at the Park Hyatt
An upscale hotel may not be the obvious choice for kid-friendly dining, but the Park Hyatt pulls out all the stops for kiddos. When kids sit down to eat, they are presented with a children’s activity pack inspired by Joshua David Stein’s book Can I Eat That? While they eat, they can opt for a “book course” — think cheese course, only this time with books — which deploys a vintage book cart full of Phaidon’s newest children’s book releases for them to enjoy while indulging in sophisticated dishes like kale salad with honey vinaigrette, salmon bento boxes and fruit with Chantilly cream.
Photo courtesy of Katie Burton
Detroit: Buddy’s Pizza
Detroit-style pizza may be the draw here, but the rest of the menu lends itself to kid-friendly feasting too. Chicken tenders are dipped in low-fat buttermilk and rolled in seasoned flour before they are fried, pastas are dressed in sauces made from scratch, and the minestrone soup wins over kids with its chunky noodles. When the restaurant isn’t too busy, a magician, balloon artist or clown occasionally makes the rounds to wow kids while they wait to eat.
Go to: Buddy's Pizza
Miami: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
The shared plates trend takes a family-friendly turn at this South Beach hot spot, where heaping platters of crisp fried chicken, tender waffles and juicy watermelon seem custom-made for little fingers. Request a seat at one of the huge round banquettes and dig in. Southern-style drinks — sweet tea, bourbon-spiked lemonade — served in cute Mason jars provide ample refreshment.
More About: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
New York: Blue Smoke
"Blue Smoke loves kids!" the menu proclaims, and the proof is evident the minute you sit down and your little one is given a cookie dough pig to decorate. There are craft sticks for busy fingers and a kids' menu that offers Grilled Salmon and Memphis Baby Back Ribs in addition to the usual grilled cheese. Meanwhile, adults can savor Southern fare overseen by superstar restaurateur Danny Meyer.
More About: Blue Smoke
Nashville: The Pharmacy
Part beer garden, part burger joint, part soda fountain, The Pharmacy is a lot of things to a lot of people — including kids! The biggest draw for them is likely the old-fashioned soda shop portion that includes phosphates made with no caffeine, preservatives or corn syrup, in flavors like chocolate and maraschino cherry. Parents will love that diner classics like burgers come with homemade condiments and use 100 percent Tennessee-raised beef. The Pharmacy also donates to a number of children’s charities and sponsors a sports team that allows underprivileged kids to play for free.
Go to: The Pharmacy
Portland, Oregon: Lechon
This South American restaurant focuses on wood-fired grilled food in a historic building that overlooks the Willamette River. Parents of infants can leave the baby food at home: The chef prepares seasonal purees to feed tiny diners. Pea puree plus one seasonal option are always available, and they are free. This helps solve a kitchen issue with waste, and helps parents know that their littlest ones are well-fed without any hassle. Older kids may not have a menu of their own, but they likely won’t turn down fried cheese empanadas.
Go to: Lechon
San Diego: Bo Beau Kitchen + Garden
Having a leisurely glass of wine while slurping mussels and munching on frites may seem like a pipe dream when kids are in tow, but at this French-inspired kitchen in San Diego, it’s possible. The back of the covered garden area hosts a retrofitted school bus that kids can climb and play on, along with a chalkboard wall that asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” all in sight of the dining tables. When kids return to the dining room, they can eat a quesadilla or buttered noodles, while the over-12 set can order from the “Not a Kid’s Menu” with entrees that mimic their parents’ — like mini steak frites or seared salmon.
Go to: Bo Beau Kitchen + Garden
Providence: Tom’s BaoBao
A popular Chinese street food, bao is a fluffy bun stuffed with a variety of different fillings. At Tom’s, the bao are made right in front of customers, which keeps the attention of the little ones. The menu even explains the history and process of making the delicate buns, which come out relatively quickly to appease impatient children. Kids love the sweet potato and chicken varieties, and there is always a seasonal dessert bao.
Go to: Tom's BaoBao
Chicago: Roots Pizza
Kids and pizza are a natural match, but this spot does more than just serve up Quad City-style pie. Roots also serves up some of the most-amazing housemade mozzarella sticks. Kids can peek through the pizza-viewing window to watch their pies being made or sit at the table rolling their own ball of pizza dough. The backroom of the West Town location is perfect for kids’ birthday parties, which parents enjoy attending, thanks to one of the city’s largest selections of Midwest craft beer.
Go to: Roots Pizza
Nashville: Loveless Cafe
This Nashville institution has some of the best biscuits around, plus plenty to entertain kids before and after their meals of classic Southern meatloaf and fried chicken — smaller versions of the favorites on the adult menu. On any given day, the property may be hosting festive events or games of cornhole, or selling little souvenirs.
Go to: Loveless Cafe
Baltimore: Miss Shirley’s Café
This cute breakfast-brunch-lunch spot has perfected how to deal with kids, particularly those with serious food allergies. The restaurant is a completely peanut-free facility and takes cross-contamination for other allergies very seriously. There’s also plenty to occupy little diners during wait times, including many breakfast-themed children’s books stocked in the waiting room. The kids’ menu comes bento box-style, with compartments for a fruit or applesauce, a veggie and a meal component such as a turkey and cheese sandwich or mini Belgian waffles. Parents can sip a Bloody Mary or coffee while kids are entertained with Etch-a-Sketches, puzzles and games.
Go to: Miss Shirley’s Cafe
San Antonio: Two Bros. BBQ Market
Barbecue is a reliable family-friendly option, thanks to shareable portions and enticing sides. The chefs at Two Bros. BBQ make their ’cue in custom-built slow-cooker pits, then slice it to order. A huge shaded patio is an enjoyable place to settle in for cherry-glazed baby back ribs and huge helpings of creamy mac and cheese. When the littles have finished their meal, they can run off to the giant kids’ playground and sandbox while older kids start a game of bocce ball. Live music keeps things energized on the weekends and fun for the whole family.
Go to: Two Bros. BBQ Market
Charleston, SC: Hominy Grill
Housed in a historic red clapboard house, this gem is a standout in a town famous for low-country comfort food. Though there isn't a children's menu, Charleston's youngsters have been happily gobbling up kid-friendly dishes like the Pimento Cheese Sandwich on a Pretzel Roll, Macaroni and Cheese, and Fried Green Tomatoes with Ranch Dressing since the place opened in 1996.
More About: Hominy Grill
Stowe, Vermont: Picnic Social
Comfort foods abound at this Vermont restaurant, where the menu is packed with dishes like chicken pot pie, grilled cheese and creamy polenta. Kids have their own menu that follows suit and is great for combating winter’s chill. The real fun is in the waiting for your meal, as the restaurant is filled with board games and offers shuffleboard and cornhole on the patio. Evenings lend themselves to roasting s’mores by the fire — a kid favorite, with a little adult assistance, of course.
Go to: Picnic Social
Austin: The Park
A kid-friendly sports bar doesn’t need to be an oxymoron: This Austin restaurant has the amenities you’d expect in a quality sports bar — lots of TVs, good craft beer and great appetizers — along with ample kid-friendly options. If little ones aren’t interested in the game, they can color a photo and turn it into 3-D art via an interactive app. The $5 kids’ menu is a great option for standard fare, but the adult choices hold appealing options like mini street tacos, spinach-mushroom quesadillas and baked penne Bolognese. Dessert includes a signature Cinnamon Toast Crunch fried ice cream and Nutella funnel cakes, which should appeal to everyone.
Go to: The Park
Dallas: Chicken Scratch
Place your order at the walk-up counter, take a number, then let the little ones run free in the courtyard while you grab one of the picnic tables. When dinner does arrive — juicy fried chicken, locally sourced vegetables and homemade ranch sauce — the kids will have worked up an appetite. Grownups can imbibe in an icy brew from The Foundry, an adjacent bar, while the junior set grabs house-made fruit ice pops.
More About: Chicken Scratch
Denver: Steuben's Food Service
Housed in a converted auto body garage, this uptown restaurant serves retro cocktails, deviled egg apps and kids' meals on old-school cafeteria trays. Children's dinners come with carrot sticks, cucumbers, edamame and fresh berries. For adults there are elevated comfort classics like Chicken Marsala, BBQ Beef Brisket and a Monte Christo that earns rave reviews.
More About: Steuben's Food Service
Houston: Amazon Grill
There's plenty to love about this West U go-to, starting with the bar of warm plantain chips and cilantro, salsa and chimichurri sauces. But don't fill up! Generous plates of South American-style grill and grilled chicken with crema fresca all win applause. Having customers order at a counter keeps prices low; a kid's menu filled with popcorn chicken and quesadillas (served with cotton candy) keeps the place bustling.
More About: Amazon Grille
Phoenix: Joe's Farm Grill
How do you improve on crowd-pleasers like burgers, dogs and salads? Make them with fresh, organic ingredients you grow on your own farm. That's the formula that keeps Arizona families flocking to this suburban oasis for grilled thin-crust pizzas, barbecued ribs and crisp onion rings that have achieved legendary status. Place your order, then find a seat at one of the picnic tables among the tall trees.
More About: Joe's Farm Grill
Washington, D.C.: 2Amys
If there's one thing kids and parents can agree on, it's pizza. And there's no shortage of options to please both generations at this Cleveland Park classic. For timid palates, there's a sublime wood-fired Margherita made with Italian plum tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala and fresh basil. The more adventurous can sink their teeth into a Vongole Pie blanketed with fresh garlic, capers, hot pepper and cockles.
More About: 2Amys
Los Angeles: Roku
This trendy Japanese spot knows how to get kids to the table — the teppanyaki table, in this case. A familial interactive experience keeps kids entertained while the chefs prepare healthy dishes like Faroe Island salmon and organic Jidori chicken breasts. The meals come with hibachi-cooked shrimp, miso soup, vegetables and rice. Mom and Dad can indulge, if they so choose, with Nova Scotia lobster or A-5 Wagyu, or if they prefer, get larger versions of the kid options.
Go to: Roku
Chicago: Crosby’s Kitchen
Crosby's, named for one of the owner’s daughters, was designed with families in mind. The doorways are wide enough to accommodate strollers, and there is a sink in the dining room for quick cleanup of messy hands and a stepstool in the bathroom to help out the little ones. Kids eat free every day from 4 to 6 p.m. and have their own menu for brunch and dinner, including chicken fresh off the rotisserie, just like on the adult menu.
Go to: Crosby's Kitchen
This bright, sunny vegetarian-focused restaurant lures locals and visitors alike to Bainbridge Island. Although there isn’t a kids’ menu, the little ones can slurp healthy mint chocolate chip smoothie made with spinach, mint, Dos Leches milk, banana and cocoa nibs, and gobble vegetable rolls served with a peanut dipping sauce. The outdoor patio is perfect for playing after eating. Parents will appreciate the lack of refined sugars and also the sore-throat pops, made with honey, hibiscus and golden juice, for kids who are under the weather.
Photo courtesy of Suzi Pratt
Go to: Verjus
At this romantic spot tucked inside the Palms Hotel, Chef Julie Frans welcomes young visitors to her poolside kitchen gardens for tours during the growing season. The children's menu veers toward the sophisticated: Salmon Teriyaki, Black Thai Rice, Quinoa and Caesar Salad are among the healthy options, making indulging in a Chocolate-Dipped Rice Crispy Treat Pop or a Banana Split feel practically guilt-free.
More About: Essensia
Madison, Wisconsin: Gates and Brovi
After opening two successful adultcentric restaurants, owners John Gadau and Phillip Hurley wanted to open a family-friendly destination. The result is this fun, casual spot that is Wisconsin supper club meets Northeastern seafood shack. The focus is on local, made-from-scratch cuisine. The staff is encouraged to engage kids and families, offering something to eat or drink while they wait and treating each diner with respect. The kids’ menu includes linguine with broccoli Alfredo (with the option to add grilled salmon), homemade pizzas and fried-to-order chicken tenders. Each item comes with a side of carrots and celery instead of fries, which is a win for the parents.
Philadelphia: Marathon Grill
Sure, there are chicken fingers on the kid's menu. But you'll also find less expected options, like Matzoh Ball Soup and a Thanksgiving Dinner complete with turkey and mashed potatoes. All are made with ingredients from the restaurant's farm or locally sourced. Add a festive cocktail menu and food options like Cheesesteak Wontons, and you have the makings of a neighborhood joint that never fails to satisfy.
More About: Marathon Grill
Los Angeles: Pitchoun!
With a name that literally translates to “kiddo,” this adorable family-owned French pastry shop and cafe is the perfect place to take your early risers. Commence with a well-deserved cup of caffeine for parents and a fresh-squeezed orange juice for kids, to accompany fresh-out-of-the-oven baguettes with homemade jam. The lunch menu has dedicated options for les petits, including a crudite plate and a three-cheese grilled cheese.
Go to: Pitchoun Bakery
Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Calico
Jackson Hole lures plenty of families eager to enjoy abundant wildlife, national parks or skiing, and Calico offers them a perfect refuge in the great outdoors. The patio is expansive and an ideal spot for families to take in the panoramic view of the mountains. It’s also an amazing place for kids to run in circles — literally — as the lawn is a one-and-a-half-acre playfield just off the deck, where kids can play while parents enjoy some wine. Farther down the lawn are gardens where the restaurant grows some of the produce that it includes in its seasonal Italian menu.
Go to: Calico
Cleveland: Melt Bar and Grilled
Grilled cheese is a crowd favorite for kids and for kids at heart. That makes this grilled cheese restaurant a favorite of cheese lovers of all ages. The kids’ menu goes beyond grilled cheese with a burger, pizza, chicken tenders and a classic PB&J, and includes a banana, a special side or fries with each dish. On Tuesdays, everything on the kids’ menu is $2.
Locations across Ohio
Go to: Melt Bar & Grilled
Washington D.C.: DBGB Kitchen and Bar
A restaurant from famed chef Daniel Boulud may not be the most-obvious choice when it comes to dining with children, but his Washington, D.C., locale of DBGB caters to the smaller set. While Mom and Dad are enjoying housemade sausages and Maryland crab cakes, the junior crowd can indulge in hanger steak or grilled chicken. But the real delight for the kids is in dessert: The make-your-own sundae comes with a selection of delectable toppings for kids to create their own indulgent masterpiece.
Go to: DBGB Kitchen and Bar
San Francisco: Little Gem
With veterans of Thomas Keller’s restaurants at the helm, food is taken seriously at this bright little cafe. Everything on the menu contains local, seasonal ingredients with no additives or chemicals. The food is also dairy- and gluten-free, so those with allergies can partake. The kids won’t even realize they are eating healthy when they can indulge in AB & J, an almond butter and housemade jam combo served on a tapioca crepe. More-adventurous diners can savor smoked Wagyu beef brisket and flavorful bibimbap.
Photo courtesy of Cynthia Lin
Go to: Little Gem