Tired of trying to entertain your child at the local diner? These restaurants go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to entertaining your kids. From surprise ninjas to swashbuckling pirates, here are fourteen of the most kid-friendly restaurants in the country, for both everyday outings and special-occasion splurges. – Christina Couch
Kids will come for the ice cream, but they’ll stay for the science. Part ice cream shop, part lab, iCream allows kids (and geeky adults) to create their own ice cream, sorbet or frozen yogurt completely from scratch customized right down to the color. Patrons start by choosing a base – the six choices range from soymilk ice cream to non-fat yogurt – then select a flavor or combination of flavors. While typical ice cream flavors like vanilla and strawberry are available, adventurous eaters can also opt for flavors like burnt sugar, cinnamon or honey. Once a flavor has been created, iCream staff mixes and freezes the concoction on the spot using liquid nitrogen then adds toppings, mix-ins and coloring. While flavor combos are virtually unlimited, some obviously work better than others (for example our almond and Irish cream non-fat yogurt topped with blackberries tasted much better than the green tea and pomegranate ice cream topped with caramel), so choose carefully. Custom-tailored frozen treats cost about $5 each.
Armed with an arsenal of awards for both cooking and hospitality, this Revolutionary War-themed period restaurant gets the thumbs up from kids who hate boredom and adults who hate crappy food. Located just across from the Liberty Bell, City Tavern features a full menu chock full of 18th century dishes (including George Washington’s personal beer recipe), served on 18th century dinnerware and presented by staff dressed in 18th century garb. The children’s menu is no exception. Featuring items like Colonial Turkey Pot Pie, all recipes are either directly from or inspired by food served during the Revolutionary War. Adult dinner entrees range from $20 to $30.
Buena Park, CA and Orlando, FL
Touting itself as “the world’s most interactive dinner show,” Pirate’s Dinner Adventure is an introvert’s nightmare. Taking place on a replication of an 18th century Spanish galleon ship anchored in a 250,000-gallon indoor lagoon, this high-tech, no-holds-barred dinner show offers theatrical parts for 150 dinner guests and includes sword fights, plank-walking, canon blasts, pyrotechnics and a fair bit of ye olde pirate-speak. The show is, in fact, so over the top that parents won’t notice that they’ve just forked over $57 per adult ticket and $38 per child for a show and generously portioned meal. While the “Port of Call Feast” is decent – think entrees like lemon pepper chicken and garlic shrimp and scallops – it’s easy to forgive culinary mediocrity when your child is wearing a pirate costume and feverishly paddling a dinghy around a fake lagoon in hopes of rescuing a princess. Booty-saving coupons are available at www.pirateadventuredinner.com.
San Antonio and Dallas, TX
It’s not the healthiest place in Texas to eat, but it may be the most fun. At The Magic Time Machine, how you eat trumps what you eat as servers dressed as Jack Sparrow, Batgirl, Obi-Wan Kenobe and Marilyn Monroe cart a large selection of steak, seafood and chicken dishes to your table. Both the food and drink menus are extensive and include a couple of mystery selections such as non-alcoholic “Bubble Magic Time Machine Potions” which are available in red, yellow, blue, green and “UGLY” (their capitalization, not ours) varieties. Servers wow kids with G-rated comedy and songs while adults can feel smug about the fact that they’re getting Disney-quality entertainment for $12 to $30 a plate.
Clay’s Restaurant Houston, TXHere, kids can eat animals and ride them too. Featuring burgers, sandwiches and hearty meat-centric plates on the menu, Clay’s Restaurant is also home to live horses, chickens, goats, sheep and emu children can feed for a modest 25 cents. Aside from the livestock, Clay’s provides a sandbox for little ones, open space where older kids can bring footballs and Frisbees and free live music for adults. An added bonus is that Clay’s won’t kill your budget. Kids meals including fries and a drink cost under $5 and adult dishes are almost all under $12.
San Francisco, CA
Kids get to make their own pizzas, adults get to wind down with a badass cocktail bar, everyone gets a fanflippintastic meal. Voted as the Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant by the San Francisco Chronicle, Puccini and Pinetti wins accolades from young diners thanks to its make-your-own-pizza option which allows kids to flatten dough, smear on sauce and sprinkle cheese and toppings onto their own personalized pizza. While culinary creations are being cooked, the restaurant provides crayons and activity books to keep young minds occupied while adults unwind with P&P’s robust wine list. By the time pizzas are ready, kids are usually so psyched about eating their own art, they forget to be unruly. Just to reinforce the good behavior, P&P also offers table manners lunches for kids. Dinner for adults is also appetizing with entrees costing between $12 and $26.
Flame jugglers, cliff divers and live dancers, oh my! Featuring over thirty performances that range from cowboy shoot-outs to magic shows to a live gorilla capture, this 52,000 square-foot Mexican buffet-style restaurant built around a thirty-foot manmade waterfall is nothing short of eye ecstasy for young diners. Portions here are huge (including the house margarita diners can purchase by the liter), reasonably priced (entr’es cost $12 to $30) and all come with free house-made dessert. Kids that aren’t into live shows are free to chill out in the adjacent arcade or search the grounds for Black Bart’s hidden hideout.
Los Angeles, CA
It’s no wonder stars like Jennifer Garner, Adam Sandler and Mark Wahlberg bring their little ones to this child-first establishment. The largely organic menu is packed with typical kid-friendly foods that sneak in the vegetables (ssshhh the pizza sauce is made with pureed spinach and the Mickey’s Mac and Cheese sauce is actually made with butternut squash puree). When tykes aren’t chowing down, they’re free to sing karaoke, have their faces painted, run, jump, play house, read books or listen to professional storytellers all while under the careful watch of on-staff chaperones. Since menu items all come in kid or adult portions, grown-ups won’t miss out on the selection of freshly-made organic wraps, salads and pasta dishes. Kid entrees usually run around $7, adult entrees, $10.
If kids don’t like one dish, don’t worry, another’s on the way. At this West Coast sushi-ria, small dishes costing between $1.50 and $5.25 constantly move past patrons on a conveyor belt. While the menu is sushi-heavy, typical kid foods like chicken fingers and noodle dishes periodically roll by as do a selection of desserts including sweet Japanese rice cakes (known as mochi) in flavors like mango, green tea and red bean. All ingredients are fresh (frozen is out) and diners are invited to take their own in-restaurant photos to be posted on Blue C’s web site. Parents can keep tab of their tab thanks to color-coded pricing that’s visible on all dishes.
Chicago and Lombard, IL
A win for older kids who like bad attitudes, this 50′s-style diner features a waitstaff dressed as greasers, nerds and soda jerks who aren’t afraid to belt out classic hits (or insults) from atop the bar. The charm for adults is that these entertainers are far from professional and just as adept at taking quips as they are hurling them. Food is basic diner food – fairly decent burgers, shakes and the world’s smallest sundae served in a souvenir shot-sized glass – almost all of which falls in the $5 to $15 range. For a sample of the zaniness, check out this clip.
La Mesa, CA
Finally, a coffee shop that understands the needs of its customers. This California-based mom haven offers everything from pre- and post-natal yoga to family-friendly dance parties to storytellers for young ones. On top of gourmet coffees, teas, wraps and breakfast goodies – we highly recommend The Sicilian, a breakfast bagel topped with fresh tomatoes, cream cheese and pesto – the caf’ also offers healthy snacks for kids like tofu bites and house-made popsicles that contain real fruit. Java Mama also offers drama, art, music and language classes year-round, free wi-fi and supervised play areas ($3/day fee required). Average menu price is $6.
New York City, NY
Perhaps the only restaurant in the world bold enough to mix the ease of a night out on the town with the thrill of constantly watching out for hidden assassins, Ninja New York presents diners with an upscale Japanese meal inspired and served by . . . well . . . ninjas. Patrons who survive the spooky entry hall to the restaurant (watch out from above) will be treated to a multi-course meal served with flair (and swords and smoke bombs) as well as a magic show. Entrees cost $20 to $40 or patrons can opt for the fixed price menus which run anywhere from $38 to $88.
Kids may call it overpriced. They may call it over the top, but they won’t call it over-rated. For young sports enthusiasts, the ESPN Zone is about as cool as an eatery can get. An homage to all things physically competitive, these facilities feature a huge array of interactive games like boxing that requires players to bob and weave before getting KO’ed, basketball hoops that calculate players’ free throw percentage and bowling on 45-foot lanes. The restaurant portion features passable sandwiches, burgers, pasta dishes and barbecue as well as a decent beer selection that includes organic and gluten-free brews. Both food and games are unsurprisingly pricey – burgers cost $10 to $17 depending on location, entrees cost around $20 to $30 and games can cost up to $6 a pop – this place isn’t exactly designed for those who pick up the tab. Parents may be underwhelmed, but sports-minded kids will go nuts.