These Folks Welcome Your Kid!
What makes a restaurant “family friendly”? Look for clues before entering, like, do they have a kids’ menu? I know—obvious—but a tell-tale sign that the restaurant will serve smaller, less expensive kid-friendly meals. Secondly, check the noise level–is it very quiet? Are there conversations lively enough that your crabby kid won’t attract glares from customers? Is there music playing? Music soothes kids, and keeps their outbursts from being drastically noticeable. Another sign—lighting–kids and the dark aren’t as ideal as say, eating on a patio, or sidewalk table. Kids like watching street action. It’s a helpful distraction.
Another valuable asset is the server who brings entertainment—whether that’s in the form of crayons or dough. Kids like entertainment while they wait for food. Quick service is a must. Long waits can stretch the patience of the best-behaved child. Make sure you get your younger kid something to eat quickly, and specifically request their meal served as soon as it’s ready.
Contemporary nutritionists agree that it’s critical to expose kids to new flavors and international cuisine when they’re young. But sometimes kids simply won’t experiment, so expecting him to eat sushi or jambalaya will meet with loud complaints. To avoid ordering an expensive dish he won’t eat, offer him a bite of your food and order him something he is likely to eat. Try new things multiple times–but don’t push too hard. Take it from a mom who made many mistakes.
Now let’s jump to places that get high marks from my unscientific survey of Bethesda moms and kids:
10. BGR The Burger Joint – My kids don’t love this place the way I do, but I always see happy families enjoying these flavorful burgers, onion rings and fries. They also offer sliders making it easy for younger kids to share an order. They also serve grilled cheese and milkshakes. If you time it right, you might be there when they serve lobster rolls, but they always have veggie and turkey burgers with lots of toppings on the menu. One interesting item- asparagus fries. Haven’t tried them yet, but they sound interesting.
9. Hard Times Café – This place scores high with teens because they serve very large quantities of heavy food, especially the chili fries. They have hot dogs, chili and pasta–perfect for kids who’ve been out playing sports and want a hearty meal. The service is slow here, so prepare to wait by bringing something for a younger kid to do.
8. Moby Dick House of Kabob- In a word – Bread! They make it fresh here. They have delicious kabobs that all kids seem to love. It’s super casual and also easy to do take out here except for parking. If you can get your kid to try the dips, I applaud you. They are so good; your kid might decide she likes hummus after a visit to Moby Dick.
7. Cava Mezza Grille – This is like Chipotle but better. The ingredients have more depth and more options. You can go for a pita sandwich stuffed with tzatziki and chicken, or a bowl of rice with meatballs. They have lots of delicious toppings – eggplant dip, feta cheese, cucumbers, hummus, lettuce and pita crisps. Kids typically love the simple stuff, but parents will delight in the many healthy toppings like cabbage, pickled onions and fresh mint. Get those kids eating savory, complex food early, and they’ll grow up with a wider palate and better nutrition.
6. Potbelly – One word that explains Potbelly’s popularity with kids – Milkshakes. These are universally loved by kids. The sandwiches are health-conscious and tasty. The place is casual and reasonably priced. They offer the “thin cut” version of bread for you low carb fans, and they even serve PB and J. Heaven for the pickiest kid.
5. California Tortilla – although not as upscale as some of the restaurants listed, everyone likes this upbeat fast food. They have a great menu for kids that include a drink, side of chips and a brownie. There’s much to please the adults too. Best of all, the prices are extremely reasonable, and it’s easy to call in for one of their “dinner menus” that feeds a family of four for $35.
4. Raku – Why kids love this place is probably a mystery based on my recipe for success. It really is not geared to kids, but they love this food. Teriyaki and bento boxes are best for the adventurous kid but you might experience great joy when your child asks for more vegetables fried in tempura. It’s loud and no one will notice if the kids start fussing. Parents consider this a treat for themselves as well.
3. Benihana – the show goes on, and so do the courses, at this delightfully greasy Japanese hibachi restaurant Benihana. Kids watch with fascination how the table chef attempts to lob shrimp and chicken into the air, and into the mouths of diners gathered around the large cooking tables. The group tables are festive, food is tasty, and kids love the fried rice. Based on price, it might be best for a special occasion.
2. Mamma Lucia – Pizza, pasta and bread—the triumvirate of favorites of almost every child—flourishes at Mama Lucia. Hordes of families fill the inside and outdoor tables. Parents are pleased with the garlicy flavors and wide range of choices, while kids are satisfied by the creamy, tangy ingredients delivered unobtrusively in this food. They usually have complimentary garlic rolls to eat while you wait for your meal. Best of all Mama Lucia is owned and operated by local Montgomery County families!
1. And finally, the Reigning King of all Kid-Friendly Restaurants for the last 20 years: Rio Grande. This Tex Mex restaurant at the corner of Arlington Road and Bethesda Avenue has a tortilla machine that kids love watching as dough is shaped and baked into tortillas. The servers bring kids a lump of dough to shape while they wait, along with crayons and word games. Mexican food is often safe cuisine for the pickiest kid. They like chips, tortillas, rice, cheese and most will eat chicken. It has a nice outdoor patio and highest sound decibels imaginable. No one will hear your kid when they scream for ice cream, which comes with the kids’ meal.