Sometimes people with kids enjoy eating outside of the house, and sometimes, we want something better than chicken nuggets that come with a side of anti-LGBTQ sauce, despite those indoor playgrounds.
But finding places where families with young kids can feel comfortable is a challenge. We’re aware that things like spilled drinks and tantrums can turn heads. And we know most restaurant owners aim to provide tranquil dining rooms where patrons can eat undisturbed by toddler shrieks and flying Goldfish crackers. All of these distractions notwithstanding, some businesses have discovered the profit of embracing the chaos of kids.
We’re turning the corner into fall, when we can be outside for longer than 10 minutes without risking heat stroke, so the options for eating out with kids have opened up. Much like Italians who prefer al fresco dining, moms and dads know that expansive patios are the perfect solution to ricocheting indoor noise and mess.
Most restaurants on this list are recommended patios, but a couple — Arepa TX and Dive Coastal Cuisine — have created kid space indoors, effectively giving parents the right to dismiss all side-eye. Keep them in mind for a rainy day.
Whether inside or outside, the best kids restaurants have space for kids’ bodies to do what they want to do: move around all over the place. In this arena, fast casual concepts reign. Parents love cutting out the middleman when it comes to ordering food. And if the restaurant offers truly appetizing food for all ages, it’s a win-win-win.
DFW actually has several restaurants that apparently want kids to eat in them — eateries with entertainment potential for little ones and with delicious big people food, too. Bonus: With the exception of Serve, all of these places sell alcohol. Bottles up!
Hat Creek Burger Company
8185 Walnut Hill Lane (Vickery Meadow); multiple locations
Hat Creek is the newest kids restaurant in DFW that's getting full-on mom support. The picnic benches next to the outdoor playground are perfect for sitting with a Strange Land Brewery beer or glass of wine while pretending it isn’t your kid hogging the steering wheel on the new equipment. Austinite founder Drew Gressett quickly grew from a food truck to a fixed place in 2011 on Burnet Road, one of Austin’s restaurant rows. Then after having three kids and listening to the advice of his friends, he embraced family-friendly and started installing playgrounds.
With 12 Texas locations today and another nine on the way, Gressett apparently made a wise decision. Go on Tuesdays for half-price burgers and again on Thursday for $1 beer and wine.
Cane Rosso White Rock
7328 Gaston Ave. (Lakewood)
Lakewood Cane Rosso never wanted to be a kids restaurant, but they are — because Lakewood moms get what they want. After a two-year battle to keep kids from swimming in the designer water fountain, owner Jay Jerrier finally gave in and filled it in with dirt. Today, families with kids arrive like clockwork at 5:30 with toy trucks and baby dolls in tow. Small kids practice climbing on the former fountain and older ones roll their trucks over it while parents make perfunctory glances between gulps of Peroni. Kid-less people with strong child-rearing opinions are shaking their damn heads at today’s poor parenting skills, but Lakewood families are pleased with the compromise.
Since Cane Rosso is one of only two pizzerias in the state of Texas to earn membership in the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, a club that actually certifies authentic Neapolitan pizza with a precise rubric, the reason we all want to eat here is clear: It’s legit.
Piatello Italian Kitchen
5924 Convair Drive, Fort Worth
With a patio facing the courtyard of Fort Worth’s new dining, shopping and residential district called Waterside, Piatello offers from-scratch pastas and seasonal menus from executive chef and owner Marcus Paslay, formerly of Neighborhood Services. Give your kid a break from the fried chicken and burgers and let them nosh on some 'sketti with table service instead. An expansive space filled with chalk boards, bocce ball and a cornhole court lie just beyond the patio tables, but don’t let the kiddos wander too far out of sight because the Trinity River and its trails are only a few yards away. Texas Monthly named Piatello one of Texas’ best new restaurants of 2018, and their food is drawing attention in a location that couldn’t be more perfect for outdoorsy families.
5940 Royal Lane (Preston Hollow)
With four TVs, a panoramic chalk board and toys in the house, it’s not surprising to sometimes see more kids than adults at Arepa TX, Dallas’ favorite Venezuelan-style areperia. A staple South American street food, arepas are gluten-free corn cakes stuffed with a variety of richly flavored meats and vegetables: slow-cooked shredded beef, nopales, rajas, jackfruit. But kids can opt for cheeseburger and pizza arepas, and of course, there’s fried chicken fingers in case they’re on that mono-chicken finger diet. Kids also have no problem sucking down house paletas that come in custard and sorbet flavors. The custard flan paleta with oozing dulce de leche is a must-try.
Parents enjoy sorbet paletas, too, as they dissolve in a glass of bubbly in what the restaurant calls their mimosa pops. The kid-size picnic benches and kid-friendly attractions in the back room seem to indicate the area is dedicated to children, so it’s easy for parents to enjoy themselves guilt-free in a climate-controlled room. Friday evenings have even more family appeal with a family dinner deal that includes four arepas and two sides for $30.
2701 Custer Parkway, Richardson; multiple locations
What do you do when you’re in the ’burbs but don’t have a neighborhood bar and grill? You do what the five dads of the Canyon Creek area of Richardson did — you call Larry Lavine, founder of the original 1975 Chili’s on Greenville Avenue. Lavine has been undertaking new projects lately, opening Shady’s in 2013 and co-creating Carlton Provisions at Legacy Food Hall last year. At Shady’s, Lavine continues with the food that made him rich in the first place: burgers in baskets.
Milkshakes that come in flavors like Mexican chocolate and cookie butter are also popular, maybe even more so with the adults who can have them spiked. This place is immediately recognizable as a kid-friendly spot by the children who are sitting at every single table. If your kids like to screech, no one will even look over, because they won’t hear it over their own kids’ screeches and the occasional live music. The Richardson location devotes a corner of the covered patio to more play for kids with a chalk board and ring toss game. Lake Highlands, another Dallas family hot spot, got themselves a Shady’s a couple of years ago, too, but for now the kids’ area is just a simple area off the patio marked “for kids."
320 W. 8th St. (Bishop Arts)
If it’s not quite yet the time of day for a drink and coffee is the fuel you need, go to newly opened Serve for an Ascension espresso in a bright and cheerfully renovated Bishop Arts house. The backyard is covered in artificial turf and surrounded with comfortable chairs and even a vintage couch that soon will be turned into a swing. Once the avocado toasts and açaí bowl arrive, one can’t help but take Instagrammable pics as proof that you and your kids eat food other than burgers and fried chicken. Owners and parents Brad and Kim Lambert created Serve to be a space that offers us an invitation to slow down. Bring a couple of toys for the kids or let them play cornhole in the sunshine while you allow the tropical music to transport you to your happy place — just before it’s time to change another diaper and break up a fight.
1868 Sylvan Ave. (West Dallas/Oak Cliff)
CiboDivino is where civilized families who know how to live the good life go for dinner. In addition to being an Italian counter service restaurant, it’s also an import market with a grassy mesa next to the parking lot outside. You’ll find kids running, climbing and cavorting on it. While they’re doing that, select a bottle from Sicilian-American chef Daniele Puleo’s library of mostly Italian imports that range from $8-$200. Or start with a glass of Puleo’s own label Chianti for $8. It’s one the best $8 glasses of wine we've had in ages — Dallas Observer food critic Brian Reinhart endorsed it as “gluggable."
Then go over to the cheese and charcuterie case that also carries butcher’s cuts from 44 Farms, the ranch sourcing many of Dallas’ best steakhouses. You can ask them to grill it there for you. Kids can nosh on burro e cacao, fancy for butter-cheese pasta, or any of the wood-fired pizzas. If you’re thinking of trying this place for the first time, you may consider going on any night but Friday, when they already have a solid group of Oak Cliff regulars. Puleo is not only a savvy businessman and chef working toward a WSET level three certification, but he is also the coach of the Kessler Colts soccer team. Check out their trophy from last season displayed in the bar.
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Dive Coastal Cuisine
3404 Rankin St. (University Park)
Serving as a family safe house for University Park, Dive Coastal Cuisine fulfills the fish stick requirement of a list such as this. Dive couples an ambiance influenced by the city of Miami and retro beach starlets with daily delivered seafood that comes out in dishes like sea bass ceviche and ahi tuna wraps stuffed with avocado and coconut rice. Repeatedly and accurately, people use the word “fresh” to describe this place.
Other main attractions include the well-stocked iced tea bar served with garnishes such as fresh mint and cupfuls of Sonic-like ice and the designated kid's corner that’s set with bantam furniture before a chalkboard, along with two child hypnosis devices — also known as iPads. When your seasonal affective disorder starts raring come late fall, get the family in here for a quick maritime recess.