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Forget Chuck E. Cheese
Here are Todd Kliman’s favorite restaurants for dining out with a child—some of which may surprise you.
Illustration by Britt Spencer.
At these restaurants, the focus of the kids’ menu is the same as it is for the adults: high-quality fresh ingredients, simply and sometimes imaginatively prepared. Woodberry offers a small rib eye and rockfish “bites.” Evening Star does a sloppy joe and buttermilk fried chicken. At Lyon Hall, you’ll find one of the best hot dogs around—a short-rib frankfurter that’s impossible to resist sneaking bites of.
Culinary mastermind Michel Richard has long been a proponent of taking kids out to dine, and although his high-gloss restaurants don’t cater to children, they’re generally receptive to them. If your child can’t find anything on the menu he or she likes, ask to have the kitchen prepare the best plate of plain pasta with butter you’ll ever see. And guess what? Richard’s Georgetown flagship, Citronelle—where ambassadors and celebrities go—keeps a high chair on the premises.
It’s no secret why these boutique pizzerias are mobbed with kids until 8 on most weeknights. The pizzas are good (2 Amys’ are better), the prices are reasonable, and don’t miss the terrific small plates. Plus your kids won’t feel like they’re just tagging along.
If you think of these restaurants as trendy hot spots for the young, think again: They also happen to be some of the best places parents can get away with taking a toddler. The scale of the spaces and the lack of noise absorption mean it’s less likely that an eruption will bother anyone. Keep Poste in mind for a weekend brunch: My son loves the made-to-order yeast doughnuts.
I don’t think I’ve ever met waitresses sweeter on small children than the ones at these Asian restaurants. The fact that Sono has some of the area’s best sushi, that Four Sisters is a standard-bearer for Vietnamese cooking, and that Gom Ba Woo is a premier destination in Koreatown? That’s the kind of twofer that’s hard for a food-adoring parent to resist, even if you happen to live a county or two away.
The shrimp-and-yam fritters at this Vietnamese restaurant are among my son’s favorite dishes anywhere.
No one has benefited more from this chain’s new mission to focus on fresh, local food than parents fixated on nutrition. The diner has caught locavore fever, and the quality of ingredients—some of which come from nearby farms—has taken a huge leap forward. The kids’ menu channels the crunchy-trendy spirit of Whole Foods, with entrées such as whole-wheat spaghetti and sides that include steamed edamame and brown rice.
Franklin’s Brewery and General Store
No place can match this brewpub/bistro when it comes to keeping a child entertained. The space is colorful and lively, the staff dotes on kids, and the adjoining general store—filled with toys and candy—is a great diversion in the event of a meltdown.
Ray’s to the Third
The menu at this offshoot of Michael Landrum’s local Ray’s the Steaks chain calls to mind a new-age Hot Shoppes: fried jumbo shrimp, cold-smoked fried chicken, onion rings and fries, mac and cheese, and thick, old-fashioned milkshakes. Parents, meanwhile, can feast on bistro-style hanger steaks and take the edge off of kid-minding with a generous glass of Shiraz.
Old Ebbitt Grill
Hard to fathom that you can get a kids’ entrée, a side, a drink, and ice cream for seven bucks in what looks like an old boys’ club. Hard to beat, too. And the grownups can slurp down one of the area’s best trays of freshly shucked oysters.
To read Todd Kliman’s story Champagne and Sippy Cups, click here.
This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.