Beyond Crayolas

Crayons are almost a given at restaurants these days. But some places do a bit more and woo kids—and their parents—with creative food, entertainment, and other perks. Here are 12 places that go the extra mile.

Doughboys

Miniature grilled-cheese panini and pizza rule the children’s menu at this airy cafe. One night a week, kids eat free when you order a regular adult pizza or entrée.

251 W. Market St., Gaithersburg; 301-330-3212. Inexpensive.

Generous George’s Positive Pizza and Pasta Place

A game-laden playroom, balloons, and the chance to play chef and build your own pizza keep kids engaged. The $5.29 cost includes two toppings, a soft drink, and a chef’s hat.

3006 Duke St., Alexandria; 703-370-4303. Inexpensive.

Hinode

At this outpost tucked into a shopping plaza in downtown Bethesda, kids can feed the koi and other tropical fish in the pond and tank while they wait for appetizer portions of tempura, teriyaki, and California rolls.

Hinode, 4914 Hampden La., Bethesda; 301-654-0908. Moderate.

Johnny Rockets

A distracted kid is often a happy kid. Balloons, crayons, and a waitstaff that drops everything to dance to the music every 30 minutes do the job. When you bring your child for a birthday celebration, ice-cream sundaes are free as long as you order other food. No reservations; just show up.

Multiple area locations. Inexpensive.

Odeon Café

Besides whipping out mini-bowls of pasta in a flash, this casual trattoria/pizzeria has a well-seasoned staff when it comes to kids and families. Some employees have even been known to hold little ones for a bit so frazzled parents can eat.

1714 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-328-6228. Inexpensive to moderate.

Paradiso Ristorante

Every night is movie night here. Children get dinner—such as chicken nuggets or tortellini—plus Disney cartoons in a supervised playroom. Parents can reserve a table in the “family” dining room next to the playroom or the regular dining room farther afield. The kids program (ages three to ten) is free; you pay $7 for the meal, including beverage and dessert.

6124 Franconia Rd., Alexandria; 703-922-6222. Inexpensive to moderate.

Piratz Tavern

At dinnertime on Friday, pirate servers and singers stroll through this themed tavern that offers Peg Legs (fish sticks), Doubloons (chicken strips), and an Eyeball Sundae (vanilla ice cream with strawberry sauce and a black gumball on top) on the map-shaped kids menu, which doubles as a coloring mat. There’s also a small lounge with pirate movies and books. Kids get a treasure chest, eye patch, and other pirate booty to take home.

8402 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-588-9001. Inexpensive to moderate.

Red Dog Cafe

If there’s a wait for the food, just ask your server to bring the basket of playthings and books to the table. Clifford the Big Red Dog toys and I Spy and I Witness books are among the choices at this neighborhood eatery known for updated comfort.

8301-A Grubb Rd., Silver Spring; 301-588-6300. Inexpensive.

Rio Grande Cafe

A machine that turns fat balls of dough into ultrathin tortillas throughout the day captivates children old and young: They can watch the step-by-step process from behind a safety gate. And the roar of the margarita-drinking crowd is loud enough to drown out any wailing.

Arlington, 703-528-3131; Fairfax, 703-266-7760; Reston, 703-904-0703; Bethesda, 301-656-2981; Gaithersburg, 240-632-2150. Inexpensive to moderate.

Rock Bottom Brewery

Kids can discover their inner chef at this lively brewpub by building their own pizza. Dough, cheese, pepperoni, sauce, and a drink are $3.99, with additional toppings extra.

4238 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-652-7688; 7900 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-1311. Inexpensive to moderate.

Rustico

This chef-driven beer-and-small-plates eatery has a kids menu that’s more extensive than most, offering miniature artisanal pizzas, mini-burgers, hot dogs, and pasta.

827 Slaters La., Alexandria; 703-224-5051. Inexpensive to moderate.

Star Diner

Smiley fries, eggs scrambled with hot dogs, and M&M cookies are among the child-friendly picks on the kids menu at this nouveau diner with an old-timey feel. Live music on the outdoor patio on warm weekend evenings means a family dance party.

705 Center Point Way, Gaithersburg; 301-921-8222. Inexpensive.

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