What makes a restaurant kid-friendly?
Families say it’s having a kids’ menu with healthy options. Others say it’s when restaurants distribute crayons and games. Some moms and dads want inexpensive food, clean booster seats, and a friendly, patient wait staff. But parents agree—the best places have all those features. So here is a short list of some of the area’s most accommodating restaurants for families where the parents enjoy the food too:
Luciano Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria in Tysons Corner Center
1961 Chain Bridge Road McLean, 703-893-8488
Besides serving authentic New York style pizza by the slice, Luciana’s is the perfect place to take your kids when they are wiped out from shopping, and you both need a time to decompress. The gracious wait staff will bring your child a balloon and offer crayons and coloring paper—it’s a pretty cozy place in a sea of chaos. Stop in for ice cream or a kid-sized plain pizza “with no weird things on it.”
Crust Pizza in Tysons Corner
A pizzeria is often measured by its Margharita Classica, a purist version of the Neopolitan style. At Crust, Topolino creates a sublime rendering of this traditional tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella pizza with a perfectly charred crust. Other signature dishes include Chef Topolino’s “Pizza alla Crust” which consists of half a pizza, half a calzone and a small arugula side. Although, you can order Crust pizza with or without red sauce, I think it would be a shame to remove this magnificent blend of tomatoes and spices. Sandwich lovers will enjoy the panuozzos, where the same airy crust is folded over and baked with ingredients like prosciutto, ricotta, salami, artichokes and fontina cheese.
Roll Play Vietnamese Grill
At Roll Play, a new fast casual restaurant in Tysons Corner, customers choose from three foundations—spring rolls, noodle bowls, banh mi sandwiches or Vietnamese noodle soup (Pho)—to create their custom meal. Next, they add their choice of protein—tofu, garlic shrimp, pork belly, five-spiced chicken or lemongrass beef. Insert up to five diced toppings for free, including fried shallots, mango, crushed peanuts and red pepper. Kids love choosing their own ingredients. The hipster décor, Touch Screen Kiosks, and Vietnamese street food menu, add to the ambiance of the place. The metal and wood tables are family style, with little shelves built on top.
Coyote Grille and Cantina
10266 Main Street Fairfax, 703-591-0006
With easy parking in the heart of Fairfax, this is a favorite stop for families who have kids with allergies or are just plain picky. This Tex-Mex food isn’t overly spicy, and the kitchen will make any item on the regular menu in a smaller size for kids. There are gluten free, vegan and dairy free options on the menu. Kids get coloring paper and crayons when they enter, and the friendly staff makes you feel like finding you a booster seat is their pleasure.
McLean Family Restaurant
1321 Chain Bridge Road McLean 703-356-9883
For many families, weekend breakfasts are a celebration, especially when the celebration is at this family-owned restaurant. From cozy booths come peals of laughter as kids slurp up spaghetti and feast on French fries. It’s not unusual to see multigenerational meetings over pancakes at this Northern Virginia institution established back in 1969.
True Food Kitchen in the Mosaic District
Dr. Andrew Weil created True Food Kitchen’s menu from a Mediterranean diet—one that relies on fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans and healthy treats like dark chocolate. “These ingredients are part of an anti-inflammatory diet,” explains Weil who visited Northern Virginia for the opening. Walk in the restaurant, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and bright open kitchen, and you’ll feel something special. Besides the distinctive food and modern design, kitchen staff members are clearly excited about serving this food. The restaurant has become a surprise hit among families who love finding ways to encourage their kids to eat healthier.
The Virginian Restaurant
The Vienna Shopping Center 169 Glyndon Street, SE Vienna 703-938-2333
Enjoy a little piece of Americana in this old-fashioned neighborhood diner known for hearty breakfasts and Southern comfort food. It’s a popular stop for families with young children who love the pancakes and biscuits with their famous sweet gravy served any time of the day. Older kids will enjoy the vintage high swivel chairs and the campy signs.
(www.silverdiner.com in multiple locations—Tysons, Mosaic, Reston, Fair Oaks)
Silver Diner isn’t your typical diner. The founder is a firm believer in using locally sourced products and offering a wide variety of healthy dishes—like pesto veggie pasta or black bean quesadilla. However, Silver Diner doesn’t scrimp on traditional breakfast items or their burgers and fries. Kids are given crayons and a placemat to color upon entering. Some kids’ meals are served in a cardboard car they can bring home. Tuesday nights are “kids nights” when the restaurant may distribute balloons, host a musician, or provide face painting. The mini jukebox at the table is a nice distraction for older kids. Younger children are treated with patience, and the staff rarely frowns on messiness or noise.
5216 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington 703-525-1170
You want your kids to be brave and try new things? This charming, homey, cozy fun Middle Eastern restaurant will charm them into trying food you only dreamed they’d try. Kids love the comfortable couches, fascinating decorations, colorful dishes and ambiance at this family owned restaurant near Clarendon. This finger-friendly food is fun to eat and you’re going to love it too!
Sisters Thai in the Mosaic District
Sisters Thai in Mosaic District features homemade Thai specialties but also contains a cheery coffee and dessert bar, with handmade smoothies, cakes and cookies. “Our food is spicy Thai, but we also feature homemade desserts,” explains owner Tammie Disayawathana. “All the desserts we make here. They’re not too sweet.” Kids love the chicken skewers with a choice of Low Mein or fried rice on the side. “You’re not going to see this in most Thai restaurants,” Disayawathana notes. The adorable action figures and books on the restaurants shelves will definitely keep junior entertained for a long time.
Mike’s Deli at Lazy Sundae
112 North West Street Falls Church 703-532-5299
With a premier location on the W&OD Trail, this diner-style deli serves breakfast all day, burgers, shakes, and as the name says, primo ice cream sundaes. Popular with hikers, cyclists, and families, Mike’s Deli has a loyal following and aims to please with friendly, upbeat service and homemade ice cream with flavors that change daily.
Uncle Julio’s Fairfax Corner
4251 Fairfax Corner Avenue Fairfax 703-266-7760
Where can you take your little lovelies and not worry when they start to whimper or spill? Uncle Julio’s is that perfect place. The concrete floors are up to any disaster, and it’s often so noisy, no one will notice your screaming child. This Tex Mex cuisine is kid friendly—chips, quesadillas, tacos, grilled chicken—they love it all. Upon entry, kids are given crayons and games, and while waiting for your food to be served, ask for a ball of dough or watch the dough transformed into hot tortillas by the automatic tortilla machine. It’s best to go early, or during off hours, because the place gets crowded.
Amphora Greek Diner
37 Maple Avenue West, Vienna 703-938-7877
Stop in Amphora day or night, and you’ll see a crowd of regular diners, some who’ve dined here for generations. Many are conducting business. Families come in for dessert. Several customers are senior citizens who have both favorite dishes and favorite servers. A fair number are police officers and others who do shift work; they’re after a piping hot cup of Lavazza coffee and a breakfast sandwich to take on the road. You can order any dish, any time. Breakfast for dinner, dinner for breakfast, and lunch at midnight. “It’s up to you,” explains general manager Otman Elaoud, who started as a server years ago. “As long as we have the ingredients, we will make you whatever you want. We love to serve it that way.”
350 Maple Avenue Vienna 703-364-5420
The new Social Burger, a family owned and operated restaurant, opened this year to rave reviews from families who enjoy the generous portions, high quality burgers and efficient, friendly service. Parents say this neighborhood restaurant is better than many top rated competitors. Using only all natural, hormone free beef, buns baked daily and a number of innovative toppings—cranberry sauce, fried egg, bacon jam, homemade pickles, red curry mayo—appeals to Mom and Dad. When parents are happy, kids are usually happy too.
Glory Days Grill
3059 Nutley Street Fairfax 703-204-0900
Glory Days is a sports bar, and the owners sponsor local kids’ sports teams. As a result, there are often oodles of kids celebrating here after their games. In good weather, families enjoy sitting outside on the outdoor patio, savoring their signature chicken wings. Multiple television screens keep little ones entertained, and the kids’ menu has special dishes like BBQ ribs, fried shrimp and pizza bagels. Each booth has its own entertainment center with volume control that allows customers to select a televised sports game or music.
Original Pancake House
7395 Lee Highway Falls Church 703-698-6292
Kids, pancakes. Pancakes, kids. Yes these two things go together nicely. So, if you’re kid loves pancakes, they will love the food here. It’s a cheery place, with enormous portions that can be easily shared. The OPH is known for its popular Dutch Baby, a puffy donut with lemon and powdered sugar, and for their fluffy crepes. They also serve gluten free dishes.
Jammin Java 227 Maple Avenue East Vienna 703-255-1566
Family-owned Jammin Java is a coffee shop, concert venue and fun place to hang out. They have one of the most active children’s music programs in the region. Kids love the “Tot Rock” shows with entertainers like Groovy Nate and The Great Zucchini. Check out their website for concerts hosted weekday and weekend mornings, but go early to get a seat. Stay after the show for a hot dog, fresh baked pastry or kids’ lunch special. They also serve parent-friendly food like salads, appetizers and flavorful chili dishes like Spicy Pork n’ Tomatillo.
Note: You may have read my article in VivaTysons Magazine featuring some of these same restaurants. My kids started eating out as infants and they’re still going strong as teens. They even enjoy cooking!
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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.