These Restaurants Welcome Your Kid!
What makes a restaurant “family friendly”? A a tell-tale sign that the restaurant will serve smaller, less expensive kid-friendly meals. Secondly, check the noise level–are conversations lively enough that your crabby kid won’t attract glares from customers? 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. Another asset is a server who brings entertainment—whether that’s in the form of crayons or dough. 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 it’s critical to expose kids to new flavors and international cuisine when they’re young. But 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. Now let’s discuss places that get high marks from my unscientific survey of Bethesda parents and kids:
Nando’s Peri Peri Chicken– My kids love this place, and I always see happy families enjoying the flavorful chicken. They also offer wraps and sandwiches, delicious healthy salads, and several other vegetables. The peri peri pepper is used in all of Nandos chicken marinades and sauces, but with different degrees of heat—mild, medium, hot and extra hot. Nandos only serves fresh, natural chickens that are marinated for 24-hours and then cooked to order on a flaming grill. The chicken is served with a variety of side dishes, from the creamy Macho Peas, to the roasted butternut squash, grilled corn and seasonal Brussels sprouts; so vegetarians have lots of choices here. The garlic bread and sandwiches are made on Portuguese rolls; the colorful rice has chunks of red peppers and herbs, and the red skin mashed potatoes are rich with garlic and cream. Your kids will love it, and so will you!
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 (there’s a public lot right behind the restaurant). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Bold Bite: Hot dogs are an easy answer to what’s for dinner, and what kid doesn’t like them? Okay so some parents aren’t fans, but at Bold Bite there are so many delicious, even healthy version of sausages there’s nothing to worry about. The fast casual creations at Bold Bite are considered as “American as apple pie,” but in truth, hot dogs are international. They are especially beloved in South America, according to Bold Bite’s owner Alonso Roche. One reason kids particularly enjoy these hot dogs is because they can design their own with toppings like bacon, cheese and potato sticks. They have terrific fries and salads too. Best of all, Bold Bite offers soft serve ice cream to perfectly end your meal.
And finally, the Reigning King of all Kid-Friendly Restaurants for the last 20 years: Uncle Julio’s 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.
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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.