Walking into a restaurant with small children can feel a little like walking around an English village during the Dark Ages wearing a sign that reads “I have the Bubonic Plague.” Your hostess, in an attempt to avoid contact with the infected, will seat you as quickly as possible. Fellow diners look on, their eyes a reflection of pity, disgust, and please-God-don’t-let-that-family-sit-next-to-me.
We get it. Parents and non-parents can agree: Meals are best enjoyed with small children nowhere near the vicinity. Life would be a lot easier if kids didn’t have to eat until they were 15 or so. But eat they must, and we are here to help. To be fair, the term “kid-friendly” is pretty vague. Does that mean the restaurant has a children’s menu and a playground? Or just that the staff promises to try very hard not to barf when your kid uses their garlic aioli as an exfoliator?
Here are 10 restaurants we like for those times when you are dining with tiny humans. There is no rubric. We picked them for various reasons. We’re parents, dammit, and we’re exhausted.
1526 East McDowell Road
This little sandwich shop on McDowell Road is cool without trying. Ollie Vaughn’s offers breakfast and lunch, sources their food locally, and has a kids’ menu that is basically a smaller version of the grown-up stuff. The tiny playhouse out back might not look like much to you, but 4-year-olds will be occupied at least as long as it takes you to have a sandwich and catch up with a friend. And the place is laid out in such a way that you can have grown-up time inside and still keep an eye on them in the (contained) back patio.
Chestnut Fine Foods & Provisions
4350 East Camelback Road
You know when you walk into a restaurant and think, “Yeah. Whoever owns this place has kids.” Chestnut is just such a place. Don’t write off this Arcadia hotspot for being too Arcadia (read: pricy, trendy, and difficult to park at). It is also run by a mom, who knows that you don’t need much more than a couple small chairs and a basket of IKEA toys to give parents that priceless, elusive gift: a peaceful meal. The options on the children’s menu are awesome, and even when the restaurant turns into Water Chestnut (Thursday through Saturday evenings), the menu offers kids’ bento boxes and ramen bowls.
3243 North Third Street
Some restaurants have exquisitely crafted food made from local, seasonal ingredients, and some restaurants have a place where kids can play. Not many have both. Ocotillo does, and we guarantee your blue corn pancake or Peruvian salmon ceviche (not making this up) will taste even better, knowing that your children are happily playing on the patch of grass nearby. Or, stand with a friend at their coffee bar and enjoy some adult conversation, only lightly sprinkled with repeated warnings to your toddlers not to touch the agave.
Luci’s at The Orchard
7100 North 12th Street
In a state that sees an average of 291 days of sunshine per year, you’d think more places would have done what the team behind The Orchard did: create a shared outdoor space with astroturf and a tiny splashpad, and then sell food around its perimeter. These guys understand that parents will literally hang out all day in a place where their kids are playing happily. Many moms and dads have seen their coffee playdate at Luci’s turn into lunch and ice cream before the place clears for nap time. Die-hards can power through to an early cocktail at Pomelo for happy hour. If The Orchard had a nap room, we might just move in.
Joe’s Real BBQ
301 North Gilbert Road, Gilbert
Gilbert’s Heritage District has a ton of restaurants, but only a few have been around for-seemingly-ever. Joe’s Real BBQ is one of them. Its menu has a kid sandwich and kid ribs, and sides include mac and cheese, applesauce, and sweet-cut corn. But the real appeal is the backyard-style seating. There are many picnic tables, shade umbrellas, a green area, and some lawn games for the little ones. Pro tip: Topo sits right next to Joe’s and offers soft serve for an on-the-go treat. Yes, forearms may get coated in prickly pear soft serve.
818 North Fifth Avenue
You know your friend who has all the cool kid stuff? The treehouse, the water guns, the balance bikes? Now, imagine that friend charges you to play at their house. Wait, but they have coffee and lunch! But, that also costs money. Maybe we’re not selling it right. The point is, The Teapot is a sweet little house in the Roosevelt District that turned its inside into a coffee shop and its outside into kid paradise. Your kids will love it, and it’s a great place to meet other parents. They do add a $2 “play ticket” charge (per child) to your bill, in order to keep the place clean and functioning, but think of it like a cover charge. Only, instead of seeing that cool death metal band, you’re watching 20 children, ages 1 to 8, play in a yard. Sounds the same.
What kid, ever, doesn’t love pizza? Even the pickiest eaters may ask the room if you’ve ordered them a plain cheese. At NYPD Pizza, the kids menu lists Fiori’s Famous Pizza Bites, spaghetti with meatball, cheese ravioli, and mac and cheese. Plus, there’s usually a small arcade area. And at some locations, the good people at NYPD Pizza will gives kids a piece of dough to play with before food arrives.
There’s usually one nearby, Pita Jungle that is. The happy hour at PJ is heavy on the tapas, which is engaging for kids, since there are plenty of finger-friendly foods to try. Kids can dig into the hummus trio, fresh pitas, olives, and fresh mozzarella with tomato. Plus, parents can usually find something to enjoy on the Mediterranean-focused menu as well.
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1801 East Baseline Road, #104, Tempe
For those seeking a midday meal, the lunch buffet at Chutneys Indian Cuisine is good for kids. There’s everything from butter chicken and freshly baked naan to a kids menu with dosa, fries, and ice cream. You don't have to wait, the food is good quality, and there are lots of different things to try out. That means you’re free to spoon out as much or as little of a new or favorite food as they, or you, want.
1490 East Weber Drive, Tempe
For a real family picnic-style setting, Singh Meadows offers an ideal setting. There are Adirondack chairs, a pond, and a working farm. You can find a good shade tree and stretch out a blanket on the ground, toss the ball or Frisbee around, and a café. Serving breakfast and lunch, guests can expect a menu heavy on the vegetables and fruits, which you’re most likely trying to push anyway. Go for a meal on the grass — where outdoor voices are encouraged.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on May 3, 2017. It was updated on June 15, 2019. Melissa Campana contributed to this article.