I think my idea of culinary hell is dining at a restaurant geared only towards children, with soda and water as the only two beverage options. That is definitely not my scene. I need kid-friendly, but not kiddieland.
I recently popped into a few Chicago restaurants that were surprisingly kid-friendly and definitely geared towards adults with a little kid magic on the side to ensure mom and dad enjoyed their cocktails in peace.
Cups with straws and lids. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have upended a drink, causing frantic napkin retrieval and puddles in my lap.
No nasty looks from the staff. I have been to a few places where you get the tight-lipped grimace when they see you have kids in tow. Yes, I brought my children. Yes, I promise to ensure that they don’t run wild through your restaurant while I pretend to be solo.
Some form of entertainment. I don’t care if it is a trapeze artist swinging from the ceiling or a coloring sheet- just something that will captivate my kids for a moment.
Kid-friendly items and prices. I don’t even need the restaurant to have a kids menu- in fact, most kids menus are absolutely disgusting and contain food that I wouldn’t even eat. Just make sure there is some type of food on there that is under $10 per kid and isn’t just a deep fried corn dog that you can crack a tooth on. Thanks.
High-quality food. If I am going make the effort to bring my kids out, armed with crayons, coloring books and fruit snacks, I want food that I couldn’t make at home. The restaurant doesn’t need a Michelin star, but it does need to be made to order…as in, not sitting under a heat lamp waiting for us when we arrive.
Alcohol. Yes, when I am out with my kids, I want (need?) a drink. No, I am not slamming shots back but I prefer to imbibe with my dinner.
Here are three restaurants that you might not think of taking your kids to, but I guarantee you will enjoy them much more than you-know-what with the games and the tokens and the unobtainable prize wall. And hit these places up without the kids in tow as well!
Vinny’s Pizza Bar
130 North Canal Street
Walking into this fairly new establishment tucked away next to Ogilvie is like walking into an old school basement of a highly hospitable Italian family. You are treated like family by the staff- the bartender offered to make my kids kiddie cocktails and knew to use cherry juice in lieu of grenadine to make it extra delicious. The location is ideal for a mid-week family dinner either hopping on or off the Metra, and you won’t find better priced, high-quality food in a comfortable sit down atmosphere anywhere near the venue. DEFINITELY skip that food court and sit down to some real Italian home cooking. This is kid-friendly (I even asked the manager- he said of course!) without ignoring what adults want.
Although there isn’t a specific kids menu, their subs and pizzas are definitely big enough to share. At $10 my kids devoured the “Vinny’s Cheese Pizza Pie,” loving the fact that the crust is made of the same dough as their breadsticks and comes with dipping sauce. I tried the Brie and Apple pizza, one of their most popular. It came with a 5 cheese fondue dipping sauce that my children promptly stole after one taste.
Their beer selection is top notch, with 6 craft beers on draft (3 Floyds Gumball Head is one- a fave), and over a dozen tall boys (16 oz) available. They also have wine options and a full bar. If you come without the kids, I suggest bellying up to the custom wraparound wood-topped bar complete with red leather tufted bar stools that you could sit in allllll night. Their happy hour is in effect Monday through Wednesday, and tiered as so: 4pm-5pm $4, 5pm-6pm : $5, 6pm-7pm: $6 for Dobel Margaritas, Fleurs de Prairie Rose, and Pipeworks Chicago Craft Beer.
The booths are elevated, which in my opinion makes them perfect for kids- it keeps them put instead of being floor height with easy access out. They play great tunes which helps drown out any excited kid shouts when the pizza comes, and the walls are decorated with impersonator photos (my kids asked who the guy in purple was with the curly hair- PRINCE! C’mon kids!). As for dessert, they had a few options which we enjoyed- a blueberry cheesecake that had a mousse-like consistency and a Sara Lee Chocolate Layer Cake.
My kids also enjoyed the games- they have Golden Tee and a hunting option, with plans to add more games in the future.
Pair it with: Take a stroll through the French Market next door and discover dozens of vendors with unique food and beverage offerings. Grab some macaroons at Vanille Patisserie or Unicorn Bark at Lolli and Pops. On Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4:40-6:30pm they have Rush Hour Live Music Concerts. To walk of your sugar high and carbs, travel a few blocks to the Mary Bartelme Park at 115 S. Sangamon. This 1.4 acre ADA accessible play area has a cool fountain feature, a sunken dog park with continuously filling dog bowls, and a 6 foot high viewing hill for awesome sights of the city.
5358 N. Clark
Family Hours- Monday-Thursday 11:30am-7pm, Friday 11:30am-3pm, Saturday & Sunday- 10am-3pm
Ok, a restaurant that designates family hours is already a winner in my book! The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating towards my kids from the start, serving water in cups with lids and biodegradable straws. As soon as my kids settled in, they were off to the play the vintage (FREE) video games that line the walls. From Ms. Pac Man to Donkey Kong to Galaga to Mortal Combat, there is something for everyone. There are lower tables near the majority of the games that make keeping an eye on your kids easy, so sip those cocktails with ease while they help Frogger cross the pond.
This family-friendly Replay location has 26 beers on tap, inexpensive mimosas and Bloody Marys, and over 50 bourbons and whiskeys. As for food, we dropped in for brunch with the kids and were treated to a super affordable kids menu that consisted of omelettes, pancakes, waffles, and french toast for around $6. At 11:30 the menu opens up more with traditional lunch food being served. The adult brunch menu is more extensive than you would think for a bar, including Chilaquiles, Crab Cake Benedict and Fried Chicken and Waffles.
Pair it with: Stop into Candyality at 5225 N. Clark and decode your candy personality. Parents, keep up the retro theme with some Razzles or Charleston Chews. If you are in town on a Monday night, you can catch a family-friendly G-rated comedy show at the Neo Futurists Theater. Sketches are adapted from stories written by Chicago elementary students during the Barrel of Monkeys’ creative writing residencies. The show is called “That’s Weird, Grandma” and is performed by professional adult actors.
2056 Lincoln Park West
This is the original Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, opening its doors in 1971 and still serving good ol’ American classics. The menu, decor and music all hails from the decade that it opened, with malts, milkshakes and a cookies sundae to satisfy your kids sweet tooth.
Photos of former waitresses line the walls along with a custom Peter Max piece and other vintage signs under the sparkly lights of a disco ball.
As for food, the extensive menu includes everything from wings to burgers to wraps to ribs. If you are in the mood for a salad, their salad bar is legendary with dozens of items to choose from. Beer on draft is available in a pint or a pitcher alongside the basic wines and vintage cocktails (how long has it been since you had a Strawberry Daiquiri not alongside a pool?)
As for kids- they didn’t forget to make it special for them. Kid-friendly food is served on a cafeteria-style tray with animal crackers and a cool cup with a lid/straw combo that looks like a cork in a bottle. Placemats are combo coloring pages and word searches, and there is a stroller valet outside.
Pair it with: Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo across the street for hours of free entertainment in the 35 acres that the zoo spans. If you are die-hard city folks, give your kids a taste of the farm with the Farm-in-the-Zoo exhibit, which lets kids interact with typical farm animals.
Cheers to enjoying a meal that doesn’t come with oversized mascots roaming the restaurant!
Disclosure: Thank you to Vinny’s for hosting my family and I- all opinions are honest and my own as always.