Eating out with young kids anywhere is no cakewalk, but in New York City, the challenges are all their own.
Sure, as a grown-up who likes to eat, New York City may be your oyster, but as a parent, it can seem like one big booby trap: cramped spaces, restaurants that don’t take reservations (leaving you with hangry children while you wait), acoustics so loud your kids lose it—or so quiet their inevitable squeals single you out as a child-laden pariah.
I get it: As a parent of two-year-old twins, my instinct is to avoid taking my kids out to eat at all costs. But when traveling as a family or simply craving a break from the kitchen, all parents are, at some point, forced to test their mettle and take their kids out with them to dine. But where? How to avoid settling for lackluster food in a super kid-friendly but theme park–style restaurant or that feeling of being stared down by a server while your kids writhe on your lap, toss a spoon onto a neighboring table, or send a wine glass crashing onto the floor?
The answer is to come prepared (bring books or activities to keep your kids busy, their favorite sippy cups, etc.) and to choose your restaurants carefully. Spend your hard-earned dollars at a place that not only tolerates but also caters to your kids, all while feeding you well. Here are our 10 top picks for kid-friendly restaurants in NYC:
A low-slung brick warehouse turned gourmand’s destination, Hometown has earned its stripes in the emergent New York barbecue scene. It’s open from noon until long after the kids’ bedtimes most days, so parents of youngsters can work around naptime, eating at those off-hours when the child-free among us wouldn’t dream of sitting down to a meal. The menu caters to aficionados of smoked meat, as well as small, picky eaters, with kid-friendly sides like mac ’n’ cheese, baked beans, pickles, and corn bread. Parents can sidle up to the bar for a wide selection of beers, or something stiffer if the moment demands. The place is tablecloth-free and sports a concrete floor, so messes are no problem, and with plenty of room to run around, kids can stretch their legs whenever they get antsy. Caveat: Lines can be long if you go at prime mealtime, so try to hit this spot in the off-hours because reservations aren’t possible. Also, Hometown is about a 20-minute hike from the nearest subway stop, so if you’re car-less, either prepare yourself for a long walk or make an adventure of taking the B61 bus to the Red Hook, Brooklyn, waterfront.
Meat is priced by the pound, sandwiches hover in the low teens, and sides range from $4 to $8; high chairs are available. 454 Van Brunt St., Red Hook, Brooklyn; hometownbarbque.com
This Italian- and French-leaning favorite makes for a great choice if you’ve been touring far downtown (Tribeca) or Central Park (Columbus Circle). Open long hours (as early as 9 a.m. on weekends), you can pop into Landmarc for an early lunch or dinner, accommodating naps and early bedtimes. Parents can pile up the escargots, mussels meuniere, or pork chops served atop cassoulet, while kids can tuck into the $14 children’s menu, which gets them a choice of main (like chicken fingers or mac ’n’ cheese), milk or soda, and a piece of fresh fruit or an ice cream cone. Landmarc also offers free cotton candy for kids, a thoughtful gesture (if you want to deal with the sugar rush that’ll follow). Pro tip: Hit happy hour (daily 4 to 7 p.m.) for a small but kid-friendly bar menu (with options like pizza and fries) and discounted drinks from the bar.
For adults, mains start around $20, and steaks range upwards of $100; high chairs are available. Two Manhattan locations: 179 West Broadway, Tribeca & 10 Columbus Circle, 3rd floor, Columbus Circle; landmarc-restaurant.com
Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
Sometimes you’ve just gotta have an ice cream. It helps, though, if you can get some grilled cheese or a few bites of a Cuban in your kid’s belly to help offset the sugar crash to follow. At Brooklyn’s nostalgia-filled Farmacy, you can do both. Sit on the old-fashioned bar stools and watch the soda jerks at work while you level with your kids: Eat a little lunch, and then you can dig into sweets like a banana split or an ooey-gooey marshmallow-topped More is S’More sundae. Parents will appreciate the sophisticated sandwich options, and those badly in need of caffeine won’t want to miss the espresso bar or a proper affogato to sate their own sweet tooth. If you happen nearby on a Thursday, arrange your visit around Farmacy’s 11:30 a.m. Jitterbugs hour-long music session ($10 is the suggested donation), oriented toward babies and toddlers.
Most sandwiches come in under $10, as do floats and milk shakes, but specialty sundaes tip the scales, priced between $10 and $15; a high chair—yes, only one—is available. 513 Henry St., Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; brooklynfarmacyandsodafountain.com
Dim sum may not have been invented by children, but it may be the perfect way to feed them. Keep kids entertained as carts of steaming, fancifully shaped foods roll around the vast expanse of this Brooklyn Chinatown favorite in Sunset Park. As at all good dim sum parlors, sweet and savory options abound, and, with no prescribed order of courses, you can delight your kids by letting them “eat dessert first,” offering them soft buns filled with red beans and sesame doughnuts even before you encourage them to nibble at a turnip cake or slurp a soup dumpling. For short attention spans, let your kids spin a lazy Susan, stare agape at the fish tanks, and gaze at the fantastical murals on the wall. Tip: Head to Pacificana during the winter Lunar New Year for a showstopping dragon parade through the restaurant’s maze of round tables.
Everything is priced by serving, beginning with 60 cents for a dish of white rice and ranging up to the mid-$20s range for delicacies like Hong Kong–style sea cucumber. High chairs are available. 813 55th St., Sunset Park, Brooklyn; pacificanabrooklyn.com
Russ & Daughters
Is there anywhere more perfect to satisfy a true New York craving than this veteran “appetizing store” (aka a shop that sells the sorts of things you eat with bagels)? Parents (even those who’ve been up for hours by the time the doors open at 8 a.m.) will appreciate the one-stop shop, where they can pick up some of the best bagels in town schmeared or loaded high with exactly what they want, while making sure picky kids feel as though their own tastes are being catered to precisely. If the line’s long, make a game of taking a number and counting until it’s called, all the while perusing the colorful displays, munching on terrifically flaky rugelach and epic black-and-white cookies, sipping Dr. Brown’s sodas and, perhaps best of all for little ones, composing a goodie bag from the old-school candy counter where you pay by weight. There’s no seating, so settle in at the garden across the street or walk two blocks west and let your kids burn off their energy at the Houston Street Playground while you enjoy your food in (relative) peace. Or if everyone’s fried and needs some downtime, bring the grub back to your hotel room or apartment to catch your breath.
Bagels and bialys are $1.10 a pop, while smoked fish, spreads, dried fruit, cookies, and candy are all sold by the pound. Bagel sandwiches range from $4 for a bagel with cream cheese to $16 for a schmear of goat cream cheese topped with smoked sablefish. 179 E. Houston St., Lower East Side, Manhattan; russanddaughters.com
After a day at the nearby Bronx Zoo or New York Botanical Garden (both walking distance), there’s nowhere more comforting than the Bronx’s Dominick’s. A classic, Godfather-esque red sauce joint, this place has been welcoming families since 1962. It may be old-school (no website, no reservations, no printed menus, even—just ask for what you want), but it aims to please. The vibe is cozy and noisy, so don’t worry about disrupting anyone. If the wait is long, put your name in and walk along Arthur Avenue, distracting your kids by poking into fish markets and Italian bakeries. When you land a table, start with a generously dressed salad with antipasto (the latter doubles as finger food for little hands) and a stuffed artichoke, which your kids will delight in pulling apart to reveal hefty layers of savory bread crumbs. Then move on to pastas and entrées. Order exactly what your kids want: baked ziti dripping with mozzarella or a Flintstone-sized slab of chicken parm. Then settle in with an aperitivo or a glass of house wine for yourself, while indulging in those childhood favorites along with your kids, or pick something a bit more sophisticated—chicken marsala or osso buco perhaps. Just be sure to ask for seats toward the end of the family-style tables so you can get in and out as needed.
Pastas range from $13 to $25; most mains are in the $17 to $25 range with a few outlier specialties like veal chops for two and fish soup for three costing over $40. High chairs are available. 2335 Arthur Ave., the Bronx; facebook.com/Dominicks-Restaurant-102210239822815
Boisterous, open all day long (starting at 7:30 a.m. on weekdays and 9:30 a.m. on weekends), with a vast menu sure to suit even the pickiest eater in your crew, and, yes, a full bar, The Smith—with four Manhattan locations—may be the most versatile player on this list. Your kids can feel free to make merry right along with the lively crowd, ordering either half portions or from the kids’ menu. (Note: The kids’ lunch and dinner menu—which includes a mini pizza and burger, fries, and broccoli—isn’t printed, but rather offered upon request.) One thing to keep in mind is the price tag, which becomes hefty once you get into more classic brasserie fare for adults.
Mains begin in the mid-$20s, and steaks move into the $40 zone. Kids’ meals and half-portions start in the mid-teens; boosters and high chairs are available. Four Manhattan locations: East Village, NoMad, Lincoln Square & Midtown; thesmithrestaurant.com
Tortilleria Nixtamal Rosticería
Nixtamal recently closed its beloved original tortilleria and taqueria location on 47th Avenue in Corona, Queens, but you can still access the terrific tortillas, made fresh on site (watch your kids’ eyes go wide as they see them come down the conveyer belt), and bang-up rotisserie chicken at its National Street location (also in Corona), which is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. It’s takeout only, but you can take your bargain-priced picnic makings across the street to the Park of the Americas, or five blocks to Flushing Meadows Corona Park and its expansive green spaces (where you’ll also find the Queens Zoo, Playground for All Children, Fantasy Forest Amusement Park, New York Hall of Science, and Queens Museum), and make it a project for the kids: They get to create their own chicken tacos, and you get top-notch Mexican home cooking.
Get a whole chicken for $10 and tortillas for $2; add chips and homemade salsas for a few extra bucks, and paletas for $2 during the warmer months. 41-11 National St., Corona, Queens; tortillerianixtamal.com
Need it really be said? If the weather’s decent, take your kids to the beach! The hot dogs, fries, and lemonade served at Nathan’s Famous will never go out of style, and the quirky attractions of legendary Coney Island are always a kid-pleaser. Nathan’s opens early, too—9 a.m. on weekend mornings and 10 a.m. on weekdays—meaning you can quiet those midmorning tantrums if need be. There’s plenty of space to spread out at the picnic tables’ outside seating. Toss in loads of entertainment on the neighboring boardwalk to wear your kids out, or a visit to the New York Aquarium (a few blocks away), and you may even find yourselves with a few quiet minutes on your hands when the kids collapse in a heap on the sand for a spontaneous nap.
The perfect Nathan’s meal is a bargain—a hot dog is $2.50, small fries are $2.35, and a small lemonade is $1.60. A kid’s combo with hot dog, fries, and a drink is $4. 1310 Surf Ave., Coney Island, Brooklyn; nathansfamous.com
For the past 15 years, Hearth has made a point of welcoming families into its cozy East Village dining room for Italian-inspired seasonal offerings. Weary parents will be grateful for the plentiful high chairs and servers’ readiness with paper and crayons for the kiddos as they peruse the enormous and terrific wine list for themselves. Comfort food is the name of the game, and with dishes like beef and ricotta meatballs, labneh-topped sweet potatoes, roast chicken, gnocchi and savory cannellini beans, ordering is a cinch.
Pastas are priced in the mid-teens, with most meat and fish entrées hovering in the mid-$20s range; high chairs are available. 403 E. 12th St., East Village, Manhattan; restauranthearth.com