Where are the Best Places to Take Kids Out to Eat?

Kid-friendly restaurants minus the "cheese" and the fear.

Everyone is hungry and you are not in the mood to cook. There are tons of great restaurants in the area but not all are appropriate or welcoming to a family that may or may not be making noise or tossing bread across the room.  

For as much as we try, our children have minds of their own and you cannot always control them. It can be intimidating to bring kids into any restaurant due to fears of dirty looks and tsk-tsks from other patrons. Some parents will not even think about taking their children to a restaurant because they fear how their kids might act.

Why not give children the opportunity to learn how to behave in a public place without the "Romper Room" feel? Maybe mom and dad could have a glass of wine and enjoy dinner too. 

For those who have braved the less-safe, "Chuck E. Cheese" free eateries: which area restaurants are realistically the most kid-friendly? Where can hesitant parents dip their toes into family-friendly waters?

We all want to break out of the old routine and try something new sometimes. To the doubtful parents: What is the worst that could happen? If one of your kids tries their magic tablecloth trick, just leave an extra generous tip and don't forget to laugh. 

Okay Moms, we need your expert advice! Where are the best places to take kids out to eat? Feel free to share your insight and maybe a funny story or two. We know you have them!

Colleen Bohensky April 13, 2011 at 03:04 PM
Our favorite local place is Charlie's Aunt in Chatham. My kids love the penne police oil & garlic... We like the staff and the bar!
Colleen Bohensky April 13, 2011 at 03:24 PM
The mess issue? We give a GOOD tip!
Colleen Bohensky April 13, 2011 at 03:25 PM
(I apologize for any typos today... testing in from iPhone)
Elizabeth McConnell April 13, 2011 at 03:30 PM
We totally make up for the mess with a good tip. But my youngest is now 6 and it's not such a problem anymore.
Pamela Chirls April 13, 2011 at 03:31 PM
Why not combine a date night with a family night and enjoy a nice meal together? You have some great restaurants in town that might welcome you early in the evening! For a real family night out, it is sometimes fun to visit Kyoto (Florham Park). You can enjoy a healthy meal there and be entertained at the same time before you finish the night at Trader Joes!
Elizabeth McConnell April 13, 2011 at 03:36 PM
My kids are great connoissers of Mac and Cheese, which they enjoy at Main Streets and Charlie Browns. They also enjoy the salad bar at Charlie Browns and sometimes eat more veggies because they get to travel for them. We also enjoy going to Yuki Hana for Japanese food. And don't forget, they always love kids at an italian restaurant, no matter now messy. We enjoy Broccolinis. Also remember that you don't have to order off the kids menu, but if the place has a kids menu, they're usually okay with kids.
Lara Aumento April 13, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Our favorite place (and our daughter's too!) for a family night out is Mitsuba on Main Street in Chatham. We've been taking our daughter there since she was 5 and we've always had a great experience. For a night out that isn't TOO geared towards the kiddies but is comfortable with a kiddie, its a great place. On a Friday night you'll see a nice mix of families (with children of all ages, singles and couples, both young and old.
Elizabeth McConnell April 13, 2011 at 03:40 PM
We definitely consider hibachi a kind of dinner theater! Beni Hana is also good. Kids should be over five though . . .
Stuart Chirls April 13, 2011 at 03:51 PM
Is there a good family place in Madison with a nice atmosphere for kids (older and younger)?
Elizabeth McConnell April 13, 2011 at 03:56 PM
Firehouse pizza has a good nOn pizza menu and the pizzas good and there are always lots of families there with lids of all ages. They also have a great outdoor seating area with a kid sized table for the little ones.
Colleen Bohensky April 13, 2011 at 05:15 PM
We enjoy Bagel Chatau in Madison.
Melissa Bartoli April 13, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Thanks for all of the great comments! My family loves PapaRazzi in the Short Hills Mall and we just recently discovered Honey Browns in Summit. And I agree with Elizabeth about Firehouse Pizza in Madison - you can't beat their pizza.
jerry stevenson April 13, 2011 at 07:03 PM
Families are in Poor Herbies enjoying dinner all the time.
kari April 13, 2011 at 07:18 PM
I agree with mitsuba. They are so great with the kids and the mess. Also Gregorios is great if you go really early. They get you in and out, but not rushing you at the same time. We just went to 54 main and my kids destroyed our area and the waitress thought it was 'cute'. Gotta love that! And yes with a 2 and 1 year old, tipping heavily is a must.
Karin Swenson Szotak April 13, 2011 at 08:54 PM
My top 3 are Firehouse, Poor Herbies & 54 Main. Armenios in Chatham & Charlie Browns are great too. When the kids have their electronic devises, they don't even mind the waiting anymore.
jerry stevenson April 13, 2011 at 09:01 PM
I belong to an older generation. Why would parents allow their children to bring electronic devices to a restaurant? The concept is suppose to be quality time where the parents and children enjoy a meal (and conversation) together.
jerry stevenson April 13, 2011 at 10:02 PM
Steve....I have known you for a long time and you are a bright guy. Reread what you have just posted. When did children take over the agenda from their parents? When did parents cave as far as subjecting their children to discipline? Just heard a horror story about one of our grade schools. Apparently the 5th graders are running amok and the school isn't cracking down. Seems they're cowed by aggressive parents who believe their little darlings can do no wrong. Back to the basics...discipline begins at home.
Karin Swenson Szotak April 13, 2011 at 11:04 PM
Steve and Jerry, basically I was referring to the wait time to be seated. Has anyone walked into FIrehouse on a Friday night w hungry kids and told there was a 20 minute wait, or so many time at Main St, we have close to 30 minutes. We enjoy talking at the table, but when we are in the lobby, distractions come in handy.
lisa sapio April 14, 2011 at 12:38 PM
Has anyone been to DAVIDS RUMBA!. I must say that is the best place for kids in Madison, they have a kids menu along with a great menu for the adults . The Firehouse pizza no longer has outdoor seating and food is just ok if you are only ordering pizza. David's has his family working together... parents and college age son. Food is good and they do have specials. I even think there is music on friday or saturday night. It is on Elmer street which is behind main street. Good parking across the street and I must say I eat there with my older kids and also meet friends there and bring a nice bottle of wine. Have never been disappointed.
Melissa April 14, 2011 at 02:32 PM
Why not try Romanellis...great family atmosphere, quick and easy and close to the Movie Theater! Friday night is Kids Night...Simon is there from 6-8 making balloons and doing magic for everyone!!
Pamela Chirls April 14, 2011 at 02:53 PM
I will preface this by saying that we own very few electronic devices. My children will tell you that I regularly "hide" them if I find that they become a distraction from conversation, homework, or just good, old-fashioned play. When we go to restaurants, I allow my children to bring books to pass any waiting time. At casual restaurants, we often use the paper mats to play word games or to do art. It is well documented that family meals are critical to children's long-term health. If I can prevent my child from using later by talking now, then I am willing to commit to family meals!
Colleen Bohensky April 14, 2011 at 09:13 PM
We LOVE David's Rumba Cafe for eating in and taking out. I hadn't realized that had a kids' menu.
Kristin Murray April 18, 2011 at 03:49 PM
We were at Begum Palace last night with our three kids 7, and 4-year-old twins. We love Indian food and have gone there or gotten takeout enough times that the kids are now as excited to eat there as we are. Our kids love the Mango Lassi to drink and simple Chicken Tikka ordered "mild" as well as Sag Paneer (spinach with soft Indian cheese cubes) I second the David's Rumba recommendation, too. We love that place. In my opinion, if you teach your kids to stay in their seats in restaurants, you can go just about anywhere that isn't "fine dining."


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