Top 15 places to eat with kids in the Twin Cities

Categories: Top 10
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Beyond Happy Meals: The best places for kids and their parents
For parents who love good food, finding a restaurant that they and their kids will enjoy is like finding gold. The criteria can be formidable: The atmosphere should be fairly casual and noise-tolerant, so kids and adults can relax; the menu should offer simple and familiar food for kids but sophisticated dishes for their minders; prices should be reasonable, so a night out with the brood won't break the bank; and service should be friendly and, most important, quick, to keep the little ones from getting restless. If the kids menu is also reasonably healthy, that's a bonus.

With all those parameters in mind, here are our top choices for dining out with the progeny.

See also:
Top 10 macaroni & cheese dishes in the Twin Cities
Top 10 pizzerias in the Twin Cities
Top 10 hot dogs in the Twin Cities

15. Mickey's Diner

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You never know what other parents you might run into on a bleary-eyed early weekend morning. Once we sat across from a father, whose spiky bed-head and unshaven face said, "Mom's out of town," while his kids happily colored and chattered away. That the boyish face belonged to our ex-governor made no difference -- this was the time for the kids. Diner food certainly can't be for every meal, but kids love a train car, and these are the moments when a lifetime of memories are formed. Roll in at the ungodly morning hours kept by those of us at the mercy of Phineas & Ferb fans and you can expect to find cheerful waitresses with crooked smiles. Juices are served promptly, and the food takes seconds to arrive from the nearby grill. There is a time for fighting for whole grains and kale, but there are precious few times when you can all happily eat in golden, satisfied silence before the chaos of the world descends again. (1950 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651.222.5633)

14. Big Bowl

When you're dragging children to a restaurant, you may think you're saving yourself dinnertime hassle. But that only happens if: 1) your children actually eat the food instead of turning their darling little noses up at it; and 2) the environment at the restaurant can comfortably absorb their noise and energy. Lucky for you, Asian chain Big Bowl has three metro locations, all in shopping malls, where bustle and ruckus are the order of the day. Children are catered to with fresh crayons and rubber-banded cheater chopsticks that can be easily maneuvered by curious little hands. For the picky eater who demands mono-colored food as plain and familiar as the exasperated look on mom's face, the kids' menu carries chicken skewers with jasmine rice. But for the budding adventurer, it also offers a dozen pint-sized portions of exotica: tender BBQ pork buns, slippery chow fun noodles, tangy pad thai, and succulent teriyaki ribs. Health-conscious moms and dads will be happy to know the restaurants rely on antibiotic-free chickens and Minnesota-raised Durac pork. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a Double Lucky Happiness meal. (various locations; Big Bowl website)

13. Day by Day Café

Ed Neaton
This sunny, cheerful, spacious St. Paul breakfast institution is so overrun with toys that we used to think a pack of overachieving preschoolers ran it. Toys occupy every nook. They're in the waiters' stations, the menu holders, the bookcases, window ledges, and myriad other crannies. Only fidgety little people understand that no one under the age of, say, seven, finds eating breakfast to be even a tenth the fun of racing from one stash to another amassing every Little Mermaid geegaw ever to come out of a drive-thru window. But lately we've been thinking that this can't be the case. I mean, we adore preschoolers, but we have yet to meet a three-year-old who could keep the fishpond on the sunny terrace stocked with big, healthy, orange koi. Or accurately record a telephone reservation for one of Day by Day's two meeting and party rooms. Or brew the veritable sea of Dunn Bros coffee while turning out stack after stack of perfectly browned, custardy French toast and remember to grace the plate with pecans, blueberries, and real maple syrup. (Or the biscuits and gravy, an occasional special we wish they'd put on the permanent menu.) Grownups might do all of those restauranty things faultlessly, but they would find a way to make it dull. And so we've concluded that this place must be managed by elves. And we defy you to prove otherwise. (477 Seventh St E., St. Paul; 651.227.0654 )

12. D'Amico & Sons

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D'Amico & Sons

Let's be honest. You know, just between us parents. What makes a place great to eat with the kidlets isn't the number of servers dressed as large mascots, or the sturdiness of the toy included with the meal. It's whether mom and dad can eat and enjoy themselves as much as the tots do--a tall order at places like Chuck E. Cheese and McDonald's -- which is exactly what makes D'Amico the perfect pick. First, kids eat free every Sunday (win for the wallet). Second, the menu features kid-friendly pizzas and plenty of pasta dishes (win for the wee ones). And finally, there's the bottomless wine for parents (this is so full of win it isn't measurable on any modern scale). There's even a stack of coloring pages and crayon cups available right at the restaurant's entrance that families can grab as they walk in, which can easily diffuse everything from pre-meal tantrums to post-ordering boredom. Plus, parents get to eat food they actually like, too, because the array of gourmet salads and hot sandwiches means no one has to compromise for the sake of the kids. Even the desserts speak to specific audiences, as tots can chomp on snickerdoodles while parents split a decadent tiramisu (and, of course, more wine). (various locations; D'Amico website)

11. Mendoberri

Our biggest gripe against the kids menus at most places is that they're filled with the kind of nutritionally devoid, fat-packed options that we can't serve without a dose of parental guilt. Sure, they'll love the fries and chicken fingers, but we know better. Mendoberri makes it easy to offer the kids healthier options. Using local and organic foods, they create refreshing and highly flavorful dishes to please everyone in the family. The bright room is welcoming, and the friendly service never falters, even when the smaller members of the table might get a little vocal. It's also a great spot for takeout, and a great option for busy families. The rotisserie chicken, succulent under beautifully seasoned skin, is a fantastic speedy dinner option. (730 Main St., Mendota Heights; 651.209.3270 )

10. Blackbird Café

Vincent Marcinelli
The Phoenix of neighborhood cafés continues to soar in its new location. Blackbird's charming mishmash of cultural cuisines is a melting pot of delectable flavors. Where better to rejoice in baby's first bahn mi? While their version of the sandwich may not be strictly traditional, it's packed with all those flavors --luscious pork, zesty peppers, cool veggies -- and results in an altogether succulent sandwich, easy for kids to identify as food. A favorite of kids is the spicy peanut noodles -- all familiar flavors, shapes, and textures, but amassed in a new combination. (3800 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis; 612.823.4790)

9. Yum! Kitchen and Bakery

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The thing you're looking for most when you trundle the kids off for a meal is solidarity. Oh yeah, you may want high chairs or some certainty that mac and cheese will be on the menu. But mostly you want to know that when Junior dumps his fries on the floor the people at surrounding tables won't screw up their faces in disapproval. By that measure, Yum! is positively crawling with solidarity. When you go, however, make sure the kids are sufficiently distracted by their pasta. You're going to want a moment to concentrate on your own food: hearty tortilla soup that's all about the toppings; a crispy-juicy half chicken on lemony linguine; cunning mini tuna burgers; or rosy, flaky salmon. And most important, your wine. Think about that next time you're contemplating drive-thru Happy Meals. That famous red-haired clown never serves you wine. Yum!, run by longtime Twin Cities restaurateur Patti Soskin, also sells deli and bakery items (including the best challah in town). (4000 Minnetonka Blvd., Minneapolis; 952.922.4000)

8. Birchwood Café

Vincent Marcinelli
Birchwood Café has its own Peace Coffee blend and a biking team, and it organizes crop mobs to help out the farmers they work with. The food is fresh, irreverent, and ordered via counter service -- an added bonus, since kids are not known for their patience. Owner Tracy Singleton is also the mother of a spritely young lass who can often be spotted flitting about the restaurant. Best of all, the food is nutritious and delicious. Not every kid will be into the black bean and quinoa burger (although it's seriously yummy), so there are also plenty of pizzas that still come packed with healthy, delicious toppings. Fast, friendly, bright, active, and wholesome, a meal with the kids at Birchwood bears more than a passing resemblance to the wonder that is childhood. (3311 E. 25th St., Minneapolis; 612.722.4474)

Location Info


Midtown Global Market

920 E. Lake St., Minneapolis, MN

Category: General

Brasa Premium Rotisserie

600 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Restaurant


2726 W. 43rd St., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Restaurant

Pizzeria Lola

5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Restaurant

Sea Salt Eatery

4825 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Restaurant

Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar

423 Main St., Stillwater, MN

Category: Restaurant

Birchwood Cafe

3311 E. 25th St., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Restaurant


4000 Minnetonka Blvd., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Restaurant


3800 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Restaurant

Mendoberri Cafe and Wine Bar

730 Main St., West St. Paul, MN

Category: Restaurant

Day By Day Café

477 7th St. W., St. Paul, MN

Category: Restaurant

Mickey's Diner

36 W. 7th St., St. Paul, MN

Category: Restaurant

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