Eating with kids is a careful tightrope walk of balancing (reasonably) healthy food with efficiency in service and a flexibility for those who play out the politics of their plates like a last war stand. Also, it would be extra nice if the adults could actually enjoy the food, too. Here are my favorite places to bring the little ones and dig into some delicious food.
Who doesn’t want to dine at a castle? Actually, the inside of Fika in the American Swedish Institute looks like a refined Ikea cafeteria and it’s attached to the castle. In the warm months, the outside patio is the best spot to bring kids. You’ll find a play area where there’s a cart filled with fun activities to play with for every age, from glittering hula hoops to the old ball-in-a-cup game. Since Fika is open every day for lunch, it’s a perfect spot to catch up with other parents. Adults will find plenty to enjoy and kids will appreciate the open-faced sandwiches, which are perfect for little hands. And for those with a sweet tooth, Fika’s baked goods are divine, especially the cardamom bun. This lunchtime retreat is a lovely spot to dine and watch the kids play.
2600 Park Avenue, Minneapolis
Kids dig a tubed meat and so do we. The sausage artists at Prairie Dogs take the average wiener and make it an extraordinarily flavored bite of food. Go plain Jane or get crazy with a Sonoran dog, wrapped in bacon and served with creamy beans, cotija, and mayo. Or, grab my personal favorite, the Banh Mi Joy Dog. It’s the sweet, sweet love child of a hot dog and the classic Vietnamese sandwich. Finish the meal with a dreamy ice cream shake made with Sebastian Joe’s ice cream.
610 W. Lake Street, Minneapolis
On the edge of Lake Nokomis, this food stand is light-years ahead of the old fashioned concession stand. First of all, maybe start with a cinnamon dusted horchata (so creamy and fresh!) followed by crazy good hot dogs and, on Friday nights, the fried chicken special is enough to plan an end-of-week outing around. Kids can dig in the sand and chase ducks while adults can indulge in a little wine or glass of craft beer.
4955 W. Lake Nokomis Parkway, Minneapolis
Got a kid with a pirate obsession? They will love this Stillwater restaurant. Let the little ones rummage through a treasure chest for a little distraction. The ample outdoor seating makes for easy cleanup for those whose eating accuracy may still be in development. The food from La Belle Vie alum Shawn Smalley is a wallop to the taste buds. The wings are available in all manner of heat level and are consistently tasty no matter your bravery index. The crowd-pleasing stunner of a side dish is unquestionably the mac and cheese. The little elbow pasta of your youth is smothered in rich and creamy cheese and topped with mild, smoky poblanos and a few crumbles of bacon.
423 Main Street South, Stillwater
Blue Plate Restaurants:
Longfellow Grill, Highland Grill, The Edina Grill, 3 Squares, The Lowry, The Freehouse
Stephanie Shimp and David Burley, the owners of the Blue Plate restaurant group, have a knack for understanding what kind of restaurant will best serve a neighborhood. One thing all their restaurants have in common is an atmosphere and a menu to make kids comfortable. Anyone can appreciate the mammoth waffles studded with bananas and walnuts served with real maple syrup, thank you very much. Menus are tailored to their neighbors: oysters in Uptown, crinkle fries at the Tap, sweet potato fries in Longfellow, stunning salads in Edina, massive breakfast burritos in Highland, and a lovely selection of white wines at 3 Squares. No matter what part of town you’re meeting the extended family in, if the kids are in tow, everyone will be happy at a Blue Plate eatery.
Brasa Premium Rotisserie
Kid-friendly does not always equal nutritious. How often are the kid menu options the worst representatives of the food world? There is a safe haven at Brasa, where the food is locally grown, deliciously prepared, and served by people who are actually happy to cater to the small humans as well as the ones stuck paying the check. The tender pork is divine, packed with flavor, but easy for even the earliest teethers who are starting on real food to eat. Plus, if you’re trying to avoid gluten, almost all of the dishes here are safe (except for the obvious sandwiches and cornbread). Make sure to try their house made sodas, too.
777 Grand Avenue, St. Paul
600 E. Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
Midtown Global Market
Take the little ones on a global eating adventure. This food hall on East Lake Street is home to a million and one food options and the most fun way to introduce the smaller humans to new and exciting flavors: there are tagines, eggrolls, pitas, pho (it’s just noodle soup), cupcakes, cakes, cookies, candies, and tacos — a myriad of glorious tacos. In one corner is a little play area for the really wee ones and there are two days a week to mark on your calendars for kid and family fun: Wee Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. and Family Fridays at 5:00 p.m.
920 E. Lake Street, Minneapolis
There’s the desperation of the hangries with little kids. All they want to do is wander around the room, likely destroy things and eventually throw a ridiculous fit about something big, like that the water is too wet. The key to avoiding complete catastrophe is to get that food into their mouths fast. It is unreal how fast those pizzas come out of the burning ovens and what does arrive is a delicious pizza, making the adults happy as well.
Diner food certainly can’t be for every meal, but kids love a train car, and these are the moments when lifetimes of memories are formed. Roll in at the ungodly morning hours kept by those of us at the mercy of Dory 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.
36 W. 7th Street, St. Paul