Short stuff: SpotlightEating out with kids can sometimes leave a bad aftertaste. Forks hitting the floor, squirming children and occasional food fights all conspire to keep us at home. Sure, there are places with indoor playgrounds to keep kids occupied, but who wants to eat fast food every time they go out?
Thankfully, the Chicago area has seen a boom in restaurants that serve good food and go above-and-beyond family friendly.
This coffee shop and café is a popular destination for Oak Park area families. Locally grown and organic food offerings and Intelligentsia coffee are complimented by the kids’ play area/lounge that comes stocked with books and toys. Monday morning story times are a great time to catch up with friends and daily family dinner specials come in adult and child-size portions. 905 S. Lombard Ave, Oak Park. (708) 524-2899 or visit www.thebuzzcafe.com.
Carrabba’s Italian Grill
This national chain with Illinois locations in Naperville and Woodridge is all about hospitalsity. Carrabba’s is guided by the principle that everyone under their roof should be offered wonderful food and made to feel truly welcome. In addition to a 10 and under"Bambini Menu,” the restaurant gives each young customer a blob of pizza dough to keep their hands and imaginations occupied before the food comes. Kids can even have their dough baked to preserve their creations. In addition to traditional pastas and wood-fired pizzas, house specialties include crispy calamari, chicken marsala, fresh steamed mussels, a variety of pasta with homemade sauces and fresh fish. www.carrabbas.com
Way better than fast food, not quite dinner theater. The 1950s-inspired Ed Debevic’s saucy waiters and service-interrupting musical numbers keep families entertained throughout the meal. Kids can color their own cook’s hats in between performances. Menu items are reminiscent of good old-fashioned comfort food, from burgers and hot dogs to meatloaf sandwiches and chili four-ways, there’s something for everyone. And don’t forget to save room for dessert. The ice cream and"fountain creations” are not to be missed. Locations in downtown Chicago and Yorktown Mall. www.eddebevics.com
From its humble beginnings with a 24-seat restaurant, Lalo’s now has 12 restaurants in the city and suburbs, all family owned. With a wide variety of traditional Mexican dishes and an extensive and inexpensive kids menu, families can find something to satisfy everyone. The friendly service, complimentary chips and salsa, coloring pages and strolling mariachi bands keep kids occupied and entertained from beginning to end. Every meal, no matter what a child orders, comes with a delicious cup of chicken soup (caldo de pollo), preventing tummies from ever rumbling. www.lalos.com.
While not designed specifically to appeal to children, Chicago restaurateur Jonathan Segal drew upon his own childhood experience to develop Minnies. As its name indicates, Minnies offers a large variety of sandwiches, pizzas and salads all on miniature scale, with prices to match. While it doesn’t offer specific activities for youngsters, tasty food, the colorful interior and valet stroller parking make this an ideal urban destination for families. It even offers kids birthday parties in a private room. Minnies is located at 1969 N. Halsted, Chicago. (312) 943-9900. www.minnies.com
White Fence Farm
Located 25 miles south of Chicago in Romeoville, White Fence Farm can provide a full day’s entertainment in addition to"the world’s greatest chicken” dinner. With a petting zoo, kids rides and an automobile museum, you’ll need to plan time before or after eating for entertainment. In addition to cholesterol-free, golden, crispy fried chicken, the menu has steak, fish and shrimp. Its homemade corn fritters are a kid (and adult) favorite. 1376 Joliet Road, Romeoville (815) 838-1500. www.whitefencefarm.com.This list of restaurants is certainly just an appetizer portion of family friendly dining options. Did we miss yours? Join the discussion at www.chicagoparent.com.
Rainforest Café is more about the experience than dining. With music, sound effects and moving robotic animals, no one has time to get bored. On Family Nights (Wednesdays from 5 p.m. until close), the restaurant offers activities like face painting, balloon animals and a visit from Cha! Cha!, the red-eyed tree frog. Menu items include seafood, beef and chicken to pastas and pizza. An extensive kids menu helps bring a family in under budget. Locally, find Rainforest Cafe in Chicago, Gurnee and Schaumburg. www.rainforestcafe.com.
Nibbles Play Café
At the newly opened Nibbles’ Play Cafe in Wheeling, moms can connect with other moms over coffee, lunch or a decadent dessert while their children enjoy a great play experience. Owner Kathleen Weinberg designed the café in such a way that moms can sit comfortably in the center while monitoring their kids in surrounding play areas. Menu items range from mandarin chicken salads to roasted vegetable and goat cheese ciabatta sandwiches with a side of Nibbles’ Sweet Peas. 13 Huntington Lane, Wheeling (847) 229-0400. www.nibblesplaycafe.com.