Navigating the restaurant scene in Manhattan can be daunting for even the most seasoned New Yorker. Then throw a kid or two or three into the mix (yes, I have three), and the task of finding the perfect place to eat can be impossible—or, worse, a complete disaster. That’s why I started MiniMunchers.com, to help families sift through thousands of restaurant options in NYC and pinpoint exactly what they want. And while determining the “best” restaurant to take kids to in Manhattan is like finding the best museum in the city—it depends on what you’re looking for—over the years I’ve found a few golden standards for every occasion. Happy munching!
Best Place When Stuck In Times Square
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
1650 Broadway at 51st Street
Yes, Ellen’s Stardust Diner is touristy, but what child (or adult) can resist a 50s style diner with singing wait staff? The food is a bit pricey—and not gourmet—but there is really something for everyone here, and the fun of listening to your waiter belt out Broadway tunes and top hits is really what you come for anyway.
Best BBQ Joint
116 East 27th Street or 255 Vesey Street
This recommendation is coming from a girl who doesn’t even eat ribs, but I attribute my son’s rib addiction to Blue Smoke. It’s unclear whether it’s the ribs themselves or the ultra kid-friendly ambiance in either location (think: great kids menu and the cookie “pig” that kids decorate, which is then baked while you eat) but Blue Smoke is a serious go-to for great family-friendly BBQ.
Best Place To Take Your Princess
American Girl Café
609 Fifth Avenue
This one might surprise you, but the food is actually extremely tasty both for kids and adults. (And I love the set up for the dolls: little high chairs so they can sit next to their “mommy.”) The pink-and-white décor is adorable, and you will have a great time “interviewing” your daughter with the age-appropriate questions, like what she wants to do when she grows up. The biggest drawback? You might not get out of there without buying your daughter a new doll.
Most Hip Kid-Friendly Restaurant
Schiller’s Liquor Bar
31 Rivington Street
You know the LES is getting gentrified when the “hot” restaurants are including kids menus! If you are a NYC hipster and are looking to take your kids along for your culinary adventures, then Schillers is the place to go. A set price ($12.50) gets kids a drink, entrée and dessert—plus bragging rights for being “seen” at somewhere so cool.
Best Place to Shake It At Sunday Brunch
One Sunday a month, this Latin bistro hosts a SalsaBaby brunch. Kids are encouraged to get up and shake their groove thang to the live tunes of the Jose Conde band with maracas on each table. Minis who don’t like to dance will enjoy decorating the table paper with stickers and crayons; adults, the margaritas are heavenly!
Best View of Central Park
10 Columbus Circle (in the Time Warner building)
Landmarc has one of the greatest children’s menus I have ever encountered. Serving up everything from green eggs and ham to PB & Nutella to whole wheat quesadillas, Chef Marc Murphy really knows how to satisfy even the pickiest eater. The breathtaking view of Central Park South alone is worth the trip.
Best Outdoor Dining
Gigino at Wagner Park
20 Battery Place
Not only is there a beautiful view of the Hudson River from Gigino’s patio, but there is also a large lawn (yes, grass in NYC) that the kids are encouraged to run around on while waiting for their food. With ambiance like this, who cares what’s on the menu! (But in case you were wondering, it’s definitely good.)
Most Unexpected “OMG They Have a Kids Menu”
The Palm Tribeca
206 West Street
Mahogany bar, steaks big enough for two, Businessmen drinking martinis, lobsters served by the pound, kids at the bar. Believe it or not, at The Palm TriBeCa, it’s a winning formula. Kids are welcomed at this tried-and-true NYC steakhouse (which only seems befitting, considering that TriBeCa has become the newest kid-friendly neighborhood.) The prices and portions are on the large side, but it’s a nice alternative when looking for an upscale dining option with the little ones.
Brother Jimmy’s BBQ
5 locations between 16th and 81st Streets
Not only does Brother Jimmy’s offer a great kids menu and allows you to choose accompanying sides (do your kids really need fries every time they go out?), but kids under 12 also eat for free with each adult entrée. Minis who join the “clean plate club” also are treated to free ice cream scoop!
Best “If My Kids Ate Sushi…”
245 Park Avenue or 87 Seventh Avenue
Not that sushi is the only thing on the children’s menu (there is grilled chicken and mini burgers), but for the more sophisticated palates, this fun sushi hot spot offers bite-sized starter sushi. Added bonus: kids absolutely love the rooftop garden at the downtown location.
239 Park Avenue South, 1596 2nd Avenue or 2452 Broadway
Dispel all thoughts of a crowded diner where you have to fight for a table and then are rushed out. Big Daddy’s is a fun upscale diner that loves kids as much as the kids love it. The décor and music are enough of a distraction, without the crayons and balloons, and the tater tots and milk shakes keep my minis begging to return.
Best Museum Dining
Smorgas Chef (Murray Hill branch)
58 Park Avenue
A pleasant surprise in an otherwise tough area for kid-friendly options, Smorgas Chef is located in the Scandinavia House. It has a different kind of kids menu, but my mini devoured his Swedish meatballs and loved the live tree that is in the middle of the café-style restaurant. Scandinavia House also features an amazing indoor playspace that is open to the public for $8 every Saturday.
Carla Sullivan is the founder of MiniMunchers.com, the Internet’s only source and resource for restaurants that are kid-friendly in Manhattan. Carla is also a regular contributor to New York Family’s Yummy Delicious blog and loves to eat out with her kids, Ryan, Keelin and Kelly.