Dining out with kids doesn’t have to mean substandard chain restaurants. Here are our favorite choices for Denver kid-friendly restaurants that you’ll love too.
There was a time when eating out was one of my favorite pastimes. Husband and I would drop into one of Denver’s many eateries and linger over our food and drinks for a couple hours, occasionally even ordering 1.5 entrees per person, and never skipping dessert. And, then we had kids. While many kids seem to adapt to eating out early on, ours were not so easy.
When our oldest was about 3 months old we managed to get a sitter for an anniversary dinner out at Sushi Sasa. We were congratulating ourselves on getting out of the house over sashimi when we spotted a couple a few feet away pull their sleeping infant out from under the table. Our mouths dropped open. They’d been sitting there for nearly an hour and we never heard a peep from that baby. We felt slightly deflated as our attempts at dining out with our little squawker were frustrating, one of us jostling him outside as the other quickly ate. Our earliest attempt resulted in a 17-minute meal from order to bill arrival. We were ever so grateful to get out, but a leisurely meal it was not.
Yet we were not willing to give up. Now with a 5-year-old and 20-month-old in tow, we are much better at it. But it requires a little planning on our part. A couple of quiet toys so we’re not tempted to just hand over our phones (I swear by Tegu wood blocks. Buy them locally at Hope Tank or Timbuk Toys.), and a couple of pre-dinner snacks just in case.
And, a family-friendly restaurant, of course. To us, this means not only a high chair and menu options our kids will eat, but, perhaps most important of all, a loud environment to drown out the occasional meltdowns. Oh, and food that Husband and I actually want to eat. And a decent drink menu. (That last one is non-negotiable, by the way.)
But, this isn’t entirely self-interested. Yes, I want to be able to enjoy good food, but I also want my kids to learn to appreciate it as well. As you’ll see from what they regularly order, our kids are still pretty firmly in the kids’ food arena of chicken fingers, burgers, grilled cheese and quesadillas. But, we’re working on it. My five-year-old is now regularly asking to try something new. And I feel as we continue to eat out, they’ll be much more likely to eat outside their comfort zone.
So, with all that in mind, here are our top choices for happily dining out in Denver with kids (in no particular order)…
1. Mas Kaos Pizzeria + Taqueria (Berkeley: 4526 Tennyson Street)
We love this spot, and not only because it’s walking distance from our house. It’s become one of our favorite places to take visitors because of the extensive menu that accommodates virtually all dietary restrictions: gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian. What we order: Smokestack pizza (you won’t regret it!), carnitas street taco, sea of cortez street taco. What they order: Spaghetti and meatballs, cheese pizza.
2. Park Burger (LoHi: 2643 W. 32nd Avenue; Hilltop: 211 S. Holly; Uptown: 439 E. 17th Avenue; RiNo: 2615 Walnut Street; Platt Park: 1890 S. Pearl Street)
This was the site of our very first meal out with child (all 17 minutes) and it certainly wasn’t our last. If you want a good burger, this is the place to go. And the cocktail menu is surprisingly delicious, too. (I blame this place for introducing me to my current obsession, New York Sours.) The RiNo location is our favorite for the people-watching and the kid-friendly foosball table. And, with so many locations in this local chain, you’re almost always no more than a few minutes away from the nearest one. What we order: Lamb burger, El Chilango burger. What they order: Kid’s cheeseburger, grilled cheese, sweet potato fries.
3. Ace Eat Serve (Uptown: 501. E. 17th Avenue)
We love Asian food but sometimes it can be a tough sell to the kiddos. But, Ace offers a fun kids’ meal that can interest even picky eaters. Plus, you can bribe them with ping pong. I also love their house-made sodas for those times you just can’t have a drink. What we order: Shumai, brussels sprouts, bao buns, ramen. What they order: Kids’ meal with naked wings or noodles.
4. North County (Lowry: 94 Rampart Way)
This was a recent discovery for our family despite having heard it praised for some time. Everything tasted so fresh and delicious that our entire family walked away completely happy with what we had ordered. And, you won’t want to pass up the house-made (alcoholic) sodas. I highly recommend the strawberry lemonade. What we order: Ceviche, guac and chips, baja fish tacos. What they order: Guac and chips, quesadilla, salmon tacos.
5. Sloan’s Lake Bar and Grill (Sloan’s Lake: 5850 W. 25th Avenue, Edgewater)
Like its sister restaurant, Highland Tap and Burger (also a favorite of ours, by the way), this neighborhood spot serves up a much more gourmet menu than you’d expect and isn’t as crowded as the Highland location, which makes it easier with the kids. And, children 10 and under eat free on Tuesdays! What we order: Pan-fried fish, French Dip sandwich, Brie Melt sandwich, barbecue ribs. What they order: Hummus, grilled cheese, burger, mac and cheese, chicken tenders.
6. Margs Taco Bistro (Downtown: 1519 Wynkoop; Uptown: 500 e. 19th Avenue; Cherry Creek: 200 Fillmore Street)
Believe it or not, I love this place for their vindaloo. Or rather, their vindaloo tacos. Seriously. If you’ve never tried a non-traditional taco, you’ll love sampling this menu that sources a variety of ethnic flavors served in a flour tortilla. And, let’s face it…the kids are always happy to have a quesadilla. What we order: Vindaloo taco, Banh Mi taco, Korean Pork taco, Chicken Tinga taco. What they order: Cheesy roll-up (i.e. quesadilla), kids’ taco.
7. Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery (E. Colfax: 4990 E. Colfax; Lowry: 200 Quebec Street)
This place is always busy (on Colfax, anyway), and we’ve always scrambled to find a table. But the fresh, home-cooked food is so delicious it’s worth it, which is probably why it’s often packed with families. What we order: Slow-cooked short ribs, Southwestern chop salad, 72-hour slow-cooked onion bliss (i.e., French onion soup). What they order: Grilled cheese, cheeseburger, chicken and mashed potatoes.
8. Jax Fish House (Glendale: 650 S. Colorado Boulevard)
I know, I know…I never would have dreamed of bringing my kids to Jax in LoDo. And, perhaps that location is kid-friendly, but it is fancy enough that I think you have to have the right kind of kid…mine aren’t quite there yet. But, we recently visited their second location just off Colorado Boulevard, and it was surprisingly kid-friendly with a child at nearly every table. (Granted it was only 5:30pm but still.) What we order: Oysters, seafood chowder, lobster roll, Thai catfish. What they order: Fried calamari, grilled cheese, burger, grilled salmon. (They even have kids’ snow crab for the more adventurous eaters!)
9. Dunbar Kitchen & Tap House (Five Points: 2844 Welton)
This neighborhood pub is a relative newcomer to the Denver dining scene and bills itself as “an unassuming place where families feel as welcome having the kids with them as friends feel meeting for after work drinks, a night out on the town or catching the game.” The first time we ventured in we met friends and had three kids ages four and under between us, and it was a hit. They have a great patio, too. What we order: Brussels sprouts, Honey Kissed Chicken, The Castro (Cuban sandwich). What they order: Hummus, chicken, cheeseburger.
10. Steuben’s (Uptown: 523 E. 17th Avenue; Arvada: 7355 Ralston Road)
Denver families have long been going to Steuben’s for its food-coma-inducing comfort food. They’re not the only ones, though…if you don’t go there at a slightly early hour, the wait is far too long for hungry kiddos…even at the Arvada location. But time it right and you’ll all be glad you did. What we order: Meatloaf and mashed potatoes, shrimp and grits, fried chicken, cubano. What they order: Grilled cheese, cheeseburger, macaroni and cheese. (Yep, my kids are pretty much sustained on cheese-based dishes when we go out. Oh well.)
Where are your favorite Denver kid-friendly restaurants? I’d love to hear and expand our dining experiences!