There are two things I miss about my pre-kids daily life: going to the movies without having to hire a babysitter, and eating out whenever, and wherever I wanted to. Every family has their own threshold for the stress of taking a small person out to dinner, but it requires a shift in your previously carefree dining life, one with a lot more planning and likely a lot fewer drinks.
We polled Brooklyn Based writers and friends with kids about their favorite places to eat as a family. This is their collective wisdom. For ideas on how to stay sane while eating out with kids, read our pro tips.
Oxcart Tavern, Ditmas Park
This might just be the perfect neighborhood restaurant. You can get a cocktail (or several), a craft beer, a burger or veggie burger, plus a variety of delicious, and well-priced entrees, including mojo pork tacos and lamb lasagna. The fries are crisp, the drinks are strong and the service is friendly. It’s also a total family joint when it opens at 5pm. I have a close friend who lives around the corner and her family of four has a standing Friday night date that they take so seriously that I have stood with them, outside the door at 4:57, waiting for it to open (she and I have also spent child-free evenings there, drinking more beers than were strictly necessary).
If you like to dine in peace and quiet, avoid until after 7pm; if you want to bring your brood and join the party while enjoying a negroni and burger, get there early–you’ll be in good company. Also: happy hour is from 5-6pm, when parents need it most.
Oxcart Tavern, 1301 Newkirk Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11230
This is an unpretentious spot that actually solves a number of different dining issues, like where do you take a group, especially one that includes both vegetarians and enthusiastic meat eaters? There’s an extensive selection of burritos, as well as tacos, fajitas and quesadillas, including a kid-sized version. “It’s really close to the park (including the excellent playground on Lincoln Road) so that’s nice because you can go there before or after,” says Spiegel. “They have high chairs, plus during the day they always let us put our strollers in the empty bar area next door. The food is solid.”
Taqueria El Patron Mexican Grill, 51 Lincoln Rd, Brooklyn, NY 11225
Pubs that like to keep their patrons entertained, either through a stack of board games or flat screens or both, are one of the easiest places to take kids. BB contributor Shana Liebman, who writes the funny home cooking blog, Monsters vs. Dinner, is fond of Kent Ale House between 5 and 7pm on weekdays. “The kids can watch one of many TVs, play a game, or even run around in the back room while you drink happy-hour-priced tap beer and eat a really good cheeseburger, the kale caesar or the buffalo wings (don’t bother with anything else on the menu). It’s cheap and you’ll be out of there before bedtime.”
Kent Ale House, 51 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11249
In general, diners are great places for children. When my son was a little over a year old I used to take him to the Garden Grill on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg when I couldn’t imagine feeding him dinner in our 90-degree kitchen. They were unfailingly kind to us, no matter how many new forks we needed, and were never cranky when we suddenly needed a box and the check because it was time to go. You can generally sit in a booth, order something kind of trashy and delicious for yourself (I need very little encouragement to eat a rueben), and eggs, pancakes, chicken fingers or something similarly easy for the kiddos, and no one is expecting you to use your white tablecloth manners. Plus, the staff is often genuinely happy to see you and your children, and a $10 tip is big deal on a $18 check. Is it a luxurious night out? No. But it’s not your kitchen and you don’t have to do the dishes.
If it’s weekend brunch that you miss in your newly childcentric world, look no further than Black Forest. While I wouldn’t recommend rolling in to their annual Oktoberfest keg tapping party with your toddler in tow, on the weekends their long beer garden tables are filled with families. German food is very kid-friendly, if you think about it–big pretzels, sausages, and schnitzel is basically a giant nugget. For adults, their beer list is obviously the thing, but Germany produces some lovely wines, which are also on the menu, as are delicious cocktails. It’s a lively room, so lightweight whining won’t carry to the next table.
Black Forest Brooklyn, 733 Fulton St., Brooklyn, NY 11217
Noodle Pudding, Brooklyn Heights
This Brooklyn Heights institution is classic Italian with reliable pastas and a cozy atmosphere. “It’s the type of old-school family restaurant that we don’t have much of in Brooklyn because everything is so goddamn hip,” says Spiegel. “Big portions, simple but excellent Italian food.” Not to mention that even the pickiest eaters usually have room on their plates for pasta. Note that it’s cash only and it gets crowded on weekend nights.
Noodle Pudding, 38 Henry St., Brooklyn, NY 11201
This downtown Brooklyn spot will store your folded stroller, has changing stations in the bathrooms, child seats, and offers kid-sized ramen and other dishes, which is a great introduction to trying something new, considering that it’s basically noodles in soup, both of which tend to fall squarely within child comfort zones. Edamame and boneless Japanese-style fried chicken are pretty sure bets for fast, easy starters. It’s also a restaurant you’d be happy to go to without kids and they have an excellent beer and sake menu, as well as outstanding ramen.
Ganso Ramen, 25 Bond St., Brooklyn, NY 11201
Big casual places meant to be loud and fun
BB contributor and kids calendar writer, Meredith Craig de Pietro told us that her elementary-school-aged son is a great diner and does well wherever they go as a family, so she’s basically an inspiration for us all. She did say though, that in addition to food halls of all kinds, her son is especially happy to eat at the following places. One note–some babies really hate the specific noise level that comes from being in a large space filled with people talking loudly. Brooklyn Crab in Red Hook has games in the back, where you can also order a hot dog for any non-seafood lovers you might have in tow. Insa in Gowanus might be tough for very picky eaters (though a bowl of rice might do the trick), but the karaoke room is the perfect spot to keep kids entertained. Habana Outpost in Fort Greene hosts kids events during the summer, and has crayons and a kid-friendly menu.
Any big barbecue joint, from Hill Country to Hometown to Dinosaur tends to have plenty of room for strollers and an easy-going atmosphere. Do note that there’s usually a line to order at Hometown, so the plan to eat immediately could hit a snag, and if it’s just two adults you basically have one hanging with the kids and the other waiting in line, which isn’t that fun–bring a group. If you’ve been at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Fornino at Pier 6 is a great place to grab pizza, which you can eat on the grass, and it’s right by an excellent playground. They also have mac and cheese.
Top photo from @brooklyn_crab on Instagram.