America’s Best Family-Friendly Restaurants

Along with understanding servers, a certain fun factor sets these 16 family favorites apart

Makahiki at Hawaii’s Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa

"Sadly, we don't dine out much anymore."

Parents utter this phrase a lot. Yet, having a little squealing bundle of joy shouldn’t relegate you to a lifetime choosing between meals at home or at unhealthy chain restaurants. Many excellent restaurants find creative ways to meet the families’ needs, whether providing entertainment for little ones or appealing to budget-minded or health-conscious parents. Ready your strollers and start up the minivan; here are some of the nation’s best bets for family-friendly dining.

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Now, what makes a restaurant "kid-friendly"? Let’s face it; some otherwise fine establishments have no patience for vivacious young ones. Parents gravitate towards eateries where the waitstaff love kids, or at least know how to channel youthful energy into coloring books or other distractions.

Specialists such as Los Angeles’ Giggles N’ Hugs build their reputation on keeping children amused and well-fed, while high-end resort restaurants such as Makahiki at Hawaii’s Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, strike a delicate balance between pleasing parents and kids.

The entertainment factor distinguishes restaurants such as Downtown Aquarium, dominated by a ginormous fish tank, or Mongolian grill Fire & Ice, renowned for its chefs’ culinary showmanship.

Kid-friendly restaurants also capitalize on space and ambiance. Some establishments boast lush outdoor settings, like San Francisco’s Park Chalet in Golden Gate Park, while others create dedicated play areas for children, such as Seattle’s upscale Vios Café. The Pirates’ House in Savannah, Ga., turns the inn’s scurrilous past into a winning theme.

Many smart restaurants also address family budget concerns by offering free kids’ meals when parents dine, like at Chicago’s quirky Southern eatery Wishbone. If you’re splurging, however, luxury hotel restaurants tend to provide excellent customer service to families, notably the Four Seasons’ Verandah in Las Vegas.

There’s no reason for families to hide at home; most restaurants could easily accommodate children with nothing more than crayons and a smile. Check out the slideshow to see how 16 top family-friendly restaurants work their magic.