When parents fantasize about a fancy meal on the town, it usually involves a babysitter. But grown-ups aren't the only ones who are becoming more savvy about food — while we have embraced kale and farmer's markets and unprocessed foods, our little ones have been paying attention. Restaurants are taking note, increasingly finding ways to guide kids' cravings away from meals with plastic toys and toward something quite a bit more exciting for the taste buds. And sometimes, there's a side of entertainment. Here are seven spots that might help your little eater put down the chicken nuggets:
Pizza can be seen as kid food, but the pies found at this Falls Church spot (pictured above) are a far cry from those being slung by a giant mouse named Chuck E. who lives in an arcade. In addition to showing kids how great pizza can taste, wee ones receive a ball of pizza dough on off-peak days to play with while sitting at a marble bar in front of the pizza oven (giving parents a much-needed break from hearing, "When will the food be here?"). To sweeten the deal, children 10 and younger get one free item from the kids' menu each Tuesday for each traditional or house-specialty pizza ordered.
400 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church; 703-226-3460
Chef Austin Fausett unveiled a five-course Petit Gourmand menu earlier this year, allowing children to enjoy their own tasting menu while parents are served items developed for more sophisticated palates. For $38 per child, the ultra-fun experience starts with a welcome mocktail (sealed like a juice pouch) and moves on to dishes that might include a mozzarella risotto ball, beef stroganoff and a tricked-out build-your-own sundae (pictured below). The Petit Gourmand menu items, also available à la carte, change weekly to incorporate seasonal ingredients.
7134 Main St., Clifton; 703-266-1623
This restaurant in the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner offers a Foodie in Training menu for kids 10 and younger that ranges from the expected — think pasta with meatballs and a margherita flatbread (aka cheese pizza) — to healthful options like a fish of the day with citrus sauce (pictured below) and a seasonal salad. In between are a couple of fun options like batons of truffled mac 'n' cheese that are deep fried and mocktails like the No-Jito. Plus, the menu offers fun facts about truffles, beehives and spicy peppers. Menus are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
7920 Jones Branch Dr., McLean; 703-847-5000
There are two kids' menus here — one for children five and younger, the other for those six and older — but that’s not the only big draw for the itsy-bitsy crowd. When kids arrive, they are given seasonally shaped sugar cookies and decorating supplies. After they’ve gussied up their goodies, they turn them over to the kitchen staff. The treats are baked on the spot, so they’re warm when it comes time to enjoy dessert.
1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202-861-1310
Executive chef and co-owner Jeff Tunks is always encouraging his two children to try new foods — so when it came time to design this kids' menu, he included some less-expected options. Tykes can choose between items like ham biscuits with sweet butter, mozzarella-tomato flatbread and grilled fish of the day. The Foggy Bottom spot also has a special children's menu for brunch — which means you don't end up paying $10 for an adult-sized portion of pancakes.
2200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-587-8277
The kids' menu here features the usual suspects — pizza, mac ‘n’ cheese, mini hamburgers, etc. — but the entertainment is anything but ordinary. Play bocce or go bowling (only $5 per person per hour) while you dine. And if you're looking to entertain the wee ones on a Friday morning, parents bowl free and kids bowl for $9 (including shoe rental) from 10 AM-12 PM. Please remember that it’s considered bad manners to scream “Strike! In your face!” with your mouth full. Finish swallowing, then gloat all you want.
1064 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-625-6500
If you're on a family day trip to Baltimore, this hyper-local new-American eatery is a great option. Don’t worry if you left your tots’ toys at home, because they’ll be able to get creative with the housemade "K-Dough" (pictured above; photo by Alison Kirby), which is also for sale at nearby Artifact Coffee. The children's dinner menu includes such items as chicken on a stick with carrots and a salad or a small steak with fries.
2010 Clipper Park Rd., Ste. 126, Baltimore; 410-464-8000
Nevin Martell contributed to this post.