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Eat Feature

Food For Tot

A Guide To Kid-Friendly Dining in Baltimore

By Michelle Gienow | Posted 3/1/2006

Let’s get this straight: Kid-friendly dining means more than handing out a couple of lousy crayons and putting chicken tenders on the menu. A truly kid-friendly restaurant doesn’t merely tolerate children, it welcomes them. So let’s lay down a few rules of the road.

First, high chairs. Not offering high chairs is restaurant code for “we don’t want children here.” Very few restaurateurs are willing to risk the public’s ire by coming right out and saying don’t bring your rugrats here, so they convey the message more subtly. Hey, fine, not all restaurants are appropriate for children, and if you don’t want us then we don’t want to come. But if you do want families with kids to frequent your establishment, please provide high chairs and boosters of relatively recent vintage that meet basic safety requirements: four stable legs, no sharp edges, safety straps present and functioning. And would it kill you to have someone go over ’em with some disinfectant and a sponge every now and then and scrape off at least the top layer of ketchup?

Offer some reasonably healthy kids menu items instead of just the usual chicken nuggets/hamburger/hot dog with a side of fries trifecta? We’re not asking for haute kiddie cuisine, just maybe a green vegetable or even applesauce , macaroni and cheese made with actual cheese, and a grilled cheese sandwich on wheat. And if your kids menu stinks, don’t glare at me for feeding my kid off my own plate or popping the lid off a yogurt from home.

Have a diaper-changing area in at least one rest room. If your facility allows smoking, make it truly contained.

Finally, treat us like our family’s business matters to you. Don’t hide us in some dark corner by the kitchen and avoid our table like we’re radioactive. Do give us prompt service. Dining with small children usually offers a brief window of good behavior, without waiting 30 minutes to get a cup of noodle soup in front of a hungry 2-year-old. Of course toddler tables can be a nightmare—things can get a little shrill, the table and its surroundings get covered in shredded crackers/cookies/Cheerios, and then there are those brainless parents who let their kids get up and run around. But most of us try hard to keep things under control and leave when the situation heads south. A responsive restaurant staff can go a long way to helping everyone—parents, kids, surrounding diners—enjoy the meal. Here are some favorite truly madly deeply kid-friendly restaurants in and around Baltimore.

 

Amer’s Café doesn’t have a kids menu per se, but offers plenty of kid-friendly fare—pasta, pizza, pitas. Kids can also make their own pizzas, rolling out the dough and choosing and sprinkling on their own toppings before watching their pie bake in the wood-burning pizza oven.

Chinatown Café is fascinating for small kids, from the kid-height decorative fish tank inside to the big choose-your-own-dinner seafood tanks in the vestibule. On weekends there are often large all-ages banquets so there are other kids around, and the staff is very laid-back and accommodating with children. The dim sum menu is just right for small appetites, and all kinds of classic Chinese kid pleasers like fried rice and lo mein are on the menu.

Donna’s is the spot for the wee urbanite. The vegetarian-friendly kids menu offers truly tasty options like mini pizzas and a kick-ass PB&J on homemade wheat bread. Plus it doubles as a fun coloring page (extra points for supplying genuine Crayolas). The staff we’ve encountered has been quick with the service and cheerful about spills.

Golden West Café is generally a good kid dining venue, but the service can be slow, so it’s better to try for off-hours. We like the comfy couch-and-tables area up front complete with toys for when a break from table-sitting is required, and Golden West’s always available breakfast lures picky eaters with pancakes or French toast for dinner. The kids menu has items like cheese quesadillas and a peanut butter and apple sandwich. The staff is amiable with small kids, and instead of crayons they give cool Wikki Stix toys to entertain tiny diners.

Los Amigos is a spot that clearly enjoys hosting children. The staff is so friendly it’s like they’re flirting with your offspring, and you are clearly welcome to linger. The children’s menu has bargain-priced miniature versions of grown-up meals like cheese enchiladas with rice and beans. Plus there are fun noncaffeinated sodas like tamarind and guava to explore.

Matthew’s Pizza is run by folks who genuinely and obviously enjoy having small kids around. The service is swift, the staff makes a fuss over the wee ones, and the plastic tablecloths and paper plates remove any stress about making a mess. The all-pizza menu is the ultimate no-brainer.

Nam Kang might not be the first place to comes to mind for kid dinner, but service is swift and the staff clearly likes children. No free crayons, but there are lots of fish tanks to watch and chop sticks to experiment with. While there is no official children’s menu, there are tasty options like fried rice, dumplings, and noodle soups that should please most small appetites, and kids can’t resist the tiny bowls of panchan appetizers—just monitor the kimchi.

Paper Moon Diner has décor to fascinate most tots—there are toys stuck to the walls—plus a relaxed staff that is genuinely helpful with family tables. It’s fun to sit on the twirly stools at the counter, and service is lightning-swift there. The menu has breakfast all the time, or assemble a healthy meal from sides like homemade mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. The high chairs could use cleaning, and don’t come during Sunday brunch hours or you’ll wait forever for a table.

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