Want a place your kid’s imagination can truly run wild? Take them to one of these fun themed restaurants where they can be emerged in a different world, from a modern version of Willy Wonka’s Factory to an aviation adventure. Sure, we know these spots can be a bit over the top, but embrace it. Who says you have to be serious all the time, anyway?


photo: Pilot Pete’s

Pilot Pete’s
It’s a bird, it’s a plane…wait it actually IS a plane. This aviation-themed restaurant is located at the Schaumburg Regional Airport and the windows give a panoramic view of the bustling runway where your little ones can be mesmerized by take-offs and landings. The bright interior is also dotted with model planes and other flying things that are fun for kids to point out. The everything-made-from-scratch menu is extensive with everything from “World Famous” chicken tenders with “top secret” honey mustard to fall-off-the-bone ribs with a mango guava BBQ sauce. Check out wait times before you go (and get in a virtual line) via the no wait app they have so there can be more time enjoying the views and less time in line.

905 W. Irving Park Rd.
Online: pilot-petes.com

American Girl Cafe
If your child is permanently with doll in-tow, their mind will be blown by this cute little cafe inside the mega downtown flagship of American Girl Place. Dolls have their own “treat seats” complete with place setting and bright centerpieces. Every meal starts with welcome cinnamon buns and there are great choices for the kids — like tic-tac-toe pizza and grilled ham and cheese sticks—and yummy entrees like strawberry spinach salads — for the parents. Kids even get to take home a momento. This spot is incredibly popular with out-of-towners. Book a few months in advance if you are looking for a weekend or take advantage of less crowded weekday times.

835 N. Michigan Ave.
Online: americangirl.com


photo: Level 257

Level 257
We won’t tell if you are secretly more excited about this one then your kiddos. After all, they may only know about Pac Man because mommy or daddy told them. But they’ll soon realize how cool this chomping little yellow circle is when they get a chance to play an “old school” joystick game (and there is bowling too!). And shh…parents, you may want to come back here for a date-night sans kids to take advantage of the lounge area and craft cocktails. The dining venue is surprisingly top-notch with sushi and filet, and has a kids menu with choices for every type of kid from “blinky” to “inky.” Early evenings or Sunday brunch works well for families as the later in the evening it gets the less this place is about the kiddos.

Woodfield Mall, Unit A
Online: level257.com

House of Blues
Are you ready to rock n’ roll? Then this Marina City concert venue and restaurant is the place to be. Of course, you’d be amiss to bypass the Sunday morning Gospel brunch for a true taste of Southern cooking—chicken and waffles for the family—and live gospel music that will have your kids up and clapping between each bite of food. Tickets must be reserved through Ticketmaster and everyone needs a seat. If you call and reserve (you can’t do it online for the littles, unfortunately) kids under 5 can be seated for free. And a part of the proceeds support the arts and music for underserved youth so you can teach your kids something while you chow down.

329 N. Dearborn St.
Online: houseofblues.com




photo: Dylan’s Candy Bar

Dylan’s Candy Bar Cafe
The good ship lollipop pales in comparison to this brightly colored modern candy haven complete with a ginormous lollipop tree. Although it may be nearly impossible to dodge the candy from the get-go head into the cafe for a light meal in a sweet spot. You’ll feel like you are swirling in rainbow of delicious colors as you order a variety of snackable selections from burgers to flatbreads. If you feel like throwing dinner out the window altogether, the over-the-top desserts are a kiddos dream from dessert pizza to a 10-scoop sundae. If your kids love it and don’t want to leave, they also host birthday parties for the little ones including a candy spree through the store.


445 N. Michigan Ave.
Online: dylanscandybar.com

Hofbräuhaus Chicago
If your kids can’t sit still, no big deal, you won’t want to either once you hear the nightly live entertainment (which starts at 5 p.m.) in this lively, expansive German beer hall. Waitresses don cute little Bavarian outfits and everyone quickly befriends each other while munching on giant Bavarian pretzels (kids can also order the tinier version — pretzel bites) It’s like being transported to another country without leaving the ‘burbs. Your kids will sure to make their own comrades if you come on Tuesdays when the little ones eat free the entire day.

5500 Park Place
Online: hofbrauhauschicago.com

Rainforest Cafe
For date night you’ll want to run far away from this spot, but it’s one of those spots that every kid needs to experience…if even just once. The behemoth frog on the outside of the building is unmissable and inside is larger than life too. There is no stone left unturned when it comes to catering to kids. An expansive kid menu, various mascots and even an exploding volcano dessert that even you will secretly love. This spot is a mega-tourist destination so try popping by on a weeknight to avoid massive crowds or head out to the slightly less intense suburban locations in Gurnee or Schaumburg.

605 N. Clark St.
River North
6170 W. Grand Ave.
D121 Woodfield Mall
Online: rainforestcafe.com

Okay, your turn: Admit which themed restaurant YOUR family loves! Tell us in the Comments.

— Samantha Lande