Eating out with the kids doesn’t have to be a drag. There are some amazing themed restaurants around Los Angeles and they’re as big a feast for the eyes as they are for the tummies. We’ve searched high and low for the best of the best from pirate themed dinner adventures to magic filled brunches—it’s like a chose your own adventure, only you get to eat too. Check ‘em out below and don’t blame us if dining out becomes your family’s new favorite pasttime.
The Proud Bird
Part aviation museum, part food court, the Proud Bird is a historic spot that every Angeleno should visit at least once. Outside, check out the fiberglass replicas of famous planes then learn about the past, present and future of aviation inside the museum. After you've worked up an appetite, head in to the self-serve food court featuring six kitchens dishing out around-the world fare. Try Asian inspired fried rice, a pulled pork sandwich, or a hot from the oven pizza. Sit inside, or enjoy the open air patio. Either one will give you great views of the replica planes and other aviation memorabilia.
Even if you're not coming or going to LAX, the Proud Bird is a great pit stop for families of all ages, or anyone that just really loves airplanes. Read Red Tricycle's full review of The Proud Bird here.
Insider Tip: If you’re not feeling a sit down dinner, you can swing by the In-and-Out on Sepulveda. While it’s not airplane themed, you can eat car side and still see the planes flying overhead.
11022 Aviation Blvd.
Eleven City Diner
Eleven City Diner is the newest addition to the Miracle Mile and once you step inside its doors, you'll feel like you're back in an old school 1950s New York deli. These guys do it all—they roast their own meats, bake their own pies, and braid their own challah bread. And the smell? Heavenly. Get yourself a big bowl of matzo ball soup or a corned beef sandwich piled high. And for those who just can't get enough of morning grub, breakfast is served all day. Plus, there's an excellent a la carte section that's perfect for smaller diners who just can't make a decision. The whole family will love watching the authentic soda jerk behind the counter tables make vanilla malts, strawberry phosphates, and cherry cokes.
Insider Tip: If things seem a little busy, put in a to go order. You can still look around and soak in the vibe, or even enjoy a shake at the counter while you wait.
5400 Wilshire Blvd.
American Girl Cafe
Get ready to step into the land of dolls—American Girl dolls that is. Everyone that has or wants one of these dolls is going to want a chance to eat at this oh-so-cute cafe. Browse outfits and accessories downstairs, then head upstairs for brunch, lunch, tea, or dinner. But the tea is the true star. Eat dainty tea sandwiches and sip tea from real cups and saucers—pinkies up! Your doll is graciously invited as well. There will be a place set just for her with a high chair and mini place settings.
Insider Tip: Make reservations. While walk-ins are welcomed, this place can get packed with birthday parties and other special events.
189 The Grove Dr.
Old school video games are at the center of entertainment at Button Mash. Think: PacMan, Street Fighter, Donkey Kong, Moon Walker, a dozen or so pinball machines. And yes, the adults might be just as excited as the kids to get their hands on these machines. Got shorty kids that can't reach the controls? There are step stools available for the vertically challenged.
The set up is easy—play the games via a provided card to swipe each game and the cost is put on your bill. No need for tokens or a bags of quarters. Don't forget to eat though! The asian fusion menu has must-haves like crispy tofu balls, spam fried rice, and dan dan noodles. And definitely save room for dessert because the five spice apple fritters and brick toast are not to be missed.
Video games are known to switch up regularly, so fans of Button Mash always have something new to play. Currently on offer? Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy pin ball machines.
Insider Tip: Button Mash is all ages until 9 p.m., so go early to get your game on.
1391 Sunset Blvd.
Hear ye, hear ye: There's a reason Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament has been around for 35 years. It's got everything kids love: Animals (horses!), competition (jousting!), and simple food (that you eat with your hands, no less!). New for this year, the king who has ruled over the tournament since the show's inception has been replaced by... A queen! In our opinion, this just makes the show better since it will woo young girls who may have been turned off by the otherwise completely-male cast.
Does your little one like horses? Swords? Screaming as loud as she can for the sake of fun? Perfect. The rollicking, two-hour "tournament" showcases knights on horseback competing in a variety of Medieval competitions, all of which will have your dining section proudly cheering on its assigned team. The sparsely intertwined dialogue is a little hard to understand at times—but who cares! There are knights on horseback! With weapons! That, and you'll be slightly distracted by the four-course meal served on metal plates, without utensils while you spectate. The food is better than you might expect, though when all is said and done, most rave reviews will still be for the knights.
Note: The tournament culminates in a final knight-against-knight battle that'll have your kids riveted. This means, of course, that there are tons of choreographed battle scenes involving swords, flails, and axes, so if you don't like the idea of your kids watching actors get knocked to the ground by props, you may want to give the show a pass. In our opinion, the final scenes were the most fun (and this writer's 6 and 8-year-old boys we unfazed by the battles).
Expect to be inundated with opportunities to open your wallet, because opportunity awaits from the get-go, whether they be photo ops and souvenir cups or light-up swords and dragon claw necklaces. There's even a Knights Templar suit of armor for $3,800 and a full armory of metal swords that cost upwards of $125, so, yeah: Everything is for sale. Our advice: Be ready to channel your inner "No" voice unless you're up for a full-on, spoil-the-kids "knight out." That said, the $5 Medieval Times flag is worth getting since your kids will be excitedly waving it nearly the entire show. And, as for whether you need the "VIP seating package," remember every spot in the 1,100-seat arena offers a fantastic view of the show.
If you are in Buena Park, find out all the other fun ways to hang in this entertaining SoCal city.
7662 Beach Blvd.
The Magic Castle
Little magicians will love everything about this place, from their first steps inside (through a secret door behind the bookcase) to the roster of magical performances they can see during their visit (there's a show every 45 minutes!). The first trick? Getting in. Sadly, you have to be a member or be invited by a member, to be admitted into the castle. But, this is LA, where everyone knows someone who knows someone! And up-and-coming magicians are usually more than happy to fill the seats to their shows. So ask around and we bet you have a friend who has a magician's number in their phone. You can also make a weekend of it: Guests of the next-door Magic Castle Hotel get an automatic pass to the Castle.
Dinner at the Castle is offered nightly, but for the sake of your kids' bedtime, we recommend going for the Sunday brunch, which offers a slew of kid-friendly faves including chicken tenders, grilled cheese, waffles and French fries. Of course, no magic is needed to get the kids to finish dessert, a sugary buffet that includes a self-serve ice cream station and trays of sweets. Once you've eaten, you can head down for the show and/or explore the nooks and crannies of the place. Don't miss out on the ghostly piano player, which takes requests.
Note: Your meal includes a ticket to the main stage show, which is the biggest and most extravagant of the shows, but hang around for more; there are two other stages where smaller close-up magic acts take place. If your kids are lucky, they'll be chosen as magician's assistants (sitting in the first few rows helps). And FYI: The dress code is strictly enforced. If your attire is not up to snuff, you'll be asked to change.
Read Red Tricycle's review of brunch at the Magic Castle.
7001 Franklin Ave.
Once you sell your kids on the idea that you're going to Downtown Disney without actually going to Disneyland (Shhh, don't tell them it's JUST RIGHT THERE!), they'll have too much to look at to protest. Huge elephants loom against the wall, a giant snake lurks in the vines above, a giant gorilla huffs and puffs at passersby. There are trickling waterfalls, a forest of trees, and a walk-through fish tank that'll, at the least, keep your kids mesmerized while you wait for your table. Don't be surprised when the lights dim for periodic thunderstorms—don't worry; nobody gets wet. Oh, and make sure kids see the bar counter chairs, which are designed to look like various animal butts (sorry, but it's just cute not to mention).
As for the food: Expect large portions of (somewhat overpriced) all-American specialties including hefty burgers loaded with toppings, cheese-and-salsa topped nachos, fried shrimp, and mashed potatoes, etc...with a kids menu supplying the usual staples like mac 'n cheese, grilled cheese, burgers, and pizza. Of course, there's a store, where you can shell out a few more bucks so your kid can have some Rainforest swag.
Hint: Make sure to get your parking ticket validated; spending more than $20 at any Downtown Disney table-service restaurant gets you five hours of free parking. Also, since this place is almost always crowded, it's best to make a reservation by calling ahead of time. Online reservations can only be made for breakfast or lunch; to make reservations for dinner, call (714) 772-0413.
Not going to Anaheim anytime soon? There's also a Rainforest Cafe at Ontario Mills.1515 S Disneyland Dr. (inside Downtown Disney)
When you walk into the four-story Clifton's Cafeteria, a quirky downtown eatery that's been serving up randomness (and food) for more than 80 years, you and your kids won't know what to do first. Do you want to marvel at the collection of taxidermy animals and hidden dioramas spread throughout the space? Check out the actual billion-year-old meteorite perched on the third-floor bar? Stand at the foot of the giant replica redwood tree that stretches up through the whole building? There's a reason that Clifton's is called a "Cabinet of Curiosities," and we'd guess it has something to do with the fact that you'd be hard-pressed to find all that's hidden in all these crazy nooks and crannies. Of course, you can try (Hint: Let your kids find the cave), and that's what keeps people coming back again and again.
But first you should eat. Clifton's is (perhaps secondarily) a restaurant, after all. And the massive ("World's largest!") cafeteria on its first floor offers enough eats to satisfy everyone in your brood — from hot dogs and pizza to prime rib and roast beef, plus classic cafeteria desserts like lemon meringue pie and fifth-grade-style jello cups. Your tray will be filled. Just saying.
Once you get your grub, head up to the third floor and seat yourself down at a table beneath the majestic taxidermy lion, who stands, stuffed and ready to (not) pounce. Once your bellies are full, it's time to explore. You'll notice that the whole restaurant is done up in a woodlands forest theme, with trees both painted on the walls and sprouting from the ground alongside rocks, boulders, and shrubbery. If it all feels a bit like Disneyland, there's a reason for that: The place was reportedly a favorite of Walt Disney's when it opened in the 1930s. And, according to Clifton's website, the dining hall was the "original fantasy environment that helped inspire Walt Disney to create Disneyland nearly two decades later."
Read Red Tricycle's full review of Clifton's.
648 S. Broadway
PIrate's Dinner Adventure
In case you haven't noticed, Orange County has a thing for themed restaurants. Located practically RIGHT NEXT DOOR to Medieval Times (because if you like one, you're bound to like the other, right?), the Pirate's Dinner Adventure sets out to entertain little seafarers with a swashbuckling dinner show that kids will love, especially if they're fans of Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, or the Neverland Pirates. Your kids will be sold the moment they walk into the main arena and see the stage, a massive pirate ship set that makes the whole place feel small in comparison. Of course, the journey (and spending opportunities) begin way before the theater doors open. Get there 90 minutes early to enjoy a selection of free appetizers which include fried zucchini, fried corn cakes, and other fried stuff that kids will love and you'll love for the sake of it being free. Then, about 30 minutes before showtime, there's the Pirate's "Pre-Show," which gets everyone warmed up to the story (someone is kidnapped!) and ends with a pirate-led walk into the theater.
The show itself is a mixture of choreographed sword battles, short songs, silly pirate banter (including at least two cues for the audience to raise their mugs and "Drink! Drink!"), and circus-style performances including two aerial silk acts and a trampoline bit that'll make kids wish they could go up on stage and jump around. There's also a whole lot of fighting, though we found it harmless enough, and even kids will be able to see that the stage fights are, well, staged (many of the "hits" were noticeably a few inches off). The story is a bit hard to follow: The princess has been kidnapped! But wait, she's in love with a pirate! And oh, there's the Loch Ness Monster! It's, honestly, a bit all over the place, but your kids will be riveted just the same.
Like Medieval Times, everyone gets a pirate to root for, which gives kids a vested interest in paying attention (and makes the whole thing a lot more fun). So wear your team bandana proudly, Mom and Dad!. If your kids are lucky, they may even get a chance to go on stage; about 30 kids in total are called up at various parts throughout the show. Bring a zoom lens: Your little pirates might be taken backstage, dressed in adorable costumes, then brought back on stage far from where you're sitting. And you'll want pictures. Trust us.
As for the food, which (like Medieval Times) is included in the ticket price: It's good for what it is. Just keep in mind you're here to be wowed by the pirates; not the potatoes. Your meal starts with a choice of soup or salad; entrees include roasted chicken with shrimp and vegetable skewers, mashed potatoes and mixed veggies. Kids meals include chicken nuggets with mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and fruit. Cake is the dessert (and our kids literally licked their plates). Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free meals are available.
Note: We think the show is appropriate for kids over 5, though sensitive kids or those who don't like loud noises may get scared at the cannon blasts and the appearance of a sea monster toward the end of the show.
If you are in Buena Park, find out all the other fun ways to hang in this entertaining SoCal city.
7600 Beach Blvd.
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie—not only is it amore, it's probably because you're at Micele's, one of Hollywood's oldest Italian joints. These guys serve up pipping hot pizzas, fresh made pastas, and gigantic melt in your mouth meatballs all on old school red and white checkered table clothes.
If you happen to order a bottle of chianti for the table, you'll get to sign it and have it hung up with the rest of them. Just look up to see the hundreds of bottles hanging along the ceiling. But the highlight has to be the entertainment. Be sure to get a seat near the piano player who not only takes requests but sings too. And don't be surprised if your waitress walks over to get in on the musical action.
Insider Tip: The servings are huge, so think about sharing and don't forget to save room for dessert like fresh baked cannoli and spumoni ice cream. Parking is free with validation, a big plus on a crowded night in Hollywood.
1646 N Las Palmas Ave.
Feature image: Andie Huber
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—Melissa Heckscher & Christina Fiedler