From PAC-MAN-themed dining to pizza scones, the eclectic offerings at new restaurants in and around Chicago are the stuff of kids’ dreams. But there’s plenty for you too, parents. Especially if you’re into bocce, arcade games and offbeat meatballs. Read on for the scoop on six new restaurants the whole family will love.
photo: Scone City / Galdones Photography
Let’s cut right to the chase: You don’t come to a bakery called Scone City looking for oatmeal. No, you come here expecting a wonderland of scones, from sweet and savory varieties to the downright wacky. This sunny slice of Wicker Park bakery real estate features the buttery handiwork of pastry chef Laurie McNamara. Adults might be interested in the afternoon tea scone made with currants and Lady Gray tea icing, or the Brie and honey scone. But kids will go gaga over one-of-a-kind creations like the hot dog scones and pizza scones, which are pretty much exactly what they sound like — hot dogs and pizza ensconced in butter-rich dough for optimal handheld snacking. Located in a space that was a dairy barn about 100 years ago, the bakeshop is comfy and rustic, outfitted with reclaimed oak plank flooring, brick walls, and a lofted, plush seating area perfect for scone snuggling.
1632 W. Division St.
photo: Pinstripes / Becky Brown Photography
With family-friendly venues in Northbrook, South Barrington and Oak Brook, Pinstripes has already cemented itself as a go-to destination for Italian-accented food with a side of frivolity. And by frivolity, we mean activities that involve hurling balls down various lanes. In the case of Pinstripes’ first city location, housed in a massive warehouse space along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan in Streeterville, said activities are bowling and bocce, interactive group games for the young and old alike. In between strikes, you can snag bites of wood-fired pizza, fresh pastas, braised beef short ribs, desserts and more. The enormous space is dotted with a miscellany of cozy nooks and crannies, allowing families to be as private or as open as they like. Sleek, modern bowling lanes share space with indoor and outdoor bocce courts, along with an incredible riverside patio area complete with fireplace, blankets and chairs.
435 E. Illinois St.
photo: Level 257
It’s not every day PAC-MAN gets his own restaurant. Which is weird, since he’s always eating those alien things in the video game and he’s clearly a foodie. Level 257 is a dining and entertainment complex like no other, newly opened in Schaumburg. The only restaurant owned by NAMCO Entertainment, Inc., Level 257 allows guests to get up close and personal with the arcade gaming experience while enjoying a wholly unique meal. The kids’ menu contains hand-breaded chicken tenders, cheeseburgers, pepperoni pizza, mac & cheese, linguini and meatballs, seared trout in lemon butter sauce, and more. Adults get their own multifaceted menu options, from Italian gnocchi and steak tartare to turkey banh mi sandwiches and grilled salmon salad. In between bites, kids can peruse the PAC-packed gift shop or explore the gaming lounge laden with more than 70 retro and modern games. There’s also bowling, pinball, air hockey and other family-friendly options — including a four-player PAC-MAN Battle Royale game.
2 Woodfield Mall, Unit A
photo: Velvet Taco
Kids and tacos go together like chips and guac. The latest addition to Chicago’s Gold Coast is a family-friendly affair, an import from Texas called Velvet Taco. This vibrant, lively restaurant gets crafty with their tacos, though, drawing inspiration from across the globe for kid-appealing items like buffalo chicken tacos, bacon burger tacos, and even a “Chicago Haute Dog” taco with pork belly, pickles, chilies, mustard, tomato, red onion, poppy seed, celery salt and NO ketchup, you hear? There’s also tater tots topped with egg and cheese, which is catnip for youngsters. The bi-level counter-service restaurant recalls an urban loft vibe, casual and bustling with communal tables and an open kitchen so guests can spy on the culinary action. While adults nurse their margaritas, kids have locally sourced sodas to slurp.
1110 N. State St.
photo: Mondo Meatball
Whether sandwiched between burger buns or layered in a lasagna, children love ground beef. This is especially true when that beef is rolled into dainty and adorable meatballs and served up in a variety of exciting new ways. Globally inspired meatballs take the plate at Wicker Park’s new Mondo Meatball, Chicago’s first standalone meatball restaurant, with six kinds of meatballs on hand each day. There’s Mrs C’s classic beef, chick’n bacon, spicy pork, veggie and gluten-free, turkey, and the rotating ball of the day. Each ball can be served as a bowl, a sub, a roll, a salad, as sliders, or as the “Full Mondo” with three balls and a side dish. Accompanying sauce options, from a summer red sauce to an herbaceous pesto, zesty Dijonnaise, “guac-acado” or four-cheese. For dessert, there’s Italian cookies and Black Dog Gelato. Basically, this place has it all. The interior echoes the internationally inspired menu, with a flat-screen TV tuned to soccer and a communal vibe anchored by a 12-foot-long dining table.
1467 N. Milwaukee Ave.
photo: Paula’s Cafe
Do you not have an Italian nonna of your own, but always wish you had? Paula’s Cafe in Franklin Park is here to hug your soul and fill that pasta-shaped void. The quaint new lunch and dinner restaurant feels like grandma’s house, welcoming and warm, with a focus on Italian comfort food. It recalls the type of red sauce Italian restaurants of yore, the type bustling with the convivial din of strangers rubbing elbows and matriarchal characters slapping people on the shoulder. Bring the family and tuck into hulking portions of fried meatballs, breaded steak sandwiches, eggplant Parm, potato gnocchi and oodles more.
9400 W. Grand Ave.
What is your favorite place to take the fam out for dinner? Shout about it in the Comments!
— Matt Kirouac