Who likes a night out on the town without the added expense of a sitter? Did your hand shoot up? We thought so! But no one enjoys a sit down restaurant when the only thing to play with is the salt and pepper —and, face it, the salt will get dumped out if those little hands aren’t filled with a fun pre-dinner activity. The following restaurants have taken the guesswork out of entertaining little eaters before dinner is served. From table games to onsite activities, these DC eateries guarantee a night of family fun.
Sure, most restaurants have little coloring sheets and a few waxy crayons on hand for kids to scribble on, but Bartaco takes things a step further. This neighborhood drop in with an airy feel lets kids pick out a full size(!!) coloring book—from Dora to Paw Patrol—and a handful of Crayola crayons to work with while they wait for their sesame beef tacos and seasoned corn wheels. Other standouts off the kids menu include "not spicy" guacomole and chips and a large tray filled with enough food for three kids (for just $14!).
12021 Town Square St.
2920 District Ave.
Fairfax, VA 22031
Pinstripes is a unique dining and entertainment venue that provides “sophisticated fun” through their events areas for parties (birthday, wedding, anniversary, corporate), Italian American bistro cuisine, weekend live blues and jazz, wine dinners, clubs and leagues, and mom and tot play dates. They serve strikingly good food alongside ongoing bowling and bocce sessions during the day and at night.
1064 Wisconsin Ave. NW
With vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, everyone can eat happily at Firefly! The kids’ menu includes universal crowd-pleasers like PB&J, mac ‘n cheese, meatballs with buttered noodles, and chicken nuggets. And the piece de resistance? Every child gets a cookie to decorate—and eat after they’ve finished their dinner, of course.
1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW
H Street Country Club
Boasting an indoor mini golf course, skeeball, shuffleboard tables, and a giant Jenga game, don’t blame us if your kiddos claim not to be hungry by the time their meal arrives. Tempt them back to the table with a plate full of tacos (and those freshly-made corn tortillas) or, if you’re desperate, brownies with ice cream.
1335 H St. NE
Tots in the know (information is power in this town, even among the pint-sized) head to the Capitol Hill location and ask for a look in the toybox. They get their pick of one to borrow while parents wait for some comfort food and maybe one of the diner's famed adult milkshakes. Our source at the Ted's Bulletin location in Fairfax tells us they also have a worth-a-look toybox. At any of the restaurant's locations, drooling over the mouth-watering homemade poptarts and other tasty treats in the bakery cases up front is another way to easily kill five minutes of your wait time.
505 8th St. SE
1818 14th St. NW
2911 District Ave.
The 21-and-over crowd may rule 18th Street in Adams Morgan after dark, but come weekend mornings, it’s the stroller set that packs this neighborhood mainstay. And they know their audience. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, The Diner starts playing cartoons on the big screen around 6 a.m. and kids are welcome to come to breakfast in their pjs. Oh, and there's also the impromptu story times.
2453 18th St. NW
A Mexican food spin on the pizza-dough-as-Play-Doh, Cactus Cantina offers hungry pint-sized customers a mound of tortilla dough for them to poke, squish, and roll until hangry mode passes—or until their delicious tacos, nachos, or the cheesiest of quesadillas arrive. Make sure you walk them over to the tortilla pressing machine so they can see how those chewy discs of masa goodness arrive on their plates.
3300 Wisconsin Ave.
When your little ones bug you to go to Franklin's it's not usually because of the yummy grub (which it is). It's the general store-meets-toy store that's part of the restaurant. If you can withstand the barrage of "Please can I get this? Please can I get this?" there's no better way to pass the time than the toy store, which recently expanded, doubling in size to accommodate even more toys, games, candy, gifts, trinkets and other goodies. Neighborhood parents also know that the general store boasts a vast selection of beer and wine for carry-out sale, unusual in Maryland.
5121 Baltimore Ave.
If you're planning a quicky road trip to Baltimore anytime soon, add this to your list of hot spots. In addition to AMAZING chow, the restaurant pays special attention to it's littlest diners, starting with an elevated kids menu that includes things like waffles with peach compote. After ordering, don't stress about pulling out while-you-wait toys--each kid gets house-made K-dough to play with.
2010 Clipper Park Rd.
You and your family have probably long loved the wood-fired pizzas at Pizzeria Paradiso’s three DMV locations. But did you know that they also have open kitchens where little ones can ooh and ahh at their pizzas being made. You might learn a thing or two yourself about pizza perfection.
3282 M St. NW
2003 P St. NW
124 King St.
4800 Rhode Island Ave.
Comet Ping Pong
The pizza is great at this neighborhood pie joint, but arguably the ping pong tables are even better—especially when they distract hangry toddlers! Older kids will like “searching” for the bathrooms, which are hidden behind secret panels. Everyone will love the pizza (with vegan and gluten-free options), and Mom and Dad (and adventurous tykes) should save room for the wood-roasted spaghetti squash, cauliflower, and beets. Or the Tin Roof Sundae. Or both—we won’t tell.
5037 Connecticut Ave. NW
Uno Pizzeria and Grill
We know, we know—more pizza (but is that a bad thing??). With craft beer for Mom and Dad and their Chicago-inspired deep dish for everyone, we always love us some Uno Pizzeria. Be sure to ask your waiter for some pizza dough for the kiddos to play with—just like Play-Doh, but not quite as eyebrow-raising if they “accidentally” eat some of that abstract dinosaur sculpture.
50 Mass. Ave. NE
3058 Gatehouse Plz.
Falls Church, VA
Wildfire’s kids’ menu is always delicious (with options ranging from mac ‘n cheese to grilled salmon with broccoli—you can always dream, right?) and accompanied by apple sauce and juice or milk—but we especially love their seasonal activities. Make time for their fall pumpkin carving party, or their wintertime breakfast with Santa.
2001 International Dr.
—Ayren Jackson-Cannady and Katie Brown
featured photo: Kids & Company via Yelp