New York City’s roster of fun theme restaurants is a mix of indie spots and big biz, but they each offer a unique dining experience for the whole family. They’re kitschy, they’re clever and they’re fun, fun, fun! From dressing like a ninja to dining with your favorite doll, the city has something for everyone. (But beware, prices can be high, and most of the food won’t be getting a Michelin star any time soon.) But—the kids will be mesmerized and you will likely have a blast, too. To get in on the action, check out our list of entertaining, interactive and yes, fun restaurants in NYC. And for more things to do with kids in New York, click here.
For General Mystical Wizardry: The Cauldron
The proprietors of The Cauldron (who also run similar spots in the UK, Ireland and Scotland) state up front that the "molecular cocktail bar and gastropub" are in no way affiliated with, or endorsed by, J.K. Rowling, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, etc. (The name, of course, is similar to a pub in the blockbuster book series.) They also name check Game of Thrones, Dune, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and more, saying, "We are but fans and geeks." So, you can expect a general mix of fantasy, but the Rowling influence is definitely felt here. (The bar specializes in mixing potions that bubble and "smoke", and you can even sign up for a class to learn how to do it yourself. You can also "check out" a magic wand that activates taps to get your brew of choice. Although no Butter Beer, apparently.) You can eat here, though. The menu is on-theme British comfort food with a "fantastical, interactive twist", with burgers, fish and chips, meat and veggie pies, etc. Be sure to make a reservation by calling 212-480-8142 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
47 Stone St.
Does your kid go nuts for chocolate and Hazelnut? Consider the Nutella Cafe near Union Square a must-visit. Go for the classic Nutella crepe, or build your own creation from a waffle, toast, and fresh fruit. Also available are Nutella gelato, Nutella sandwich cookies, and even the option to get a personalized jar of Nutella as a keepsake. The Nutella Cafe also serves coffee creations, which we have no doubt go well the the food offerings. This place is popular, but small, so expect a bit of a wait.
116 University Pl.
To Boogie Down at Brunch: Beatstro
Perhaps the most recent addition to the NYC theme restaurant scene, Beatstro is special for a few reasons. The first, (hello): it's a restaurant dedicated to celebrating hip-hop in the birthplace of the artform itself, the Bronx. (And the name? Awesome.) The second: it pays homage to the many artists that the genre spawned: breakdancers, graffiti artists, MCs, and DJs, with murals, music, and more. The brainchild of Bronx natives, Beatstro is a local effort through and through, with area businesses and artists the source of the work on the walls, the eclectic furniture, and even the selection of classic LPs from the likes of Tupac, Biggie, and other greats. The food stays true to the theme, blending dishes from Afro, Latin, and Caribbean cultures, and you can grab a seat at along the bar and see the action happen in the kitchen if you like. Offerings range from kid-friendly avocado toast, mac and cheese, and a "Boogie Down Burger", to elevated fried chicken, low country shrimp and grits, and fried green tomatoes. Check out the popular "Brunch & Beats" which has a live DJ and unlimited mimosa and sangria (for 90 minutes, people; reservations are recommended for that.)
135 Alexander Blvd.
To Travel to Victorian Times: Lillie's Victorian Establishment
There’s no shortage of atmosphere at Lillie’s, an inviting space that harkens back to Victorian times. We’re talking furnishings acquired from a Belfast mansion, stained glass from Milan and an antique marble bar. What’s on the ‘elevated American pub fare’ menu is equally appealing. Your kids will go nuts for the buttermilk pancakes (available without gluten, FYI) and you’ll love the eggs benny and guac toast. (It's also one of our favorite NYC restaurants that gets decked out for the holidays!)
249 West 49th St.
13 E. 17th St.
To Travel To 11th-Century Spain: Medieval Times
You may be shocked at how much fun you and the kids have at this over-the-top experience. A tiny corner of Lyndhurst, New Jersey has been transformed into (an admittedly cleaned-up) 11th-century Spain. A real falcon swoops over your head, horses dance, and yes, knights (specially-trained performers/stuntmen) actually joust in a sand-filled arena.
Of course, each seating section has its own knight to root for, and the chivalrous guys take a break at one point to present ladies in the audience flowers. Kids will love eating with their hands like castle-dwellers of yore, as well as the actual sparks that magically fly when swords clash during combat in the ring. If you attend for a special occasion the guest of honor can be included in the king's proclamations. Full price tickets are $62.95 for adults, and $36.95 for kids 12 and under, but Medieval Times runs regular ticket specials throughout the week and for holidays, school breaks, etc.
149 Polito Ave.
For Old School Sweets: Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
Your kids may not appreciate the nostalgic appeal of this old-fashioned soda shop but they’ll quickly learn how novel it is to perch on a stool, place an order with a friendly Farmacy “jerk” and slurp down an artisanal egg cream. Originally a pharmacy, the beloved neighborhood “Farm” has preserved its apothecary roots so this vintage vibe is unmistakable and authentic. The menu features many seasonal, locally sourced ingredients along with classic soda shop confections, like banana splits, milkshakes, root beer floats and even a cherry lime rickey!
Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
513 Henry St.
For A Spooky Good Time: Beetle House NYC
Fearless kids and teens will love the sight of Beetle Juice walking around this dark and haunting restaurant. It’s Halloween, it’s horror, and it’s a Tim Burton extravaganza. The décor is pure movie memorabilia, think Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, Alice in Wonderland, Sweeney Todd and more. And it is every bit as spooky and eerie as each movie. If you like the idea of dining next to creepy characters, then Beetle House is for you. There is a super cool cocktail menu and a set prix fixe menu for dinner that changes seasonally. The menu always includes a meat, vegetarian and vegan option and costs $30-$50 per person.
Good to know: the restaurant is very small and a reservation is required.
Beetle House NYC
306 East 6th St.
To Pet A Pooch: Barking Dog
Whether you have a pet dog or a love for cute little pups, the Barking Dog on the Upper East Side is your spot. It is a full-service restaurant with a dog-friendly atmosphere that caters to canines. Adorable dog photos cover the walls, there is a watering fountain outside for dogs to socialize with other dogs, and the vibe is relaxed and casual. If that doesn’t make you want to spend a lazy dog-filled Sunday afternoon there, perhaps the delicious breakfast menu and American classics like grilled cheese, meatloaf, mac ‘n’ cheese, ribs and burgers will.
Good to know: weekend brunch lines can be very long, try to get there as early as possible if you don’t have a reservation.
1678 Third Ave.
Upper East Side
To Dine with Doggies: Boris & Horton
If you need dogs literally in the restaurant, Boris & Horton—named for two canines, of course—is the place to go. Department of Health-approved, this cafe has a separate space for food prep, keeping things to code. The menu at this cafe includes light fare like assorted avocado toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, and lots of libations from coffee and tea to wine and bubbly. You'll also find a store stocked with toys and treats for four-legged friends, and events ranging from trivia night and bingo to adopt-a-thons. (Read our full write-up here.)
Boris & Horton
195 Avenue A
For A Purrrrr-fect Meal: Koneko
Calling all cat lovers, the Koneko is a newly opened cat café on the Lower East Side. Hailed as America’s first Japanese cat café, this bright and airy space serves delicious coffee, pastries and light bites alongside cute little kittens for adoption. The café and cats are separated by a soundproof glass wall to create quiet and calm for the cats. The “cattery” side is filled with scratch pads, cushions and of course, cats galore. You can choose to eat and observe the fun or you can bring your food into the cattery and play. Time in the cattery, which can be reserved online, costs $15 per person (limited to one hour if busy).
Good to know: The cattery closes for catnaps daily from 3-4pm and it is closed on Tuesdays. Reservations are a must.
26 Clinton St.
Lower East Side
For Action and Adventure: Ninja New York
At Ninja New York you are definitely paying for the performance when you dine in the Japanese village where waiters jump through the walls, perform magic and do card tricks while they serve your sushi. (Prepare for some fun surprises en route to your table.) Be sure to order one or two of the experiential Ninja art dishes, which feature special effects like dry ice, fire and/or knives.
Ninja New York
25 Hudson St.
For Broadway’s Finest: Ellen’s Stardust Diner
For the little Broadway lover, Ellen’s Stardust is a must. Ellen Hart, a former Miss Subway, came up with the idea to pair a 1950s-themed diner with singing wait staff, after 30 years it's still a huge hit. The wait staff are real Broadway hopefuls ("Stardusters”) that will stand atop the tables, in the balcony and more belting out your favorite show tunes. Before you know it, you and your little ones will be singing along with everything from the Lion King to Aladdin.
Expect diner fare like burgers, American cheese sandwiches and meatloaf (they also do salads) as well as classic ice cream concoctions and even special cakes like the "Frozen" or the "Wicked.”
Good to know: It is in prime out-of-towner/Broadway territory: Times Square. There is often a very long line to get in and reservations are not accepted.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
To Satisfy A Sweet Tooth: Max Brenner
Welcome to the ultimate dessert destination, complete with a café, gift shop and chocolate in syringes for true chocoholics. The restaurant’s menu includes savory options but it’s hard to fathom ordering a sandwich or salad when you are surrounded by so much chocolate. The kids’ menu has decadent bites like melting marshmallow crepes filled with gummy bears and a chocolate pizza topped with an ice cream snowball. But you may just want to share the fondue tower (complete with bananas, strawberries, chocolate chunk cookies, marshmallows, fluffy chocolate sponge cake and waffles) from the regular menu. Prepare to get messy, prepare for a major sugar rush, and prepare for a potential dentist appointment!
For A Girls’ Day Out: American Girl Café
Here's where the little ladies of New York lunch (with their dolls.) Tucked inside the newly-relocated American Girl toy store, this enchanting destination caters to little girls and their plastic BFF's. The restaurant serves brunch, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner. The adult and kid menus are both great, but the real reason you dine here is to see your little one’s face light up as the restaurant staff provides a clip-on highchair and proper place setting for their doll. Forgot your doll? No worries. You can borrow a loaner during your meal.
Good to know: Reservations are recommended.
American Girl Café
75 Rockefeller Plaza
For Tea Time: Alice’s Tea Cup
Ready to graduate from imaginary tea party to the real deal? Bring your kids to Alice’s Tea Cup for an English high tea service with a quirky Mad Hatter twist. The small and cozy café is brightly painted and decorated with lines from the Lewis Carroll tale. The menu offers sandwiches, cakes, cookies and yummy scones with clotted cream, along with a wide selection of teas, which are charmingly served on mismatched china. Little guests can order grilled cheese, PB& J, homemade graham crackers with honey and even pureed baby food for the smallest of guests. It’s definitely worth a trip down the rabbit hole!
Good to know: Alice’s Tea Cup has 2 locations: Chapter i, Chapter ii, and a Brooklyn Heights location is in the works; reservations are recommended.
Alice’s Tea Cup
102 West 73rd St.
Upper West Side
156 East 64th St.
—Danielle Krupa & Lambeth Hochwald