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Restaurant dining is often a comedy of errors when you’ve got tots in tow, but a night out with your kids—whether they’re babies, toddlers or tweens—doesn’t have to be a stressful exercise. In fact, most restaurants in The Mile High City — even those that are hoity-toity — welcome sticky fingers, strollers and picky eaters. Here, our top recommendations for destinations that satisfy the food and activity cravings of your entire brood. 

The Inventing Room Dessert Shop

There’s always something fantastically wacky and wonderful to try at this bewitching West Highland dessert emporium from Ian Kleinman, a molecular magician and science lab conjurer who schooled Denver in crazy-cool things like Twizzler space foam, exploding whipped cream, spun sugar, candy corn powder, clouds of smoke and pomegranate fizz pop-rocks — tricks that reach way beyond Willy Wonka’s fictional candy factory. Reserved tickets, available on the Inventing Room website, are required to enter the dessert wonderland, which plays host to themed cooking demonstrations and small group tasting tours that commence in a bounty of sweet and savory treats that will blow your mind. 

Game Lounge

If besting your competitors is your jam, then Game Lounge is your bread. Rocking a retro vibe crossed with a relaxed atmosphere, this cozy Park Hill hangout is a temple of endless games for the entire family. There are hundreds of pursuits from which to choose: Candyland and Snakes & Ladders; Crazy Cats and Pirate’s Blast; Operation and the Harry Potter edition of Clue; Pandemic and Apples to Apples; Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit. Independent of age (or maturity level), there’s no risk of boredom here, which means even the most restless toddlers won’t fidget — at least until the hunger pains set in, but Game Lounge covers those, too. Flag down a server and treat the kids to macaroni and cheese, pork tacos, brisket sliders or salmon fish and chips.   

Chook Chicken

Chook, with a trio of locations scattered across the city, including its flagship Platt Park storefront, is a come-as-you-are fortress of fowl that pleases parents and kids alike with its crème de la cluck. Here, parents can sip a glass of wine and share a splendid charcoal-smoked whole chicken and a chopped salad, while the kids crunch through rotisserie chicken sliders, falafel sided with tzatziki sauce or elevated macaroni and cheese bathed in a creamy white cheddar sauce. 

Annette

Named one of "Bon Appetit’s" Best New Restaurants of 2017, Aurora-based Annette embodies everything you could possibly want from a dining experience: an elevated casual vibe, fresh ingredients that are never manipulated, exhilarating flavor combinations (beef tongue with pickled carrot relish; pork schnitzel drizzled with adobo vinaigrette; pork tenderloin and tetra squash), a wood-burning grill that permeates the air with perfumed smoke and a small but enormously satisfying wine scroll. But owner/chef Caroline Glover’s restaurant is also a place where the enormous satisfaction trickles down to youngsters who go bombastic for the cheeseburger, served on a housemade English muffin, the peanut butter and scratch-made jam sandwich and handmade sodas.  The dining room is more suited to adults, but families congregate on the patio and inside Annette’s cozy yurt and greenhouses. In a neighborhood starved for style, substance and honest, reflective cooking, Annette is a brilliant destination for the whole brood. 

The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa by Marriott

The Brown Palace, the grand dame of downtown Denver hotels, is elegant, prim and proper, expensive and, at first glimpse, the last place you’d ever think of taking your children. Still, there’s something wonderfully fetching about getting your kids all fancified in their frilly dresses or pressed suits and taking them to the hotel’s afternoon tea, a glorious affair that your kids likely won’t forget. The swanky signature spread grandstands tiered china splayed with handmade pastries, scones with jam and Devonshire cream and dignified finger sandwiches, all of which is accompanied by a pot of loose-leaf tea. For the ultimate experience, splurge on the Royal Palace, which includes a decadent truffle, a kir royale for adults and a non-alcoholic glass of bubbles for the regal young prince or princess. 

Sam’s No. 3

French toast and pancakes are always an easy sell, as are hamburgers and chicken strips, which is why you’ll find a parade of kids and adults at Sam’s No. 3, a kitschy downtown Denver diner with old-school charm and an old-school menu that dates back to 1927, the same year Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris, resulting in the first solo transatlantic flight. You can school your kids on that slice of history while they enthusiastically crush their Mickey Mouse-shaped pancake, syrup-soaked French toast or cheeseburger from the kids’ menu, a lengthy roster that includes juice, milk, chocolate milk or a soda with each dish. And if your kids haven’t scribbled on the walls since their last timeout, treat them to a wedge of cherry pie. While Sam’s is about as kid-kind as it gets, adults aren’t left out in the cold: Enticing bloody marys, beer, wine and a half-dozen different mimosas come quickly, as do huge plates of biscuits and gravy, seam-busting breakfast burritos and hearty salads and sandwiches. 

Avanti Food & Beverage

This high-energy food hall in Lower Highland (LoHi) shelters a collection of self-contained shipping containers, each of which is a mini restaurant. Families can feast from a world-spanning variety of cuisines—everything from Venezuelan arepas and leopard-spotted Neapolitan-style pizzas to Asian noodle dishes and pudgy burgers—and relish their feast at a communal table or in the lounge on the main level, or at an upstairs community space. While the youngins swell their bellies, parents can enjoy a cocktail, glass of wine or craft beer from one of two bars, including the brilliant rooftop terrace, one of the city’s best perches to snap Insta-worthy photos of the beautiful downtown Denver skyline. 

Denver Central Market

A veritable one-stop dining experience, this 12,000-square-foot gastohall located in the hip River North Art District (RiNo) ballyhoos 11 restaurants dispensing a variety of terrific creations: charcuterie-and-cheese plates, creative pastas and wood-fired pizzas, hand-crafted chocolates, sugar-studded pastries and stellar seafood dishes. Outfitted with an ice cream shop, coffeehouse, butcher shop, fish counter and centerpiece bar that pours progressive cocktails (and mocktails), the enterprising market appeases every age group and culinary persuasion. Each of the vendors has its own seating area, but the communal dining space is where everyone seems to congregate; there’s a big-screen TV, too, that showcases sporting events.

Punch Bowl Social

Occupying a corner parcel in the hipster-soaked Baker neighborhood, this behemoth, bi-level eatery and indoor fun factory plays up activities for all ages: wall-size Scrabble, a giant foosball table, Ping-Pong, shuffleboard, bowling alleys, a photo booth and cotton candy machine, private karaoke rooms and vintage arcade and pinball games. Check out the shareable punches (also available as alcohol-free libations), creative milkshakes and the notable dishes from culinary wizard Christopher Cina, whose menu is stamped with temptations like chicken and waffles, steak frites, nachos and an all-American double cheeseburger with all the fixings and fries. 

Ace Eat Serve

Neither kids nor adults can get enough of Ace Eat Serve, an Uptown powerhouse of playtime providing fun-filled afternoons and evenings, coupled with a wicked-good Pan-Asian menu that unleashes crisp-skinned Peking duck, soup dumplings, curried mussels and pork-studded potstickers. The Korean-influenced chicken wings are unassailable, and the crispy beef and broccoli is the kind of dish that everyone can agree on. Bonus: All of the kid-only plates arrive with a complimentary order of doughnut holes sprinkled with five-spice sugar. The food will undoubtedly keep the little ones happy, and the collection of Ping-Pong tables, including several on the expansive (and heated) patio, probably means that they won’t want to leave. 

Homegrown Tap & Dough

A favorite on Old South Gaylord Street, the bustling nucleus of the stately Washington Park neighborhood, Homegrown Tap & Dough is one of those rare restaurants that deftly bridges the gap between cool and casual, making it an ideal destination for young families tempted by craft beer and the scent of pizzas, which emerge blistered and charred from the embers in the wood-fired oven. Kids also love the pepperoni rolls dusted with Parmesan, the fried spheres of housemade mozzarella and the meatball sliders. If you manage to snag a table outside, you can let your little ones loose to try their luck in the retro arcade game room that squats next to a courtyard that’s usually a riot of kids and their parents playing corn hole. If you find yourself roaming around Olde Town Arvada—another neighborhood that caters to families—you can grab lunch or dinner at the second outpost of Homegrown Tap & Dough

BIKER JIM’S GOURMET DOGS

From the super-cool industrial vibe to the plentiful portions, Biker Jim’s personifies just about everything that a kid could ever want in a restaurant. Hot dogs are the primary draw here, and while most lean toward exotic game meats (think ostrich, rabbit, reindeer and rattlesnake), little ones can opt for the mac-and-cheese dog or all-beef dog, naked or wrapped in bacon. Founder Jim Pittenger—Colorado’s undisputed sausage czar—plays well with others, and he’s got the whole kid thing dialed in, also offering fried macaroni and cheese sticks, housemade fries, cookies, milkshakes and brownie ice cream sandwiches. Parents can linger over a cocktail or local beer while indulging in the fantastic elk-jalapeno-cheddar dog squiggled with cream cheese and draped with onions soaked in Coca-Cola. Its location — just a few blocks from Coors Field — also makes it a popular game day destination. Then again, if you happen to be at a Colorado Rockies baseball game, you’ll find a Biker Jim’s outpost there. The menu is an abbreviated version, but anything you order results in a home run.  

 

By Lori Midson