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We get it: Eating out is often a comedy of errors when you’ve got tots in tow. But dining out with your kids—whether they’re babies, toddlers or tweens—doesn’t have to be a stressful endeavor. In fact, most restaurants in The Mile High City feature family-friendly atmospheres—and menus—to satisfy adults and kids. These restaurants, in particular, are kid-tested and parent-approved.
PUNCH BOWL SOCIAL
Smack-dab in the heart of the lively Baker neighborhood, Punch Bowl Social, a behemoth, bi-level eatery and indoor playground, features activities for all ages: wall-size Scrabble, a giant foosball table, Ping-Pong, Skee Ball, 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), decadent milkshakes and the notable dishes from culinary partner and celebrity chef Hugh Acheson, whose menu is stamped with temptations like the banana almond butter sandwich, black-eyed pea hummus, crustless bologna sandwich and the cheeseburger, a grass-fed, hormone-free beef patty with all the fixings.
ACE EAT SERVE
Neither kids nor adults can get enough of Ace Eat Serve, an Uptown powerhouse of playtime that provides fun-filled afternoons and evenings, coupled with a Pan-Asian-inspired menu that unleashes addictive bao stuffed with peanut butter and jelly, short ribs, mushrooms or pork. The award-winning chicken wings are unassailable, too, as are the wok-tossed rice noodles. Bonus: All of the kid-only plates are elevated with sticky rice, steamed vegetables, fresh fruit and a free dessert of shaved ice. The food will undoubtedly keep the little ones happy, and the eleven Ping-Pong tables, including several on the expansive (and heated) patio, likely means that they won’t want to leave.
FOUR FRIENDS KITCHEN
Like its name implies, this convivial venture was created by four friends residing in the up-and-coming urban-suburban Central Park ‘hood who wanted to give the community a Southern-imprinted breakfast, lunch and brunch hangout with kid-friendly perks: retro Etch A Sketches, for example, which provide amusement (especially if your drawing skills are limited to stickmen) while you wait for a table, a certainty on the weekends when the dining room and rooftop deck are immensely popular destinations. Still, the queues are worth it for the euphoric beignets powdered with sugar and paired with crème anglaise and wild berry preserves. There’s not a kid (or parent) in the universe that isn’t bewitched by the fragrant marvels. The same can be said of the smoked brisket hash, pimento cheese dip matched with housemade kettle chips sprinkled with barbecue spices and deliriously creamy macaroni and cheese studded with bacon. Kids ten and under can also choose from a “Little Britches” menu that trumpets chocolate chip flapjacks, creamy grits with fresh fruit, a classic breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon and potatoes and buttermilk waffle triangles with peanut butter and jelly—all priced at just $5.50. If you’re a parent who needs a morning pick-me-up, the bloody Mary is your siren song.
CHOP SHOP CASUAL URBAN EATERY
There are two locations—one in Park Hill, the other in Lowry—of this fine-casual, chef-driven restaurant that’s overseen by Clint Wangsnes, a talented kitchen magician who designed both Chop Shop spaces to minimize the length of mealtime while maximizing his terrific food repertoire to ensure that the kids’ menu is as much of a treat as Mom and Dad’s. Sure, there’s a cheeseburger, but it’s anything but ordinary, and the housemade, all-natural corn dog, served with mashed potatoes, might make parents beg for one of their own. Grilled steak and chicken, macaroni and cheese, crispy-fried tofu and chicken fingers round out the kids’ board, while parents can opt for slow-cooked short ribs with grilled baby carrots, salmon pad thai, a French dip or fried rice with shrimp and duck confit. Man, woman and child, take note: The French onion soup is pure bliss.
Board Game Republic
While Board Game Republic, a newcomer to the Art District on Santa Fe ‘hood, is a spot that pours pints and cocktails, it’s also Denver’s first (and only) bona fide café and pub dedicated to board games—more than 700 of them, shelved by category along a long (and well-organized) wall. Want to test your surgical skills? There’s Operation. Interested in purchasing Park Avenue? Go straight for the Monopoly board. Are you a fan of mythology? The Hobbit is your muse. Rock'em Sock'em Robots? Game on. There’s a flat fee of $5 per person for unlimited playtime, but drinks are cheap and everything on the kids’ menu—grilled cheese with corn chips, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes or macaroni and cheese or a grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich—is just $6. And if your kids beat you at Battleship, reward them with a mini crepe with strawberries, whipped cream and Nutella or a milkshake with a cherry on top.
Olive & Finch
A day strolling through the shops in Cherry Creek isn’t complete without breakfast, lunch or dinner at Olive & Finch, chef-owner Mary Nguyen’s all-day restaurant and bakery that supplies kiddos with their own menu, every dish of which is just $5. Morning glories include a healthy lemon-poppy seed quinoa pancake plated with bacon and fruit, while the lunch and dinner syllabus showcases a grilled mozzarella and cheddar cheese sandwich with kettle chips and fruit, or the house-roasted chicken matched with roasted vegetables and fruit. While parents converse over a bottle of wine, kids can order a delicious fresh-pressed juice from the juice bar.
TAG Burger Bar
TAG Burger Bar, perched in the already kid-centric Congress Park neighborhood, is a communal gathering place for all generations. Slide into a booth in the high-energy dining room, or grab a table on the patio, and let the kids go grabby for the hand-cut fries, chicken wings and customizable macaroni and cheese bowls, which arrive studded with endless add-on possibilities: mushrooms, chicken tenders, turkey, bacon…and more cheese. Not surprisingly, the stars of the menu are the burgers, a parade of choices that strut beef, bison, turkey, a housemade vegetarian patty or salmon. And when it comes to sugar highs, the creative milkshakes, floats and deep-fried Oreos will make your little ones light up like a kid on Christmas morning.
Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs
From the super-cool industrial vibe to the plentiful portions, Biker Jim’s, situated near Coors Field in the Ballpark ‘hood, embodies just about everything that a kid could ever want in a restaurant. Hot dogs are the primary draw here, and while the majority of them are exotic game meats (think rattlesnake, reindeer and wild boar), 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 burgers, fried macaroni and cheese sticks, housemade potato chips and fries, cookies, milkshakes and brownie ice cream sandwiches in addition to his famous frankfurters. 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.
A plane ticket to Japan isn’t exactly cheap, especially with a family in tow, but you can expose your kids to a taste of Tokyo at Sushi-Rama, chef-restaurateur Jeff Osaka’s whimsical shrine to conveyer-belt sushi. Residing in the ultra-trendy River North Art District (RiNo), the cheerful, bi-level space, bedecked with kaleidoscopic artwork, showboats domed plates of freshly made sushi rolls and slivers of raw fish that loop around a stainless steel conveyer belt, which makes the whole experience fun, interactive and theatrical. If your kids aren’t quite ready to delve into slabs of fleshy tuna, there’s a separate menu of cooked dishes that involves things like edamame, chicken lettuce wraps and chicken or beef skewers.
A Denver classic, Casa Bonita bills itself as “the world’s most exciting restaurant,” and while that claim may be a bit of a stretch, there’s no denying that the hot-pink palace is worthy of a detour, especially if you have young kids with boundless energy. Touting more than 30 attractions ranging from Old West gunfights and cliff divers to an arcade and explorative caves, families can spend several hours roaming through the maze of amusements. The interior is designed to look like a Mexican village, complete with a plaza, thirty-foot waterfall and a gold mine. The Mexican-American food, served through a chute via a cafeteria-style line, isn’t exactly hype-worthy, but the sopapillas are more than satisfying and the all-you-can-eat deluxe combination dinners are a bargain.
By Lori Midson