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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. 

 

Avanti Food & Beverage 

Residing in Denver's Lower Highland (LoHi) neighborhood, Avanti Food & Beverage, a high-energy food hall that occupies a former printing plant, shelters a collection of self-contained shipping containers, each of which is a mini restaurant. Families can choose from a world-spanning variety of cuisines—everything from Venezuelan arepas and leopard-spotted Neapolitan-style pizzas to fresh pastas and pudgy burgers—and enjoy their feast in the casual (and communal) first-floor dining area, or on the rollicking rooftop deck, which offers sweeping views of the downtown Denver skyline. While the youngins swell their bellies, parents can enjoy a cocktail, glass of wine or craft beer from one of three bars, including one on the lofty deck.  

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 10 stands vending everything from cheeseburgers and spaghetti to wood-fire pizzas, hand-crafted chocolates, sugar-studded pastries and Italian beef sandwiches. Complete with an ice cream shop, a coffeehouse, butcher shop, fish counter and bar that slings progressive cocktails (and mocktails), the Denver Central Market is headlined with foodstuffs to appease all age groups and every culinary persuasion. Each of the vendors has its own seating area, but the communal dining space—the market’s focal point—is where everyone seems to congregate; there’s a big-screen TV, too, that showcases sporting events.

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 afternoon 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. 

Buckhorn Exchange

Built in the nineteenth century, The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver's original steak house and saloon, is a National Historic Landmark located in the city's oldest neighborhood. The storied restaurant, serving cuisine that channels the Wild West, sports a rooftop patio that overlooks downtown, while the main dining area, a rusticated den with with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, is walled with a taxidermy collection of mounted animal heads that represent what eventually ends up on your plate (as you might guess, this is a spot that’s best for meat lovers). Prime-grade steaks, buffalo prime rib, salmon, quail, game hen and alligator tail round out the main menu, while the kids’ roster includes buffalo and beef burgers, chicken tenders, a steak sandwich, bison, baby-back ribs and elk, all paired with a choice of baked beans or chips. 

Maddie’s Restaurant

When the owner names his restaurant after his youngest daughter, it’s a fair assumption that you—and your kids—are in good hands. And in the case of Maddie’s, a frolicsome breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch emporium in Rosedale, you’re in the hands of a chef and restaurateur whose whole mission is to ensure that families are treated like guests in his own home. There’s a spacious outdoor patio that plays host to live bands, an indoor game station where kids comingle and a homey menu of sweet and savory pancakes, cinnamon-dusted sticky buns, French toast and Benedicts that captivates kids and adults. The staff bends over backwards to cater to your every whim—and also concocts excellent cocktails for parents.

 FOUR FRIENDS KITCHEN

Like its name implies, this convivial venture was created by four friends residing in the up-and-coming urban-suburban Stapleton ‘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. 

Homegrown Tap & Dough

Perched on Old South Gaylord Street, in the heart of the trendy Washington Park neighborhood, Homegrown Tap & Dough is one of those rare restaurants that deftly bridges the gap between hip 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-fire 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 kids loose to enjoy the retro arcade, a sheltered game room on the patio that squats next to a separate courtyard that’s usually a riot of kids and their parents playing corn hole. Inside, there are two PAC-MAN arcade tables and a chef’s counter, the seats of which peer over the bustling open kitchen—and cooks masterfully flipping dough. It’s dinner and a show. And 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.

Lowry Beer Garden

You might think twice before trotting your kids off to a place that ballyhoos “beer” in its name, but the Lowry Beer Garden will likely make you rethink any preconceived prejudices. Laying claim to more than 4,500 square feet of al fresco seating—some of it covered—the German-inspired beer garden, flush with flowers, trees and rustic picnic tables, makes everyone from toddlers to grandparents feel like it’s home away from home. Parents can chill with a beer from the impressive tap roster, while the minors swell their bellies with burgers of every ilk, hot dogs, buttermilk chicken nuggets, sandwiches, fish and chips and giant soft pretzels paired with nacho cheese dipping sauce.

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. 

Lucky Cat

This playful Chinese restaurant from chef-restaurateur Troy Guard cures just about every Asian craving—and your kids will feel completely at home among the brigade of Lowry-based families that stroll into Lucky Cat for an early dinner. Petite palates are given their own paper menu, which is also conducive to crayon-inspired doodling and artwork—a pastime that occupies restless rug rats while they wait for their fried fish tacos, dan dan noodles, fried rice or sesame chicken. Parents revel in the clever cocktails and sake flights, sushi rolls, pork belly tacos and seared ahi tuna salad—and everyone enjoys the restaurant’s unofficial family game: spying all of the maneki-neko “Lucky Cat” figurines in the restaurant.

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. 

Sushi-Rama

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. 

Casa Bonita

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