The Ten Best Places in Denver to Eat — With a Toddler
Breakfast with baby.
A recent reader comment suggested leaving children at home when eating out, but parents still need to finds restaurants where we can take our kids without feeling like that jerky mom or dad who has no regards for other people's dining experiences. Since I'm the mom of a 14-month-old, this subject comes up a lot. I love to eat out, I do it for pleasure and for my job, which is why it's important to teach my son from a young age what it's like to dine in a restaurant. That said, there is a time and place for kids — 8 p.m. at the Populist is not one of them, as I recently learned while trying to have my own baby-free date night. But, if you choose a proper time (early, before the regular crowd), make sure your toddler isn't starving (this is where applesauce packs come in handy) and thoughtfully pick the place to eat (no tablecloths is a good start), dining out with your kids can be pleasant for everyone. Of course, this doesn't mean you are resigned to fast food and places no one wants to go, so here's a list of ten tasty restaurants, in alphabetical order, that are welcoming of babies, toddlers — and a food-lover's palate.
Mole-smothered enchiladas at Adelita's Cocina y Cantina
10) Adelita's Cocina y Cantina
1294 South Broadway
For those looking for a Mexican feast that's kid-friendly and isn't named Casa Bonita, Brian Rossi's Michoacán-inspired eatery in Platt Park is a safe bet. Not only does the kitchen make a mean mole, but the other sauces sing with an authenticity that makes anything you order amazing. However, what really goes down well is the excellent and friendly service, something appreciated especially when you have kids. The optimal time is early evening or weekend brunch around 10 or 11 a.m. I've gone numerous times on a Saturday, once with three toddlers, and have been greeted with nothing but friendliness. Kids like the colorful atmosphere and since it doesn't get jam-packed until later, you don't have to worry about making anyone's hangover worse.
Combo plate at Blue Bonnet
9) Blue Bonnet Mexican Cafe
457 South Broadway
Here's another great Mexican restaurant where you can take a baby, toddler, teen or even a grandparent . For more than 50 years, this casual cafe has been dishing out heaping plates of chile rellenos, tamales, enchiladas and tacos. You also get a basket of chips that stays full throughout your stay, which is key when dining with hungry youngsters. Let them nibble away on those golden corn triangles as you decide what margarita goes best with the chicken mole enchiladas. Chances are by the time you get food, both you and your kid will be full, which means more leftovers for later. Plus, no matter how busy it is, the restaurant is just loud enough that no one will care if junior has a hissy fit.
The Cherry Cricket
8) Cherry Cricket
2641 East Second Avenue
If you happen to be in Cherry Creek with your toddler and need a place to eat, the Cherry Cricket is the right pick. The food is solid pub fare that includes one of the best basic burgers around, something most children can get behind. In fact, most of the menu is easy for the young palate — if you don't mind indulging in fries, fried mac n' cheese bites and thick, sweet milkshakes. Not only does the food win over the toddler crowd, but since this institution constantly remains full, bustling and no nonsense, your kid will be so busy taking it all in that they will forget that dinner time is when the kicking and screaming usually starts.
Lamb burger at Highland Tap and Burger
7) Highland Tap and Burger
2219 West 32nd Avenue
One great thing about bringing your toddler to a sports-focused eatery is that usually a game is on and it's loud anyway. Another bonus, no one expects a fine dining experience, so if said child decides to have a meltdown, it's not ruining anyone's date. Highland Tap and Burger in LoHi offers all this plus plenty of space, a great craft-beer list and good food that will satiate any food-focused parent looking for a top-notch meal. Easy choices include burgers, hand-cut fries and an ever-changing soup list, a lineup great for anyone you're dining with. You can get a table up front if there isn't too much game-day action or ask for a seat in the back. Either way you and your kids won't be bothering anybody.
Hops & Pie
6) Hops & Pie
3920 Tennyson Street
Whenever discussing this trendy Berkeley eatery, it's not unusual to hear something along the lines of, "I love it, but there's always a line." Never fear parents: If you're willing to head to Drew and Leah Watson's joint on a Sunday when they open the doors at 2 p m., you won't have to wait and chances are at least half of the tables around you will have children seated around them. It's easier to deal with your kid's random squawking when the family next to you is going through the same thing. Plus, what kid doesn't like pizza? Even my half-toothed son can get down with a pie — even if he's a few years shy of being able to sample the the hops side of the menu.
Horchata pancakes at Lola
1575 Boulder Street
In LoHi you can get good Mexican food for you and your toddler when you choose to dine at Lola. It doesn't feel like a place for kids, but on recent a visit the waitress was so tickled to see us, she brought some toys over for our son to play with. True, this probably won't happen for every child that waddles through the door, but that's okay. Even without the toys, the staff was gracious and helpful, especially when our son suddenly got the need to yell at the top of his lungs. Other diners didn't appear to mind, but maybe that was because there weren't many near us. The reason? We like to go for an early brunch, which means not only getting a table right way and quick access to the horchata pancakes, but there are fewer people who might be annoyed. Of course, even if you go when it's busier, this indoor-outdoor space has plenty of room, comfortable chairs and banquettes for little wiggly butts, and a laid back ambiance conducive to toddlers.
The Old Spaghetti Factory is indeed old — but still going strong in LoDo.
4) The Old Spaghetti Factory
1215 18th Street
Since 1969, the Old Spaghetti Factory in LoDo has been serving three-course meals featuring plates piled high with pasta, large squares of lasagna and spumoni ice cream. But that's not all, the Factory has also managed to offer a setting both classy enough for parents and fun enough for kids. I remember visiting back when my age was in the single digits, and it's a place I am comfortable taking my son to as well. There's a substantial kids' menu, a special birthday club and an overall attitude that caters to the younger set while still keeping standards high for the adults in the group. It's rare to find an eatery so pristine with such a relaxed vibe that actually expects kids to come and eat while being part of the dining scene.
Pizza, beer and meatballs at Pizzeria Locale
3) Pizzeria Locale
550 Broadway, 720-508-8828
3484 West 32nd Avenue, 303-302-2451
Normally I wouldn't include a fast-casual restaurant on a list for eating out with kids, since wrangling youngsters and gear while trying to navigate a line and carry trays of food isn't my idea of a good time. But Pizzeria Locale is the exception since you can be in an out fast if need be and the staff is friendly enough to give an extra hand when yours are full. Numerous times I have found myself at Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Bobby Stuckey's eatery for a quick meal with a friend and my 14-month-old. Chances are you won't disturb other diners because either they have kids with them too, or they are speedily downing a pie and don't have time to get upset. If you have older children, this mini-chain will work for them too; after all, they can create their own pizzas. The meatballs are great for little tykes without many teeth, and the wine on tap proves perfect for a mom needing a mini-break.
Lunch time at The Universal
2) The Universal
2911 West 38th Avenue
Head to Sunnyside and Steven Sharp's fun brunch-focused diner for some great food, a vibrant atmosphere and a place where you can enjoy a good meal with your toddler. That is, go here any time except during hot brunch hours — between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The Universal opens at 7 a.m., and if you have kids you'll probably will be up earlier than that anyway. Or, if possible, head here for breakfast or lunch on a weekday. Your effort will be rewarded not only with a scrumptious plate of cornbread rancheros, a sizzling wild boar scramble or a kimchi-laced reuben, but also with a safe place to dine with your kids. After all, hipsters aren't usually up and around that early and anyone having breakfast on Tuesday is happy to be there even if your little one isn't all sunshine and lollipops.
Vine Street Pub & Brewery
1) Vine Street Pub & Brewery
1700 Vine Street
At first glance this brewpub in City Park West might not seem ideal for kids, especially toddlers, but it has actually proven very friendly to the way-under-21 set. First, the tables aren't close together, so you can easily get a highchair in, and if some fries get thrown they probably won't hit anyone nearby (not that you should encourage a food fight, but these things do happen). Also, the setting proves just funky enough that the clientele won't complain much if your young ones get rowdy. You won't complain either, at least not when it comes to the menu, which includes an array of tasty chicken sandwiches, burgers, grilled cheese and more. As a bonus, most of the beers on tap are made in house, and that means if you have out-of-town guests you can impress them with Colorado beer while eating out with your kids.
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