It’s fun to eat out with kids—truly—but I have one rule: we must go to a restaurant that I like to go to without kids.
In my original guide published in NEXTpittsburgh in 2104, I said it’s not always easy to find places that both young kids and parents enjoy where the price is right. I try to avoid restaurants with kids menus, the dumbing down of our children’s palates. And while I would like to add “confit” and “sous vide” to my kids’ vocabulary early in life, who wants to spend $40 on their entrées? We want good food, with good options for balanced plates.
There are a few guidelines we follow before dining out with our young ones. First, be prepared with crayons and paper. Then make sure the kids aren’t too tired and it’s not too late (hey, never has a 5:30 reservation opening been so attractive!). Third, prep them with a light a snack—this may seem counterintuitive but you are already behind the eight-ball if you venture out with hungry kids. And now you’re ready to go.
So here is my list of 14 go-to places to eat with kids in Pittsburgh, updated from my original list with 5 newer restaurants added. Most don’t have a kids menu and if they do, ignore it. The main menu is infinitely better and very kid-friendly as well. Got suggestions of your own? Please share in the comments below!
Ethiopian food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of eating out with kids but what can be better than a place where you can share a huge plate of food with everyone and where eating with your hands is encouraged? For those who think Ethiopian cuisine is a “stretch” for young palates, the Sambusa is a nice entry point dish that will remind kids of the more familiar egg roll. The beef dish YeSega Tibs is a mild, saucy stew that kids will enjoy scooping with the bread. Some of the dishes are spicy but the menu indicates those items clearly—and the servers are extremely helpful. You’ll find beef, chicken and lamb as well as vegetarian dishes, all seasoned with spices direct from Ethiopia for a special treat. Another plus? Tana is spacious which is always preferable to tightly spaced tables when taking kids to restaurants.
This mini-chain offers a great selection of healthy Lebanese fare, including mezzes for kids who like to graze. Grape leaves, hummus, kabobs, koftas, and falafel are fast becoming household staples and Aladdin’s is a dependable standby that’s inexpensive with quick service. The menu is vast with all kinds of healthy options from salads to pitas to housemade soups including a lentil/chili favorite. There are half a dozen locations in Pittsburgh, from Squirrel Hill to Mt. Lebanon, and they’re open for lunch and dinner.
This fun and attractive Thai place on Highland Avenue in Shadyside is nothing short of awesome. From $6 noodle soups to $9 noodle bowls, Noodlehead satisfies on every level, from taste to nutrition to price. (Be prepared: it’s cash only.) The street food-style dishes include Thai fried chicken, tempura over noodles and classic Pad Thai. The service is quick, a plus when you’re with kids. Score the long table in the back and your kids have some space to move around without risk of crashing into a server.
After a Noodlehead meal or simply for a treat, skip over to Millie’s right next door for the best ice cream for kids and adults. The delicious smell of housemade cones greets you as you enter the door. From the coconut lime sorbet to seasonal flavors like rhubarb or really inventive takes such as pistachio rose, you’ll find a favorite for everyone. Don’t overlook the basic vanilla and strawberry which are superb.
Everyday Noodles in Squirrel Hills not only offers some of the city’s best Taiwanese cuisine but also delivers one of the best shows: kids and adults alike will enjoy watching the deft chefs magically transform ropes of dough into dumplings and noodles. It’s a fun and instructive way to pass time while waiting for your authentic dishes which include all manner of dim sum, rice and noodle dishes. It’s all delicious and authentic. In the summer, snag one of the outdoor seats where kids can run around the wide sidewalk freely.
This little café tucked along a street off Walnut in Shadyside is a deceptively small but spacious Taiwanese restaurant. This hidden gem is quiet and has a great menu that includes a wide variety of bubble teas—the only spot to get them this side of the Fifth Ave. border. Order from the hotpot selection and kids will enjoy watching their parents “cook” food tableside. Shabu-Shabu, anyone? It’s well worth the trip.
Breakfast all day? Yes please! Breakfast has got to be the best no-fail meal option for kids. Score one of the booths (or outside seating) at this popular café and you are set to enjoy one of the city’s legendary breakfast places. Aside from phenomenal benedicts, crepes and pancakes (with an absolutely delicious gluten-free option), you can also order a Brussels sprout or root vegetable hash, tofu scramble, and a bevy of beverages from coffee to smoothies.
Did someone say frites? I never visit Park Bruges without ordering their frites and this, naturally, makes my kids very happy. Park Bruges is perfect for kids who insist on ordering items only from a “kids menu” because the restaurant has them—only they’re done right. Burgers, mac and cheese, pasta Bolognese, and tarte flambée—let’s call it a French pizza with topping options that range from the familiar (tomatoes and cheese) to the more unusual (chipotle sweet potato puree). Weekend brunch is phenomenal with options like liege waffles, beans and greens, and the classics. Arrive early because the lines are also legendary.
Tucked away in an unlikely place by the highway in Monroeville is my favorite Indian restaurant, Udipi. If you think naan is one of the best things ever, wait til you try all manner of Indian bread that is available for dipping and slopping up savory delicious curries. Dosa, uttapam, paratha, chapati, poori, and the batura that makes a grand entrance in all its big puffy glory that kids love—it is handheld food beyond the pizza and sandwich.
How can you go wrong with a meze platter? It’s the perfect thing for kids who love to graze. This Lebanese restaurant offers many vegetable options to help my kids get their required daily serving, from spinach pie and sleek (spinach cooked with black-eyed peas and caramelized onions) to loobyeh (sautéed green beans in a tomato gravy) and grilled vegetables. Other standards are falafel, stuffed grape leaves, mjaddra (buttery lentils and rice) and all manner of kabobs and rolled sandwiches. You can eat everything “family style” so portions are not a problem.
Pusadee’s is what summer is all about. The outdoor seating in this Thai restaurant is one of the most pleasant and relaxing places to eat (yes, even with kids) during the season. Pad Thai is always a hit with kids and here’s a tip: request more broccoli to round out the pile of rice noodles. Pusadee’s has an amazing array of curries that you can order with either vegetables or meat and an added bonus of a brown rice option to accompany your meal. My kids love the sticky rice desserts and their anticipation of it ensures best behavior throughout dinner.