It’s fun to eat out with kids. Truly. And I don’t mean restaurants that have an arcade attached and microwave pizza as the menu highlight. There are a few guidelines we follow before dining out with young children. 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 counter-intuitive but you are already behind the eight ball if you venture out with hungry kids. And now you’re ready to go.

Rule #1: We must go to a restaurant that I like to go to even without kids. But it’s not always easy to find places that both young kids and parents enjoy. One thing I try to avoid are restaurants with kids menus, the dumbing down of our children’s palates. And yet while I would like to add “confit” and “sous vide” to my kids’ vocabulary early on, who wants to spend $40 on their entrées? We want good food, with good options for balanced plates.

So here is my list of go-to places to eat with kids in Pittsburgh. 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.

Station St.
Hotdogs? That’s a balanced meal? But wait. Station Street does not serve just hot dogs but a great array of international street food. On any given day, you can order tacos, ramen, bibimpap, and onigiri (Japanese rice balls with different fillings) with many different flavors and options for omnivores and vegetarians. The service is quick, there is an outdoor space when the weather allows and as an added bonus, the trains that pass through the nearby tracks provide awesome entertainment.

Square Café
Breakfast all day? Yes please! Breakfast has got to be the best no-fail meal options 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.

Park Brugge
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 tartes flambee–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.

Udipi
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 are available for dipping and slopping up savory delicious curries. Dosa, utthapam, paratha, chapatti, 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.

Kassab’s
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 Garden
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.

Mad Mex
Mad Mex is my favorite Mexican restaurant for kids. This local chain is family-friendly with a wide array of menu options to please any picky palate. Just the dips alone–pepita hummus, guacamole, black bean–are a good start for little ones. Chilis, burritos, quesadillas and many other items can be shared or ordered family style. I also love the array of “sides” such as rice and beans that can sub as a dinner for tots.

Kickback Pinball Café
I take any opportunity to expose my kids to the analog world these days and pinball is one of the endangered species I want them to enjoy. This cafe is one of Lawrenceville’s best kept secrets. They have a small and simple yet well done café menu with sandwiches, salads and daily specials. But the best part about Kickback is the atmosphere–amazing murals painted by a local artist, floors made to look like the bottom of a pinball machine and a second floor filled with pinball nostalgia that you can share with your kids.

The Porch at Schenley
Right next to many kid “standards”–the Carnegie Library and The Museum of Natural History and Schenley Park, not to mention a wonderful carousel– is The Porch at Schenley. Get an outdoor seat where you can enjoy the view and allow your older kids to run around while you wait for your food to arrive. The menu is amazing and if your kids love pizza, this is the place to go to educate their palate against the sweet sauce + rubber cheese standard. Lots of local food (they have a rooftop garden) here, including salads with fresh ingredients in a very family friendly atmosphere. Not to miss!

Franktuary
Like Station Street, Franktuary is more than just a hotdog shop. Their Butler St. location offers an “expanded menu that focuses on grass-fed and humanely raised meat, specialty sausages, vegetarian and gluten-free options, local draft beer and cider, craft cocktails, Sunday brunch, and the best frankfurters in western Pennsylvania.” What’s not to love? I am not anti-hotdog, but I am anti-factory-raised meat and artificial additives that make up most commercial dogs. What’s more, Franktuary takes my French fry obsession to the next level with their chickpea fries with more than 10 options for dipping sauces. Franktuary also has an amazing brunch with great frittatas, beignets and my personal favorite: the Roasted and Toasted Parfait with roasted apples, beets, & sweet potatoes, coconut chai creme, toasted walnut, hash brown. Can’t get any better.

About The Author

Editor at Large

Leah Lizarondo is the editor of our NEXT Wave section and a feature story writer. She is also Chief Veghacker, recipe creator and curator at The Brazen Kitchen, where she writes about food and food policy, and is a Forbes Travel correspondent for Pittsburgh.