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.

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.

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.

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.