10 must-try kid-friendly restaurants in Charlotte that even adults will enjoy
For the most part, I find kids’ menus to be insulting. Chicken tenders, grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti and meatballs… Since when did “kids’ food” translate into “carbed up and deep-fried” food? Aside from portion sizes, why do kids’ meals have to be different than adult meals?
As you can tell, this isn’t going to be your typical family restaurant list. My son is three-years old and for the most part, he eats what we eat. Salmon, brussels sprouts, crab cakes, you name it.
Why? Because in our family, there’s no distinction between kids’ food and adult food. At restaurants, we either split entrees from the adult menu with him (and often an appetizer for fun) or we help him make guided choices from one of the few well-curated kids’ menus in town.
Thus, this list includes options with kids’ menus serving adult food, family style restaurants and generally fun places with a family friendly atmosphere.
4310 Sharon Rd.
Why this restaurant is awesome for families: I remembered Cowfish when it first opened as that trendy restaurant where the young and hip waited for hours on a Tuesday night for a table. I did not remember it as being family friendly. Then I showed up years later with a toddler in tow, and I was shocked to see families playing giant Connect Four for while they waited for a table — and kids filling up the tables, busily working on puzzles and coloring sheets or decorating their arms with temporary tattoos.
What to order: Sure, you could order the standard grilled cheese and chicken nuggets. But I’d encourage you to skip those items and encourage your little ones to order the California roll or shrimp tempura roll bento box. Reward their culinary risk with a hand-spun milkshake (and reward yourself with a spiked shake, like the Three Drunken Elves).
Burton’s Grill and Bar
1601 E. Woodlawn Rd.
Why this restaurant is awesome for families: Parents of children with food allergies, Burton’s is your spot! The restaurant chain was listed as the #1 Most Allergy Friendly Restaurant Chain in the Country in 2018 by AllergyEats. Dishes for guests (both young and old) with allergies are prepared in contamination-free areas and carried to tables separately by in-house certified allergy specialists. In addition to their regular menu, they also have gluten sensitive, vegetarian, and Paleo menus. And because it’s a scratch kitchen, the chef can omit any ingredient from any dish.
What to order: Burton’s likes to say that “kids are kings,” and they ain’t lyin’. Their menu puts kids in charge by allowing them to choose their own path with a choice of protein and four sides. Protein choices include everything from chicken and toasted cheese to steak and salmon. Side choices include carrot sticks, an herb rice blend and seasonal fruit. On the back of the menu are puzzles and games, including a “match the ingredient to the word” food lesson. Adults get to eat like kings too, with feast-worthy dishes like stuffed Mediterranean chicken risotto (specifically stuffed with artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, spinach, basil, feta, lemon butter sauce and pesto) and short ribs with horseradish gremolata.
4310 Sharon Rd.
Why this restaurant is awesome for families: I’m a big fan of tapas restaurants for families. Eating family-style from a selection of small plates not only teaches your child to share, but it also teaches them to experiment with different flavors and textures. Bulla Gastrobar has lots of tasty options ranging from seafood to vegetarian-friendly dishes, all with a Spanish twist. Encourage your kids to try at least a bite of everything. If they don’t like it, there are plenty of other things on the table to eat. Don’t be surprised if they scarf down that tuna tartar though (which actually happened when our son was two).
What to order: Tell your server to leave the kids’ activity sheet, but keep the kids’ menu, since you’ll be ordering from the main menu. Order a mix of dishes that you know your family will be comfortable trying (like ham croquettes) and a few that will push their palate a little (like clams with pork belly and the steamed octopus). Round out the experience with a paella entrée for the table.
7314 Waverly Walk Ave.
Why this restaurant is awesome for families: I like Chuy’s for the fun family atmosphere. There’s plenty to see, from hub caps on the ceiling to brightly painted fish floating throughout the restaurant. It’s enough to keep kids engaged, from infants to teenagers. They also offer the standard coloring sheets with the option of a tortilla dough-ball for your kiddos to sculpt (or toss at their siblings…). The real draw, though, is authentic “comal,” where they can watch tortillas being made and learn where their food come from.
What to order: For starters, order an appetizer plate to share. It comes loaded with chile con queso, nachos, deluxe quesadillas, chicken flautas, and guacamole. For the main dish, I like the kids’ menu here for the Mexican options like the mini-burrito or the kids’ enchilada.
TRUE Crafted Pizza
7828 Rea Rd.
Why this restaurant is awesome for families: TRUE Crafted Pizza checks off a lot of boxes. First, it’s a pizza joint, and what kid doesn’t love pizza? Second, it’s a fast casual-style restaurant, meaning you can easily duck out if the kids become restless. Third, their creative pizzas are a great way to introduce new foods to your pick eaters. Finally, it’s an open kitchen concept, so the kids can watch their pizza being made.
What to order: Skip the kids’ menu altogether and go family-style with a variety of TRUE’s specialty oven baked Pies. Order something that will push their taste buds, like the garlic and clams (one of my favorites in all of Charlotte) or the broccoli rabe and sausage — along with a standard pepperoni for a crowd pleaser. Don’t be afraid to order more than your family can eat. There’s power in leftovers.
8318 Pineville Matthews Rd.
Why this restaurant is awesome for families: I know what you’re thinking — I just blasted kids’ menus for offering too many fried options, and now I’m suggesting a place that specializes in fried foods? Correct. However, I also like using familiar foods to help introduce new spices and styles to kids’ palates. Bonchon’s Korean fried chicken is perfect for that. Plus, you can order family-style.
What to order: Order a combo platter of wings and drumsticks with soy garlic flavor. The spicy are also delicious, but very hot. Augment the fried chicken with some appetizers that blend the familiar with the unfamiliar, like the Takoyaki (fried octopus dumplings) and the pork buns.
Why this restaurant is awesome for families: I though I’d balance out the previous calorie bomb with a healthy option. CHOPT specializes in fun and healthy salads topped with homemade dressings. These salads are so good, your family won’t even realize they’re eating healthy. CHOPT also offers soups and grain salads.
What to order: CHOPT’s “Kids Mighty Menu” offers three green options – the Mighty Kobb, the Krafty Kobb (where kids get to pick their toppings and dressing), and the Krafty Lunchbox. I’d encourage them to order from the main menu here, as there are several creatively tasty options like the Spicy Cashew Soba Noodles Salad (with or without he drizzle of Sriracha) or the Mendocino Market Grain Salad (for a bright blend of vegetables like squash, purple cabbage, and kale with quinoa, lentils and millet). Teach them that nutritious can be delicious.
Stewart Penick’s Terrace
Why this restaurant is awesome for families: Most of the options on this list have focused on low- or mid-priced restaurants geared towards families. What about the family looking for something a little more upscale? Taking your kids to a “nice” restaurant isn’t as scary as it sounds. Stewart Penick’s Terrace is a great place to get started. They’ve got a kids’ menu loaded with puzzles and games and desirable adult entrees for parents, like sweet tea pork tenderloin and cornmeal crusted scallops. During the warmer months, the patio is a hit with families.
What to order: Admittedly, Stewart Penick’s Terrace doesn’t have the most robust kids’ menu. I’m suggesting the restaurant more for a parent treat. So, I’d say you should let your kids indulge a bit, too by ordering the kid’s red velvet waffle for dinner.
New South Kitchen and Bar
8140 Providence Rd.
Why this restaurant is awesome for families: If you are hesitant about visiting an upscale restaurant with the whole family, how about easing into the idea with brunch rather than dinner? While I wouldn’t necessarily pick New South Kitchen and Bar as a dinner restaurant due to their longer table times and lack of a kids’ menu (do check them out for a date night, though!), I would recommend the spot for brunch with the kids.
What to order: Let the kids go wild with whatever they want from the kid’s menu. New South is a scratch kitchen, acquiring a majority of their ingredients from local farmers and food producers. Yes, those chicken tenders were handed-breaded prior to hitting the pan. They also have some delicious brunch items on the kids’ menu like massive Belgian waffles, crab cakes and scrambled eggs with grits and bacon.
Why this restaurant is awesome for families: It’s like the Boston Market of our youth, but so, so much better. I like Viva Chicken for its fast casual atmosphere and (somewhat) healthy choices. It’s a great choice for a meal on the run between soccer practices.
What to order: Like my son on the soccer field, Viva Chicken’s kids’ menu is small but powerful — with two rotisserie chicken options and a kids’ Chaufa (rice with chicken, eggs and soy sauce). Encourage them to order a side other than French fries for a little taste of Peru. Plantains or yuca are good stepping-stone foods.
VIA CHARLOTTE FIVE