Lingering over a summer meal with children is always more relaxing outside, where restless kids are free to stretch their legs, explore, and watch the world go by. Warm-weather dining options abound in New Jersey, from waterfront decks and sandy patios to tree-shaded courtyards and grassy gardens.
Read on for our top picks for kid-friendly outdoor dining, and don't miss our round-up of NJ themed restaurants with interactive dining, and our run-down of places where kids eat free.
The Committed Pig – Morristown, Summit, and Manasquan
Juicy burgers, vibrant salads, abundant brunch, and an extensive kids' menu make the sidewalk cafe at this local favorite a must for families. Egg-in-a-hole (known here as One-Eyed Pete), Jersey-style pork roll, and cookie dough pancakes are highlights from the kids' menu, and adults will love the avocado grilled cheese or Pat LaFrieda–blend burgers stacked with bacon, pickles, and all the fixin's.
There are plenty of little activities to keep kids busy at the Elysian Cafe.
Elysian Cafe – Hoboken
Bistro fare or weekend brunch at the sun-dappled corner sidewalk cafe are ideal for lazy summer weekends. The mussels and pommes frites or French-cut chicken breast are treats for you, while chicken fingers, pasta, and grilled cheese make the kids happy. Little ones can totter around the fenced-in sidewalk cafe, stacking pebbles from the tree beds or clambering atop the small, stone garden walls.
McLoone's Boathouse – West Orange
Within the South Mountain Recreation Complex, this waterside family restaurant features classic American fare with a lovely view of the Orange Reservoir. A kids' menu offers pasta, chicken, grilled cheese, hot dogs, and burgers. Other favorites include crab cakes, calamari, lobster mac and cheese, along with steaks, burgers and seafood. Enjoy a post-meal stroll around the reservoir, go for a spin on the paddle boats, or burn off energy at the Regatta Playground.
Nomad Pizza – Princeton and Hopewell
Wood-fired pizza on a wide, umbrella-shaded patio makes for a perfect summer evening. Throw in locally sourced pizza toppings, select Sonoma wines, or BYO beverages—plus kid-friendly service—and everyone's happy.
Pier 13 – Hoboken
The Hudson River is the backdrop for this eclectic collection of food trucks, serving everything from Thai and falafel to gourmet pizza and street tacos, not to mention ice cream, coffee, sangria and beer. Grab a table at the end of the pier, snag a bench along the riverfront, or spread out a blanket in nearby Maxwell Park to enjoy an al fresco meal while the kids play.
Porta Pizza – Asbury Park and Jersey City
Neapolitan pizzas made with filtered water, imported flour, and tomatoes, then topped with house-made ricotta and mozzarella, are delicious anywhere you eat them. Spread out on picnic tables on the beachy patio in Asbury, they are a summer treat to be savored. Wait times for a table can be long, so plan accordingly.
River and Rail Cantina – Cranford
Classic Mexican fare including sizzling fajitas, cheesy quesadillas, and tangy fish tacos all taste better under the fairy lights on this cantina's patio. Kids can run around in the grassy yard playing games like corn hole or giant Connect Four and Jenga, while dinner is prepared.
Rusty Nail – Cape May
Gather 'round the sandy fire pit at this re-imagined surfers' hangout, or let the kids play with pails and shovels while you enjoy live music. Send the older kids off to play ping pong, and watch them from the Adirondack chairs. Children's menu items at this southern shore fave include hot dogs, mini pizza, and mac and cheese. Kids meals are served on a Frisbee with a chocolate chip cookie on the side, and there's even a menu for pooches!
Stage House Tavern – Scotch Plains, Mountainside, and Somerset
Early dinners on the broad, shady patio are family affairs, with top menu picks including homemade ravioli, tacos, pizza, and salads. An extensive cocktail menu and live music make the Stage House a great destination for the whole fam.
RELATED: New Jersey Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free
Enjoy a meal in the Stirling Hotel's lovely back garden in the nice weather.
Stirling Hotel – Stirling
A rustic interior gives way to a sunny back garden, where in summer months parents can enjoy craft beer and comfort food while kids play backyard games like bocce and corn hole. Live music in the garden makes for a mellow weekend afternoon, and an outdoor barbecue pit adds to the homey vibe.
Kids can play with toys and chalk on the patio at Turtle + the Wolf.
Turtle + the Wolf – Montclair
You may have to plan ahead to snag a table for brunch or dinner at this foodie hotspot. However, the wait is worth it, with mouth-watering, local ingredients including burrata and roasted tomatoes, sweet corn polenta, and Pop-Pop's pork scrapple for brunch. Little gourmands are welcome to doodle on the pavers with sidewalk chalk.
RELATED: Themed Restaurants and Family-Friendly Interactive Dining in NJ
Kids can walk around on the huge deck at the Windlass Restaurant and Marina.
Windlass Restaurant and Marina – Lake Hopatcong
Rebuilt in 2015, this lakeside treasure features breezy outdoor seating on the deck and special events throughout the summer season. The menu features Italian favorites like calamari and eggplant parmesan, plus new international fare like sushi and carne asada, in addition to the Jersey club and specialty pizza and burgers. As a bonus on busy summer evenings, you can play a round of mini-golf at the adjacent course while you wait for a table.
Zeppelin Hall Biergarten and Restaurant – Jersey City
Pretzels, pierogies, bratwurst, and beer are served up at long, shared picnic tables at this large hall and outdoor garden. Families are welcome during the day and early evening—a kids' menu featuring burgers, chicken, and mac and cheese is offered until 8pm, and a full brunch menu is served on weekends until 4pm. If you visit on a weekend, don't miss the brisket, only available Friday through Sunday. Grab a seat under an umbrella on a sunny afternoon.
Saved room for dessert? Check out our favorite NJ ice cream shops and doughnut spots. And for even more family restaurant options, visit our NJ kid-friendly dining guide.
Photos courtesy of the restaurants