You want to grab a bite out with the kids and Chuck E. Cheeses isn't going to cut it, but asking your wriggly, tired kids to sit quietly in a nice restaurant is like lighting a firecracker and then hoping it won't detonate.
Food courts are the perfect solution. In spite of their historic mall-culture reputation, the model of a casual hall with multiple food options is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, and not just in suburbia. Right here in NYC, food halls are gaining major foodie clout with excellent vendors, artisan marketplaces, and appealing perks (and sweet treats) for families with kids. It's the perfect eatery for families: there's a food option for everyone, minimal wait times, multiple bathrooms, and no one notices if your kid tantrums or drops half their meal on the floor.
We've rounded up, and sampled 19 outstanding food halls that offer top-notch eats, spacious seating, and lots to do in the surrounding neighborhood, including Battery Park, Chelsea, the Theater District, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and more.
Check out our NYC Restaurant Guide for even more family dining options in just about every neighborhood—and every finicky palate.
Chelsea Market — Chelsea
Attracting some six million visitors annually, Chelsea Market is one of the city’s original food court destinations, tucked among trendy shops and cobblestone streets in Chelsea and just north of the meatpacking district. Bustling and fun, the block-long market features shops, restaurants, and stalls in a well-lit, industrial space that’s fun to browse for all ages. The market's special events, like the Chelsea Nights free concert series (the first Friday of every month), warrant a special trip. Also, Food Network fans might spy a star or two slipping into the elevators here as the cable channel’s studios reside in the building.
Best bets with kids: Once you’re done browsing the shops like Posman Books, Anthropologie, and the must-see Artists & Fleas market, it’s time to commit to some serious eats. There are reliable standbys like Hale & Hearty and Sarabeth’s Bakery, along with more adventurous eats such as the authentic Chelsea Thai, Rana’s for amazing ravioli, Mokbar for ramen and wings, and our favorite, the Tuck Shop, which serves up savory Australian meat pies. Save room for dessert! There are plenty of options, from Doughnuttery, L’Arte del Gelato, and Fat Witch brownies, plus decadent super-sharable slices of cake at Amy’s bread. If you can convince the kids, opt for the coconut.
Top tip: Gotta pee? Be prepared to wait. While the pint-sized ladies’ room does offer a changing table, lines are long and kids impatient—or at least that’s been the case every time we’ve stopped by.
What’s nearby: The trendy Meatpacking District offers up plenty of high-end shopping, the Whitney Museum of American Art and other galleries, Google, and, perhaps most important, the High Line, which is a must-explore in all seasons.
Urban Space Vanderbilt — Midtown East
This food hall adjacent to Grand Central Station is a top pick for Midtown East eateries whether or not you have kids in tow. It's a great place to bring the whole family, though, with options that range from salads to sandwiches to grain bowls and smoothies and giant donuts that may outweigh your smallest child. With more than 20 options for food that gets as fun as Chinese street food and as safe as burgers and fries.
Top tip: This place caters to the corporate lunch crowd so be prepared for mayhem if you go between noon and 2 p.m. Dinner is a perfect time to check the food hall out, as everyone is scurrying out of Midtown after 4 p.m. and you'll have the place nearly to yourselves.
What’s nearby: Grand Central Station is just a block away so it's a great place to stop if you're traveling through there, particularly if you're tired of the food options in the train station. Bryant Park is close, along with a lot of shopping, and you're about a 12-minute walk from Central Park and other Midtown sights.
RELATED: Times Square with Kids: Beyond the Tourist Attractions
Donuts from Dough hit the spot in cold or warm weather. Photo by Nana Tsay
City Kitchen — Hell’s Kitchen
Tucked into the trendy Row NYC hotel on 8th Avenue, City Kitchen is a vision amidst the hustle and bustle of Times Square, where many of the kid-friendlier major chains, like Olive Garden, are astoundingly overpriced. It’s one-stop shopping for all those hot places you’ve been meaning to try forever but just can’t get to with the kids in tow. The idea is a new vision in “fast food” that boasts lots of options, and plenty of them fun, yummy, and healthy to boot.
Best bets with kids: If your kid is seafood friendly, opt for a stop at Luke’s for meaty lobster rolls. Ilili Box offers up a quick take on the Mediterranean restaurant’s Middle Eastern fare, from pita wraps to a roasted duck platter and Korean falafel. The safest bet, though, is probably Whitman’s, serving up classic burgers, fries, and cheesesteaks. Try the special PB&J burger, if you dare! Doughnuts from Dough are a must for dessert. The kids’ fave was cinnamon sugar, while the grown-ups swooned over passion fruit with cocoa nibs.
Top tip: No high chairs here, so roll up the stroller (or lap) if you have babies on board. But hooray for equal opportunity diaper-duty: there are changing tables in both the men’s and ladies’ rooms!
What’s nearby: City Kitchen sits in the heart of Times Square, so it’s an ideal pre- or post-theater stop.
Eataly — Flatiron and Financial District
The Italian food mecca now has two NYC locations. The original Flatiron marketplace is stunning, bustling and, yes, noisy. It is large enough (50,000 square- feet) that you may want to pick up a map from guest relations at the 23rd Street entrance to help you navigate. With a combination of restaurants, takeout spots, and retail counters piled high with jaw-dropping displays of produce, meat and vegetables, books and culinary trinkets, kids will find plenty to explore and taste. The new Eataly, located in the World Trade Center complex, is almost as big and has an awesome salad bar, as well as every kind of bread you can imagine.
Best bets with kids: While most of Eataly's restaurants offer a few simple, kid-friendly menu options for children under 12, like pasta with butter or tomato sauce, the most family-friendly spot is hands down La Pizza & La Pasta. With plenty of tables and high chairs, this restaurant doesn't take reservations but the line moves pretty quickly. Also, Nutella Bar serves crepes, pastries, and ice cream.
Top tip: To avoid the crowds, visit Eataly during the day on Monday through Thursday; Fridays and Saturdays are Eataly's busiest (as in, so crowded your stroller won't fit through the aisles). Unless your stroller is light and folds down easily, Eataly is definitely better suited to baby carriers. Restrooms aren't spacious but they do have a changing table.
What's nearby: There's lots to do in the neighborhood, including a visit to Madison Square Park and its playground, and the 3,500-square-foot Lego Store. Read our Flatiron Neighborhood Guide for more ideas.
Luzzo's pizza is a must-try and go-to family meal at Gansevoort Market.
Gansevoort Market — Meatpacking District
This multi-eatery mecca recalls other posh and bountiful old-school markets in cities like Seattle and Boston, but brings a decidedly New York flavor to the table. Walk along the cobblestone sidewalk while you admire the wrought iron and weathered wood accents, all of which house modern options like Big Gay Ice Cream and Bangkok Bar.
Best bets with kids: Luzzo’s pizza is a must-try, serving up Neapolitan pies in traditional recipes, along with pizza fritta, which is a kid-pleaser for sure. And you can’t go wrong with Big Gay Ice Cream's delightful range of colorful frozen treats and toppings.
Top tip: The Gansevoort is complete with high chairs and changing tables in both men’s and ladies' rooms.
What’s nearby: Like Chelsea Market, Gansevoort sits amongst the cobblestones and the couture of the Meatpacking District, so lots of shopping, art, and eats abound, along with the must-see High Line.
Mercado Little Spain — Hudson Yards
This delectable Spanish-inspired eatery is part of the new fun in the Hudson Yards section of Manhattan. Enjoy food from renowned chefs Jose Andres and the Adria Brothers, including Belcampo, Blue Bottle Coffee, Bluestone Lane, Bouchon Bakery, and Citarella Market.
Top tip: Your best bet for kid-friendly food is Belcampo, which boasts some sumptuous burgers and fries.
What’s nearby: Check out the newly reinvented Hudson Yards neighborhood, which boasts parks with sweeping views of the Hudson River, outdoor art exhibits, and a high-line.
The Plaza Food Hall — Midtown
This is a special occasion food court nestled in the lower level of the famous Plaza Hotel on 5th Avenue and 58th Street at the south tip of Central Park. Vendors include everything from crepes and pasta, to tea, chocolate, and caviar. It's a real splurge opportunity, and also a unique chance to indulge in the high-life without having to worry about your kids behaving.
Top tip: Make the food hall one stop on your Plaza Hotel trip, which might also include high tea or a special brunch with the tale of everyone's favorite character Eloise as backdrop.
What’s nearby: The short answer is everything. Museums, Central Park, famous shops, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, are all within a short walking distance from the Plaza.
Mighty Quinn's Barbecue is the real deal.
Hudson Eats at Brookfield Place — Battery Park
Hudson Eats, tucked away on the second floor above the Winter Garden Atrium, is airy and modern and offers plenty of space for families to spread out, park strollers, and enjoy a variety of excellent food and sweet treats. With great kid-friendly options like Mighty Quinn's Barbecue and Skinny Pizza, and for more adventurous palates, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar, Num Pang, and Dos Toros Taqueria, Hudson Eats is a fantastic indoor dining, and chilling, option.
Best bets with kids: Umami Burger's thin fries and maple bacon fries are addictive, and the basic quesadilla at Dos Toros Taqueria got a big thumbs up from my kid.
Top tip: In the winter months, bundle up for some post-lunch skating at Brookfield's ice rink, directly in front of the Winter Garden.
What's nearby: There's space to run around outdoors behind the Winter Garden Atrium, but we love the Battery Park City Library, which is just a few blocks north. And if you're in need of serious playground action, check out the Nelson A. Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City.
Gotham West Market — Hell's Kitchen
This bustling food hall provides neighborhood families and tourists alike with a range of delicious options for family dining. With nine vendors serving everything from ramen to pizza and, of course, Ample Hills ice cream, there's something for every palate. With both indoor and outdoor seating, you can both enjoy balmy days and escape from the cold.
Best best with kids: While the popular Tokyo shio ramen at Ivan Orkin's Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop is not to be missed, the square pizza at Orkin's latest spot, Corner Slice, promises to be just as popular, possibly even more so with the younger generation of eaters.
Top tip: Impatient kiddos can browse the selection of bikes at NYC Velo while they wait.
What's nearby: Fans of planes, submarines, and space shuttles will have a blast at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, which is just down the block on the waterfront.
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Pennys Food Court — Midtown West
The grub options are diverse at this food court nestled in the hustle and bustle of Penn Station and Midtown West. You can get anything from falafel to pizza to tacos or sushi, including Pat LaFrieda, The Cinnamon Snail, Ribalta, Taco Dumbo, The Little Beet, Sabi Sushi, and the Pennsy Bar if you're able to safely squeeze in a cocktail.
Top tip: Take advantage of the outdoor seating to soak in the city while containing your kids in the courtyard-like setting.
What's nearby: Penn Station is right around the corner. This is a great place to grab a bite before after traveling or if you're catching a show or game at Madison Square Garden and don't want to spend $100 on hot dogs inside the theater.
Essex Market — LES
This incredible market feels brand new, but actually has roots dating back to the late 1800s when pushcart vendors sold a host of goods to local residents. The Essex Market, which was a continuous place of commerce until the 1970s when halls of its kind fell out of popularity, was remodeled and found a new home at 88 Essex Street in May 2019. The vendors are as diverse as New York City is, ranging from grocery stalls that sell farm-fresh produce, fish and meat, to scrumptious prepared meals from acclaimed eateries like Davidovich Bakery, Aracini Bros., Peasant Stock, Shopsins, Dominican Cravings, Puebla Mexican, and more.
Top tip: Space can get tight and crowded so off times (weekdays between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner) might work best to get your run of the place with kids.
What's nearby: The Lower Eastside boasts so many wonderful sights and sounds. Cap off an afternoon at the Tenement's Museum or just drinking in the old architecture and bustling streets with a meal at the Market. Follow up with a trip to the nearby old-time candy shop Economy Candy.
Kids will never say no to the homegrown Blue Marble ice cream at Industry City.
Food Hall at Industry City — Sunset Park
In what is certainly the most industrial-style and sparse food court in this roundup, Sunset Park's Food Hall at Industry City is part regular dining experience, part wholesale food production facility where visitors may look directly into vendors' kitchens via large windows. The 6-million-square-foot Industry City warehouse sits directly on the waterfront and houses a variety of businesses, from tech to home goods. The 40,000-square-foot Food Hall serves employees at Industry City businesses, and anyone who is curious about, say, how Blue Marble ice cream is made.
Best bets for kids: Blue Marble, of course. Watch employees at the company's flagship manufacturing plant create ice cream magic and then step into the shop to sample the goods. If your little ones enjoy a good taco, Taco Mix's al pastor taco is not to be missed. And a deconstructed Colson Patisserie's chicken club sandwich scored big points with my kids. Stop by One Girl Cookies on your way out for, you guessed it, yummy sweet treats.
Top tip: Food Hall is only open Monday through Friday from 9am until 6pm.
What's nearby: While we often visit Melody Lanes when we're in the neighborhood, we also like Sunset Park for its big stretches of green, its revamped playground, and its spectacular views. The Industry City complex also added a kid-friendly seasonal mini golf spot in 2017.
DeKalb Market Hall — Fort Greene
Brooklyn's newest and biggest food hall opened in June 2017, bringing even more kid-friendly dining options to the picturesque Fort Greene neighborhood. Housed at City Point, the 60,000-square-foot food hall has over 40 vendors serving up a diverse range of culinary delights, from pho to pierogis, and it is also home to the first outpost of Katz's Deli.
Best bets for kids: Head to Hard Times Sundaes for staples like burgers, grilled cheese, and milkshakes, or try fried chicken on a stick at Wilma Jean. For dessert, kids can create their own personalized treats at P.O.P. Cake Shop.
Top tip: Ample seating and restrooms make for an almost-stress-free family dining experience.
What's nearby: Catch a movie at Alamo Drafthouse, which is right there in the City Point complex.
Come to Flip Bird for the fries and fried chicken.
Gotham Market at the Ashland — Fort Greene
The creators of Manhattan's Gotham West Market have brought the popular food hall to Brooklyn. The 16,000-square-foot space occupies the ground floor of new luxury apartment tower The Ashland, and houses six vendors, including one in a rotating pop-up space. Located right by BAM and just blocks from Barclays Center, Gotham Market at the Ashland makes a super-convenient and low-key pre- or post-show family dining option.
Best bets for kids: You can't go wrong with pizza, and Apizza Regionale serves up Neopolitan-style pies that both kids and adults will go wild for. Or head to Flip Bird for fried chicken and delicious hand-cut fries.
Top tip: With only a handful of high chairs to serve the entire space, you may find yourself dining with your toddler on your lap.
What's nearby: In addition to BAM and Barclays Center, The Ashland is just blocks from Fort Greene Park, where you can take your pick of two playgrounds and plenty of green space to explore.
Berg'n — Crown Heights
It may be small compared to some of the city's more expansive food halls, but Berg'n is a popular Sunday-morning-brunch-with-kids option for neighborhood families. Opened by the creators of Brooklyn Flea, Berg'n is home to four vendors as well as a coffee shop and bar. The vibe is casual and the courtyard provides an outdoor seating option for the warmer months. Berg'n sometimes hosts a Tot Tunes singalong on Sundays (check the calendar for dates), and the space has a private room that can be booked for birthday parties and other events.
Best bets for kids: Got a grilled cheese fan on your hands? Head to Landhaus for the Grilled Cheese Supreme, which also comes in a kid size. Brooklyn Pizza Crew offers pizzas for both kid and adult palates. If you're just stopping by for a quick treat, head to the coffee shop in the back for a selection of pastries sure to satisfy your (or your kid's) craving.
Top Tip: Berg'n is closed on Mondays.
What's nearby: The Brooklyn Children's Museum is just a short walk, or an even shorter bus ride, away.
Dumbo Food Hall — Dumbo
A new and welcome addition to the Brooklyn waterfront scene, Time Out Market, also known as Dumbo Food Hall, opened in May 2019 with 21 local vendors offering a rich array of culinary feats that are sure to satiate. From celebrity chef David Burke's American stall to famous Thai Fish Cheeks, and so much more, this recently installed gem is sure to be a win for the entire family.
Top Tip: Visit for breakfast one morning (hall opens at 8 a.m.) and hit up Clinton Street Baking Co. for their famous pancakes.
What's nearby: The Brooklyn Promenade, including Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, and some of the best vistas of Manhattan.
North Third Street Market — Williamsburg
You really can't go wrong with somewhere that offers both shaved ice and pierogies. Enjoy kid-friendly places like Di Fara Pizza, Gracie Baked, East Wind Snack Shop and Greenberg's Bagels, and delicious variety like Kalamaki (Greek), Chuko (Japanese), Jajaja (Mexican), and more.
Top Tip: Visit for breakfast one morning (hall opens at 8 a.m.) and hit up Clinton Street Baking Co. for their famous pancakes.
What's nearby: Williamsburg! There's the scene on Bedford Street just walking around, and a family-friendly bowling alley, climbing gym, and parks and playground aplenty nearby. Plus, the ferry can get you there from Manhattan without having to rough it on the L Train.
RELATED: 25 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Chinatown
Try the always-in-demand Shanghai buns at Old Street Dimsum. Photo by Sydney Ng
Queens Crossing Mall — Flushing
A little mall with a hugely diverse selection of Asian comfort food, Queens Crossing offers all kinds of kid-friendly fare. The 10,000-square-foot space is located on the second floor of the mall and houses around 12 vendors, serving up everything from ramen and dim sum to bubble tea and ice cream.
Best bets for kids: What could be more kid-friendly than a pastry-covered hot dog? If you're curious, try them for yourself at Paris Baguette. Or go for fancy afternoon tea and treats at Rose House (re-opening mid-October 2017).
Top tip: Stop at the ATM on the way. Many of these spots only accept cash.
What's nearby: Check out our Flushing Kids Neighborhood Guide for more activities in this bustling neighborhood.
New World Food Court — Flushing
While it may seem overwhelming at first, the New World Food Court can't be beaten when it comes to inexpensive and authentic Asian food. Located on the lower level of the New World Shopping Center in Flushing, this food hall has over 32 vendors offering a range of kid-friendly options like dumplings, scallion pancakes, and of course, plenty of noodles.
Best bets for kids: Dumplings are usually a safe bet for kids and are on offer at many of the stalls in the food court. For something more adventurous, try the Japanese takoyaki—round pancakes filled with octopus and dripping with sweet sauce—at Mojoilla Fresh.
Top tip: Arrive before noon to get a table. It gets very crowded later.
What's nearby: Shop for Asian snacks to take home at the Jmart on the main level of the mall.
Article by Sona Charaipotra and Sarah Gonser. A version of this article first published in January 2016.
Top image: City Kitchen is a welcome addition to the Times Square area where good, affordable eats are rare. Photo by Michael Kleinberg/courtesy of the market. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the restaurants/food courts.