If you're anything like me, a meal out with the family is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, a restaurant will give you the night off from cooking and cleaning; on the other hand, you're forced to navigate menus with your preschooler's finicky eating habits top of mind, and constantly reminding your older kids not to fill up on soda. Parents might feel they're spending more time scolding and discussing what proper table manners look like than relaxing and enjoying their meal.
What to do? Even with the myriad family-friendly restaurants across NYC, sometimes the key is to find more than just a menu filled with tasty, kid-friendly options to get you through a night out with your sanity intact. Outdoor dining is one option, while play cafes are another. But we've also rounded up 10 NYC restaurants that serve kid-friendly eats alongside extra special fun things for kids to do and see. The kid-pleasing entertainment ranges from ninjas to video games.
Action Burger – Williamsburg, Brooklyn
292 Graham Avenue at Powers Street
This nondescript corner joint really looks like nothing more than another neighborhood burger spot, but if you get close enough, you'll see vintage video game memorabilia dotting the windows and catch a glimpse of some old-school arcade games guarding the entrance. Inside, posters and newspaper clippings celebrate comic characters and gaming culture. A walk-up counter lets you order "hero" (Read: healthy) or "villain" (Think: greasy, diner goodness) foods.
Families plop down at a table and play their choice of games, ranging from basic board games to action-packed video games while awaiting the food. Occasional theme nights let visitors enter video game tournaments and geek out with like-minded gamers. Action Burger also hosts birthday parties. Visit its Facebook page for more details.
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The flaming onion show is a big hit.
Benihana – Midtown West
47 West 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
Yes, it's a chain, but these pioneers of American hibachi know a thing or two about cooking as live entertainment. My 5-year-old was thrilled to pieces by the flaming onion volcano and when our chef flipped a piece of zucchini at him, we thought his laughter might never stop. With a substantial kids' menu, Benihana is worth a visit if you're in the area.
You feel like you're at the beach when dining at Brooklyn Crab.
Brooklyn Crab – Red Hook, Brooklyn
24 Reed Street
Brooklyn Crab has that Maryland crab-shack vibe, and offers delicious dishes featuring its namesake crustacean along with salads and sandwiches, plus beers and cocktails. It's always one of our top picks for places to eat with kids when the weather warms. There are massive outdoor seating areas on three levels with awesome views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, but the best part? Kids will love the seasonal backyard featuring an eight-hole miniature golf course, bean bag toss, and a sandbox.
You can't beat watching the amazing waitstaff at Ellen's Stardust Diner.
Ellen's Stardust Diner – Midtown West
1650 Broadway at 51st Street
If big, fun and noisy is your thing, you'll love Ellen's singing waitstaff. The servers, all clad in retro duds like poodle skirts and bowling shirts, leap onto the tables at this family-friendly diner to belt out Broadway show tunes, new and old. As you can imagine, this theater district diner gets pretty crowded with tourists starting around 5pm, so make it an early bird dinner. There's even a kids' menu with the usual fare like chicken nuggets, hot dogs, mac and cheese, and fries.
Good Day Play Cafe – Multiple Locations
208-03 35th Avenue, Bayside, Queens
591 5th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn
While Good Day Play Cafe is better suited to a quick snack or an afternoon cuppa joe than a full sit-down meal, this play space manages to balance good food, an inviting ambiance, and strong coffee with a kid-friendly play area to create a place adults and children can genuinely enjoy. You'll pay a la carte for food, and be forewarned, time in the spacious (clean!) play area comes at a premium, charged by the hour.
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Habana Outpost frequently hosts free family events and has a spacious outdoor courtyard for kids to run around in.
Habana Outpost – Fort Greene, Brooklyn
757 Fulton Street
Open seasonally, this outdoor eco-eatery specializes in Cuban and Mexican cuisine, but also offers ubiquitous kid-friendly staples like hot dogs, burgers, and fries. There's a spacious courtyard, which frequently hosts free family-friendly events. Find the details on its blog. It's also the home of a popular annual summer movie series, some of which are more kid-friendly than others.
Pop into the cat cafe for a little family playtime. Photo by David Williams for Koneko
Koneko – Lower East Side
26 Clinton Street
One of the myriad cat cafes popping up in the city, Koneko offers entertainment that's hard to beat: cuddle time with a furry feline. You can have light nosh in the adjacent cafe, or purchase your snacks and bring them into the multilevel cattery to dine while you play. Reservations for the cattery are required and cost $20/hour. Children ages 12 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.
Dine in this ninja village at Ninja New York.
Ninja New York – Tribeca
25 Hudson Street at Duane Street
This dining spot is perhaps best saved for the bravest diners with more adventurous palates. Upon entering, you're whisked away to a feudal ninja village. Be on your guard, because you're never sure when a ninja might appear out of nowhere in an attempt to test your mettle. Tables are situated in private dining rooms and the Japanese-themed menu includes plenty of sushi options, as well as some other crowd-pleasers, like burgers, mac and cheese, and teriyaki chicken. Any item on the menu with a ninja star is accompanied by some sort of show upon delivery to your table. Speaking of shows, a ninja magician will be sure to stop by while your party dines. Check out our full review.
The Opry City Stage lets you experience the best of Nashville food and entertainment in Times Square.
Opry City Stage – Midtown West
1604 Broadway, between 48th and 49th Streets
For a little taste of Southern cuisine, and a whole lot of country music, check out this newly opened Times Square mega-restaurant and entertainment destination. An offshoot of the famed Grand Ole Opry based in Nashville, Tennessee, there's live country music played daily in the second- and third-floor dining areas, and if you can't help but kick up your heels, consider planning your night out for a Two-Step Tuesday, where you can enjoy free Two-Step lessons from 6pm-10pm. If the grown-ups need some liquid courage, there are also parent-friendly happy hour specials from 4pm-7pm!
The Roxy Hotel – Tribeca
2 Avenue of the Americas, at Walker Street
If it's a relaxing brunch the heart desires, the vibe at The Roxy Hotel's Roxy Lounge is decidedly laid-back, with comfy couches enveloping diners in an area more reminiscent of a plush living room than a sit-down establishment. Adding to the relaxed atmosphere: Kids can catch a flick in The Roxy Cinema downstairs.
Photos courtesy of the restaurants unless otherwise noted
A version of this article was first published in 2012, but it has since been revised.