Best Central Park Restaurants for Kids, Plus Picnics, Pretzels, and More

For a memorable meal, and a special kids' menu, dine at Tavern on the Green. Photo by Jim Henderson
For a memorable meal, and a special kids' menu, dine at Tavern on the Green. Photo by Jim Henderson
6/24/24 - By Jody Mercier

A picnic in Central Park makes for a lovely alfresco meal, but if you don't have time to plan, there are a handful of Central Park restaurants ready to serve you a sit-down or to-go meal, plus plenty of snack food staples at the ubiquitous hot dog carts peppering the paths that criss-cross the park.

Next time you find yourself exploring the secrets of Central Park and hunger strikes, here are our top picks for kid-friendly Central Park restaurants, plus some family-friendly restaurants just outside its gates.


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Family-Friendly Central Park Restaurants

Melba's – Wollman Rink Overlook

You can't miss this brightly colored kiosk that's home to one of our favorite views in the park. An outpost of the famed Harlem soul food eatery, the bites here have plenty of uptown flavor and are perfect for sharing. Grab a chicken n' waffle cone and enjoy it while you wander, or nosh on some disco fries while you enjoy some excellent people-watching from a nearby picnic table.

The Migrant Kitchen Central Park – Mid-Park at 65th Street

Located in the Ballfields Cafe, this new arrival to Central Park's restaurant scene hosts regular special events like yoga and trivia nights. Its menu is wide-ranging, including everything from popcorn and pretzels to a fattoush salad or chicken shawarma sandwich, plus kid-pleasing classics like hot dogs. Cool down with a serving of its hibiscus iced tea or a soft-serve cone.

Perfect Picnic NYC – 100th Street at Central Park West

OK, technically this spot isn't in the park, but we think it's worth crossing the street for. A variety of grab-and-go options means you can have the fun of a picnic without any of the prep. Choose from options like a classic charcuterie board, flavorful sub sandwiches, or a kid-sized picnic complete with a chocolate chip cookie and "baguetini" sandwich. If you want an even more relaxing option, Perfect Picnic NYC can cater your picnic—complete with picnic blankets, parasols, and all the eats and drinks set up in your preferred Central Park picnic location.

Dancing Crane Cafe – 64th Street at 5th Avenue

Whether your visit includes a stop at the Central Park Zoo or not, the Dancing Crane Cafe welcomes diners with kid-pleasers like chicken fingers and fries, Dippin' Dots ice cream, pizza, and more. There are adult-friendly options like salads, soups, and yogurt parfaits, too. Bonus: Even if you don't want to pay for a zoo ticket, you'll still be able to get a glimpse of the cheeky sea lions after you dine!

Central Park Boathouse – Mid-Park at 72nd Street

Recently re-opened under new management, the Central Park Boathouse offers two dining experiences. When eating out with kids, its cafe is your best bet! Dine alfresco on the patio overlooking the lovely lake with casual fare like lobster rolls or toasted roast beef sandwiches for the adults, while kids get a menu all their own. Finish it off with a swirl of soft-serve to-go.

Le Pain Quotidien – Sheeps Meadow at 69th Street

Located at Sheep Meadow, find an indoor dining area and a lovely, large, 100-seat terrace with high chairs available. You'll find the chain's typical menu with soups, salads, sandwiches, and baked goods. Parents appreciate the coffee that flows all day long! Here's a bit of trivia to share while you eat: The cafe is located in an area dubbed "Mineral Springs" because in the late 1800s a pavilion here served different varieties of natural spring water.

Tavern on the Green – Central Park West at 67th Street

Tavern on the Green may not have the cache it once had, but it's still a lovely setting for an elevated, sit-down meal. With a kids' menu including beef sliders and a white cheddar mac-and-cheese, it's familiar, yet different. The opulent dining room makes a lovely backdrop for a celebration, too. A Tavern To-Go option lets you snag some snacks to take along and enjoy elsewhere in the park.

Where to Find Snack Carts in Central Park

If you're looking for a classic food cart hot dog or freshly salted pretzel, you won't have to go far in Central Park to find these specialties. The Parks Department maintains a list of snack carts, though you can generally spot them near the park entrances and adjacent to top Central Park attractions.

Family-Friendly Restaurants near Central Park

Sarabeth's – Midtown West

Just steps away from the park, Sarabeth's makes a fabulous jumping-off point for a day spent exploring. Contemporary American cuisine is served in a welcoming atmosphere and an alfresco meal on the sidewalk is our favorite. If you're there for breakfast, we'd also recommend starting your meal with a basket of popovers!

Serefina – Upper East Side

This local chain has several city locations. Fans flock here for delectable pizzas and Italian specialties. Mouthwatering desserts finish the meal with a flourish. Kids appreciate a menu of their own that includes fun picks like tennis-racquet-shaped pasta.

Patsy's Pizzeria – Upper West Side

This longstanding pizza institution serves the perfect NYC-style pie. Thin crust, fired to a crisp finish, with a few spots of flavorful char—definitely a crowd- and kid-pleaser! If you crave something more refined, there's all manner of Italian classics on the menu, too.

Bareburger – Midtown West and Upper West Side

Juicy, organic burgers with myriad toppings ensure everyone gets just what their tummy desires at this local burger chain. Portion sizes are generous, so don't be afraid to share. We love the fries, but the fried pickles are an unexpected, can't-miss, add-on to whatever main you order!

Chip City – Upper West and East Sides

If you managed to evade the ice cream vendors in Central Park, you've probably earned a trip to this cookie spot, which has locations near the American Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Hill. Fudgy, super-sized, still-warm-and-gooey cookies are the trademark treat, though on a hot day, consider getting one a la mode...with spoons for the whole family. The portions are infinitely shareable.

Originally published in 2010; it has been updated. Amy Sullivan contributed additional reporting.

Photos courtesy of the restaurants

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