As the dad of 2- and 5-year-old boys, I know a few things about terrible kids’ meals. When I’ve talked to friends, whether they’re parents or grandparents, uncles, aunts, or merely fellow travelers, I’ve found it’s a topic of universal frustration. No one wants to go to a restaurant where the youngest, and most vulnerable members of their party are going to be treated poorly! ¶ My kids—and all kids—deserve better! So my boys, my wife, and I scoured the Twin Cities to find better. Now that I’ve tasted the highs (and lows) offered to kids, I’d say there’s an argument to be made that you can judge the quality of a restaurant by how it treats its littlest patrons. So whether you have kids or not, enjoy this list of the best restaurants in the metro for people who may occasionally need booster seats, but are people too.
KID VIBE: My kids loved this place even before they had a kids’ menu; and now that they do—it’s my top pick in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Amazing, fun, locally sourced food.
PRICE: $7 (10 and under)
FOR THEM: “Yucca is yumma,” according to my 5-year-old. He’s right. Pair it with roasted pork and butterscotch pudding.
FOR YOU: Get the sweet-spicy braised beef from Thousand Hills in Cannon Falls; add yams and andouille, plus creamed spinach with jalapeno.
WHY IT ROCKS: Kids won’t be impressed that the food is prepared by Alex Roberts, the James Beard Award winner, but you will be.
âž¤ 600 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-379-3030 âž¤ 777 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-1302, brasa.us
Chris and Rob’s Chicago’s Taste Authority
KID VIBE: This place screams Chicago. The St. Paul location is in an old railroad car, which kids absolutely love. Very casual, perfect for after T-ball practice.
PRICE: $3 (8 and under)
FOR THEM: The plain hot dog is 100 percent Vienna Beef, just like I had growing up in Chi-town. Get the tots.
FOR YOU: Don’t miss the Italian beef ($5)—it’s a Chicago standard, and hard to find around here. It’s a mountain of roast beef, marinated in special seasonings. This one’s definitely the real deal.
WHY IT ROCKS: $3 is a ridiculous deal for a kids’ meal. And the food is spectacular American grub, as much of a birthright as apple pie and Old Glory.
âž¤ 3101 E. 42nd St., Mpls., 612-729-5507 âž¤ 7429 East River Road, Fridley, 763-571-0288 âž¤ 603 Seventh St. W., St. Paul, 651-228-9319, chrisandrobs.com
KID VIBE: It’s not much to look at, but with Indian music filling the restaurant at the back of this grocery store, it’s a chance to try something new and exciting.
PRICE: Lunch buffet is free for 4 and under; $5 for 5-10. Kids’ meals are $5-$6 or free on Tuesdays and
FOR THEM: The cheese dosa is a rice”‘and”‘lentil crepe filled with cheese. It’s like an Indian quesadilla and it comes with a rice”‘and”‘lentil cake which my kids loved.
FOR YOU: The lunch buffet (11-3 daily) is authentic Indian and delightful ($8-$10). Any of the curries are nice. Go to dinner on Tuesday or Thursday, where you can get unlimited chaat, Indian street food, for just $8.
WHY IT ROCKS: My kids ate goat here and liked it; if you want to eat globally with the underage people you love, there’s nowhere better.
âž¤ 13601 Grove Dr., Maple Grove, 763-416-0473, curryupfoods.com
Pop! and Pop!!
KID VIBE: The menu says “We like kids!” and they mean it at Pop! and Pop!! Kids’ meals come in a TV-
dinner-style plate, with carrots, cucumbers, dinner, and a cookie.
FOR THEM: Yes, they have chicken fingers (they call them “toes”) and fish sticks, but steer your little one to the delicious Swedish meatballs with lingonberries on the side.
FOR YOU: The cheese fondue is a great starter (kids enjoy dipping the veggies and plantains in the warm cheese), and the pork tenderloin is elevated with nice pineapple and mango flavors.
WHY IT ROCKS: The St. Paul spot is walking distance from the Minnesota Children’s Museum. If you’re taking tots on a weekend adventure, why not get food that both adults and kids will love?
âž¤ 2859 Johnson St. NE, Mpls., 612-788-0455 âž¤ 6 W. Sixth St., St. Paul, 651-228-1002, poprestaurant.com
KID VIBE: There’s cowboy stuff all over this Uptown institution. It’s loud, open, fun, and perfect for kids (as long as you get them out of there before it becomes a party spot late night!).
PRICE: Always free (under 12)
FOR THEM: The kids’ quesadilla is more than just some junky cheese stuffed into a tortilla. It’s jack and asiago cheese stuffed into a tortilla. Very tasty.
FOR YOU: The stacked green-chile pork enchiladas were really quite beautiful. The pork was juicy and flavorful, the smoky salsa popped, and the crispy tortillas really worked. Clever and tasty! ($13)
WHY IT ROCKS: Babysitting your nephew and need a top-shelf margarita? Bar Abilene will satisfy both of you. Seriously, it’s always free for kids. Always. That’s awesome.
âž¤ 1300 Lagoon Ave., Mpls., 612-825-2525, barabilene.com
Salut Bar Americain
KID VIBE: Petite filles ou garçons will be head over heels for Salut Bar Americain. The kids’ menu is a steal, and the room feels fancy without being pretentious.
FOR THEM: The cheeseburger was clearly housemade, not a frozen patty. It was flavorful and delicious, and included the legendary Salut fries.
FOR YOU: Don’t make me turn in my man card, but I loved Salut’s watermelon salad ($8). The presentation was gorgeous—the kitchen topped the perfectly square cubes of melon with pink peppercorns, and their sweetness and the crunch was nothing less than fantastic.
WHY IT ROCKS: The kids’ menu had a matching game called “Know Your Viandes” (cuts of meat) where you match “Cervelle de Veau” to the English translation: “calf brain.” That’s good times.
âž¤ 5034 France Ave., Edina, 952-929-3764 âž¤ 917 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-917-2345, salutbaramericain.com
A la Salsa & Salsa a la Salsa
KID VIBE: Loud energy, bright colors, and a dining room full of families of all ethnicities make a la Salsa (and its big hermana Salsa a la Salsa) kid heaven. What’s more, Midtown Global Market (home to one of the locations) is my favorite place to bring my kids: There’s gelato, room to run, and a play area.
FOR THEM: The chicken taco (hard or soft shell) hits the spot, so does the kids’ quesadilla. Both come with rice and beans, a good value.
FOR YOU: The pupusas were perfection: three grilled masa cakes stuffed with cheese, topped with a dollop of guac and pico de gallo. Great starter ($7). The mixiotes de pollo had a really unique flavor: boneless chicken and cactus strips steamed in a banana”‘leaf pouch. ($12.50)
WHY IT ROCKS: Kids love the chips, which come right away, and even the snobbiest food snobs love the two salsas—smoky and made in-house.
âž¤ Midtown Global Market, 920 East Lake St., Suite 155, Mpls., 612-872-4140 âž¤ 1420 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-813-1970, salsaalasalsa.com
Jason DeRusha is a reporter for WCCO-TV.