New York City is a mecca for foodies. From pizza and pastrami to cronuts and cannoli, there is no shortage of bucket-list worthy EATS here. But let’s face it, we parents of wee ones know that dining out is tough enough on our own turf, not to mention when you’re visiting a city with more than 24,000 restaurants and don’t know the best places to go with a messy, ticking time bomb of a toddler! So after eating all around NYC with a two-year old in tow, here are a few places that I think you’ll find spacious, delicious, and welcoming to kids of all ages.
1/Sugar & Plumm
377 Amsterdam Ave.
After whiling away the day on New York’s Upper West Side, pop into the whimsical Sugar and Plumm. This light, bright, and cutesy café is a candy store up front and diner in the back. These “purveyors of yumm” – as they call themselves – may specialize in desserts and sweets, but they also serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Parents, try the pulled pork and waffles, the famous crunch toast or the Eggs Benedict with a braised short rib on top. For the 12 and under set, there’s eggs-in-a-basket, the Little Lumberjack (scrambled eggs, bacon, and mini waffles or silver dollar pancakes) or the Plumm sliders (pint-sized, all-Angus cheeseburgers). Then pick a sweet treat from the long list of sundaes, floats, and milkshakes. And good luck getting your kid out of the candy store! $$
Le Pain Quotidien is a breath of fresh air, serving healthy food in a warm, homey atmosphere. The name means “daily bread” in French, and while there are more than 220 LPQs worldwide, you’d never know by dining in one. Each feels like an authentic, rustic Belgian bakery offering a menu replete with European fare like tartines (open-face sandwiches), quiches, and pastries like pain au chocolat and brioche. The majority of the items on the menu are organic with many vegan and gluten-free options, too. They have communal tables (and regular tables, if you’re not into sitting with strangers), plenty of stroller parking, and a kids’ menu with a coloring page and crayons for the little ones. Kids meals come with a drink, carrot sticks, and a cookie. With 36 locations around Manhattan, this bakery is one of my go-to’s for a healthy, kid-friendly breakfast or lunch. $$
KidTripster Tip: Try the avocado toast or the kids’ Belgian waffle with fresh strawberries on top.
179 W. Broadway & 10 Columbus Circle, #3
Popular for its solid brunch and celebrity sightings, Landmarc is also an excellent choice for a more formal family meal. Celebrity chef, Marc Murphy from the Food Network’s Chopped series is the executive chef here. With two locations – one uptown, one downtown— this contemporary Italian-French bistro is about as elegant as dining with little ones can get. It has a decent wine list, reasonable prices, and several healthy options on its kids’ menu like roasted chicken with steamed broccoli or whole wheat quesadilla with veggies – all $14 and served with milk or soft drink and apples and bananas or ice cream. $$$
KidTripster Tip: Dine at the Columbus Circle location in the Time Warner Center, and you’ll be treated to a great view of Central Park.
4/Bill's Bar & Burger
16 W. 51st St.
Sometimes, you just want a big juicy burger… and no judgment when your kid spills an entire milkshake across the table. You’ll find both at Bill’s Bar & Burger, where literally no one cares if your kid makes a mess or can’t sit still. Your tired, hungry little tourists will not be disappointed by the enormous and colorful menu. Must-haves include the classic cheeseburger, the Mini B’s (an assortment of sliders that are perfect for little hands), and the famous Campfire milkshake – it’s like a s’mores in a glass! Kids not only get crayons and coloring paper, they also get Wikki Stix (soft, pliable sticks kids can bend into 3-D designs) which is always a highlight for my little girl. $$
KidTripster Tip: This location, right around the corner from Rockefeller Center, is the perfect place for hungry kids after a long day of sightseeing in Midtown Manhattan. They have another location near the World Trade Center, too, if you’re exploring Lower Manhattan.
Brainchild of Tom Colicchio, head judge on Top Chef and co-founder of the famed Gramercy Tavern, ‘wichcraft takes the art of sandwich-making to a whole new level. With several outposts around the city including two in Midtown, this popular NYC chain is an excellent option for grabbing a quick, healthy bite on the go. Its seasonal menu features cold, hot, and breakfast sandwiches as well as soups, salads, oatmeal, and yogurt with healthy toppings. Kid favorites include the chunky PB&J, hummus sandwich, and gluten-free grilled cheese with kale. For the pickier eaters, there’s the no-frills PB&J and regular ol’ grilled cheese which comes with fruit, salad or chips and a milk or orange juice for $6.89 – a serious steal in this city! $-$$
KidTripster Tip: Skip the Rockefeller Center location. There are long lines and no seating. Instead, hit the one on 5th Avenue which has a ton of seating. Or just take your sandwiches over to Bryant Park for an impromptu picnic.
6/American Girl Cafe
609 5th Ave.
Little ladies who lunch will go gaga for a girly day out at this cafe. Tucked away on the third floor of the über-popular American Girl flagship store on 5th Avenue is an enchanting and profusely pink destination, where little girls can dine with their dolls. The Cafe serves brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner – all with prix fixe menus and offerings that appeal to both kids and adults and are actually quite reasonably priced and surprisingly tasty, too. Girls will get a custom-sized “Treat Seat” for their doll to sit in as well as a warm, welcoming cinnamon bun with pretty pink lemonade, of course. Didn’t bring dolly with you? Don’t worry – there is a wall of them that you can borrow. Your daughter will even get to keep the napkin rings (pink bows that are ponytail holders) and the tiny cup and saucer for her doll as keepsakes. $$$
KidTripster Tip: You mustbook ahead online for this one. Reservations are taken up to three months in advance. Also try avoiding busy times like Saturday brunch or you’ll still find yourself waiting in line even with a reservation.
25 Hudson St.
Not into dining with dolls? How about sushi and a show at a Japanese ninja-themed restaurant? You read that right. Only in New York City will you find a place like Ninja in Tribeca, where the wait staff are all “trained ninjas” who entertain and perform magic tricks as they serve up your sashimi. While not a kids’ restaurant per se, Ninja is very kid-friendly, and the menu offers lots of options like burgers, teriyaki chicken, and even mac & cheese for non-sushi lovers. There’s a $28 kids’ menu, but be sure to order a couple of items with the ninja art dish symbol on the regular menu as they come served with a side of special effects, often involving fire, dry ice or sharp knives! $$$$
KidTripster Tip: Prepare for some fun surprises but be warned, you’re paying for performance here, and dinner for four can easily run you over $200. This is definitely a special occasion spot.
260 W 44th St.
Trust me, the irony of this recommendation is not lost on me. The same person who told you to avoid Times Square (see PLAYS) or lose faith in all humanity is sending you to John’s Pizzeria… in Times Square. But let’s be honest, chances are, you’re going to end up staying near or sightseeing around Time Square at some point anyway, so why not hit one of the few good restaurants in the area while you’re there? Serving up its legendary brick-oven, thin crust pies, John’s Pizzeria is no ordinary pizza joint. Hidden in the shell of an old 19th century church, complete with balcony-level seating and stained glass windows, is the largest pizzeria in America, capable of seating 500 people. It's budget-friendly, great for families, and makes a very respectable pizza all beneath a gorgeous stained-glass ceiling. Now that’s something that’ll restore your faith in mankind. Truly, pizza heaven. $$
KidTripster Tip: Its proximity to the Theater District makes this pizzeria the perfect place for a pre- or post-theater meal with kids. Classics like the Margherita and pepperoni pizzas won’t disappoint.
9/Ellen's Stardust Diner
Want front row seats to a show on the Great White Way that won’t cost an arm and a leg? Then head to Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway in the heart of the Theater District, where the show-tune-singing wait staff (real Broadway hopefuls known as “Stardusters”) are a huge hit. Touristy? Yes. Cheesy? Perhaps. But if you have a kid who likes music and loves to dance as much as mine, then this 50s-themed diner is a must. Packed with nostalgic memorabilia, this retro diner serves up your typical comfort food fare: burgers, meatloaf, chicken pot pies, and the like. It also has whoopie pies, every ice cream concoction under the sun, and special cakes like the Frozen or the Wicked. Throughout the meal, Stardusters will stand atop the tables and in the balcony to belt out everything from Broadway ballads to hits from Disney movies. $$
KidTripster Tip: Pack your patience, because the lines here can get long. If you’re with small children, I suggest going off-hours, like a weekday for breakfast to avoid a long wait. The staff does, however, seem to have mercy on parents waiting in line with little ones and tries to get them seated.
KidTripster Tip: If your kids love trains, they’ll also enjoy the New York Central, the city’s largest indoor train which circles around the mezzanine of the diner.
My love for this New York brunch institution began on my very first visit to NYC, and I have been recommending it and taking friends and family here ever since. Sarabeth’s has a casual elegance, serving up gourmet comfort food without being too fancy or pretentious. Famous for its homemade scones and award-winning preserves, it also makes a mean omelet, freshly-squeezed juices, and lemon ricotta pancakes that are to die for. You’ll find highchairs, coloring kids’ menu with crayons, and lidded, plastic cups. The only criticism I have comes from a British friend of mine who, during brunch recently, called Sarabeth’s out on its English muffins, which “aren’t really English muffins” to which I replied, “you should’ve had the scone!” $$
KidTripster Tip: You don’t always need it for breakfast during the week, but for an easy, in-and-out experience, make a reservation and avoid the line which generally goes out the door on the weekends, in particular.
KidTripster Tip: The Central Park South location is the perfect place for breakfast before hitting the Central Park Zoo across the street; the Tribeca location is just across the street from one of my daughter’s favorite playgrounds in the whole city, the gorgeous Washington Market Park.
Marcia Breen always thought NYC was a great place to visit, but she could never actually live there. She now lives in Manhattan with her husband and 2-year-old daughter and spends her days exploring the city and writing about it. Well, that and doing laundry and making meals her kid won’t eat.