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Parents get royally shafted in the dining out department. Choices typically vacillate between places that are just way too fancy (and where kids and their harried parents are pretty much guaranteed to get the ol' stink-eye from patrons and servers alike) or mass market corporate chains with really boring food and zero ambience. Surely, the folks who are helping to shape the future minds of America deserve a little bit better than that.
With that in mind, the New Times has put together a list of ten of the best family-friendly/kid-friendly places to dine in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Sure, there are a few, smaller niche chains included on this list, but mostly you'll find family-owned, independent joints that just happen to make it easy for parents to bring their kids for a meal. Know of a spot we missed? Be sure to leave it in the comments section.
Mizner Park is generally a safe bet for parents overall: Plenty of restaurants with covered outdoor seating, wide sidewalks, and a little bit of green space where junior can run around and burn off some energy while waiting for a table. Uncle Julio's, with its huge dining room and outdoor patio, offers lots of choices for parents to set up camp. The noisy atmosphere is a deal-breaker in the romance department, but all that clatter may help to drown out the sound of grumpy kids losing their patience. Another bonus to consider? Plain cheese quesadillas for the picky eaters in your crew and frozen margaritas for you. It's a win, win.
Give the kids an early life lesson about the pleasures of roadside barbecue with this roving purveyor of brisket and St. Louis-style ribs. Winner of the New Times
2012 Best Of award for Best Barbecue, this truck occasionally ventures out into the greater Fort Lauderdale area, but can be found most days at SE First Avenue and SE Sixth Street. There's an area with tables set up and since this is an outdoor situation, you needn't worry too much about the inevitable mess that accompanies barbecue. Of course, if the kids aren't quite ready to appreciate the finesse that goes into homemade pastrami, you can order something kid-friendly like a hot dog and fries. A good pitstop after a morning spent at the nearby Museum of Discovery and Science. If things get really messy, you can load them into the car and drive them down to the beach for a rinse.
Just 'cause you're dining with the kids doesn't mean you need to eat kid food. This sleek little pizza joint in Delray Beach may not specifically cater to the young'uns, but it's a surprisingly appropriate choice for the family. In addition to entertaining the tastebuds with top-notch pies -- try the deep-fried pizza, no joke -- kids can get the visual stimulation of watching the pizzaiolo rolling out the dough and guiding the pies into the tiled pizza oven. This isn't a spot for tiny tots, but instead a restaurant well suited for kids who are about eight years or older. Something else to know: The high-temp oven cooks pizzas super fast, so the wait time is kept to a minimum.
Skip the indoor dining room and ask for a table on the considerable open-air patio where you and the fam will get a stellar view of the Intracoastal Waterway. Little ones can gawk at the drawbridge as it rises for passing yachts. If patience starts to wane, there's plenty of room to escape for a quick walk to the water to take a peek at any fish that might be happening by. The atmosphere has a casual Key-West-by-way-of-Delray feel and the menu has plenty of approachable fare for tots, though there are plenty of more complicated dishes more suited to grown-up tastes.
The key to an enjoyable experience at the Wreck Bar, located inside the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, is punctuality. Arrive early, say, around 5:25 p.m., on a Friday night in order to secure a seat in this tiny bar. Tourists, including plenty of kiddos, pack the space to get a look at the famed mermaid show that swims off at 6 p.m. Children are usually so entranced by the lovely ladies' underwater acrobatics that they won't even have time to annoy other patrons. After the show wraps, the place generally clears out a bit. That's when you can order some snacky food for the kids, while you enjoy the rest of your rum runner and contemplate the viability of a career as a real-life mermaid, because rest assured; your kids will be asking.
This super casual, open-air hot dog joint in Jupiter has a Key West surf shack appeal that makes it a natural choice for families. Around since 1994, the menu is perfect for young palates, with snack items like nachos, fries, and mozzarella sticks, half a dozen burger choices, and of course, plenty of dogs. The prices are reasonable and the service is friendly and laid-back, which perfectly matches the "whatever, dude" vibe of the picnic table seating and Crayola color scheme.
Burgers, fries, sundaes, hot dogs, shakes; the menu at this growing franchise is practically tailor-made for kids. But the quality of the product -- not to mention the craft beer and wine selection -- means it's not a total culinary bummer for the grownups. Plus, if soda isn't completely off-limits in your family, the kids will get a kick out of the digital "freestyle" fountain where they can mix and match fizzy drinks to their heart's content. Important note to parents with kids with allergies: French fries are made in peanut oil, so ask before ordering.
The quickest way a restaurant can earn a spot in a parent's heart -- aside from employing waitstaff who wait until they're well out of earshot to start talking shit about kids -- is by providing free food for tykes. 'Cause, let's be honest: Most kids just dissect their food or drown it in ketchup and paying full price for a science experiment is just plain painful. On Wednesday nights, kids ages 12 years and younger dine for free, provided an adult in the party purchases a full-priced meal and drink. There's a limit of two kids' meals per party. The meal includes a drink and a scoop of ice cream.
Instill your kids with a sense of adventure from a young age by introducing them to Hollywood's uber-popular weekly food truck rally in Arts Park. The Monday night gathering features a rotating cast of two dozen trucks with choices ranging from tacos and nachos to burgers and 'brats, plus sweet treats like cupcakes and gelato pops. It goes without saying that the picnic atmosphere means that spills, temper tantrums, and other less-than-desirable table manners won't earn you the evil eye from servers and fellow diners alike.
1. Jaxson's Ice Cream Parlor Restaurant
There's more on the menu at this longtime Dania Beach institution than just ice cream. That being said, don't expect to get away with coming here and not including an elaborate iced treat as part of the meal. Lunch and dinner items include kid-approved faves like burgers, hot dogs, and chicken fingers, but there's no doubt that your young ones will have their eyes on the grand prize: Sundaes with sprinkles, hand-dipped milk shakes, and sugary treats galore. This beloved landmark is family friendly to the core with a circus/carnival-like aesthetic and a welcoming attitude. Just be prepared for the inevitable post-meal sugar rush and subsequent crash.