Let’s just lay the crispy chicken nuggets on the table; most kids don’t need or want a gourmet menu when they go out to eat. They are fine with the old standards: buttered noodles, grilled cheese, a cheeseburger, or a slice of pizza. So, what does make kids excited for a meal out? It’s that little something extra—an element of the restaurant that gives them something to play with, watch, or experience. These local joints deliver both: something kids want to eat and something they will remember. These are the Denver dining destinations that kids love.
- The Scene:
- A conveyor belt transports grab-and-eat food options throughout a mid-mod inspired sushi-go-round restaurant.
Not a typical order-at-the-table experience, families dining at one of the four Sushi-rama locations pick favorite sushi rolls on color-coded plates—all under $4—as they roll by on a high-tech conveyor belt. That means less waiting to get hungry kids that first bite. Futuristic technology like microchipped plates ensure freshness by tracking the time each piece has been on the belt, and a “sushi printer” continuously lays perfect sheets of rice on top of nori. Retro art and Instagrammable decor bring a flair of nostalgia for parents.
- The Scene:
- The ultimate smorgasbord of food options and a place to run around.
If the question is, “Where should we go for lunch?” this weekly food truck event in Civic Center Park, from May through mid-October, is the adventurous answer. While kids snag a simple burger or taco from one of the trucks, parents craving something a bit more sophisticated have plenty of options. The colorfully-designed trucks, approximately 25 each day, line the central plaza between the Greek Amphitheatre and the Voorhies Memorial Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The park’s lawn makes a fun spot to run and play between bites. Go early to avoid the hot noon sun and to grab a table with an umbrella. Plan the trip around a visit to the nearby Denver Art Museum (free for kids up to age 18 every day) or a storytime at the Denver Public Library across the street.
- The Scene:
- Cheery gastropub dining with an attached playground.
If the trio of selfie-worthy ostriches painted at the entrance of this welcoming LoHi spot don’t grab the kids’ attention, the patio play area will. Co-owner Betsy Workman developed a Montessori-focused play space, called The Nest, and installed it near the patio to occupy kiddos while watchful parents enjoy a sip and nosh on crispy shoestring fries. To up the feel-good factor, a portion ($2) of every cleverly titled kids menu item—featuring “Whatever” (PB&J) and “Nothing” (grilled cheese)—is donated to a local children’s charity.
Olde Town Arvada
- The Scene:
- A glimpse of the Saturday morning cartoons-and-cereal ritual for the streaming generation.
For kids of the 70s and 80s, rarely was a bowl of Lucky Charms consumed without Schoolhouse Rock!, The Jetsons, or The Smurfs on in the background. The Cereal Box, a cheery emporium of all things crispy-in-milk in Olde Town Arvada, gives parents a chance to share that experience with their own kids. Pick from more than 120 cereals, including some international flavors, add milk of your choice, including flavored milks and non-dairy offerings, and toss on some toppings or drizzles. Then settle in for the cartoons or explore the classic cartoon art on the walls. Looking for dessert instead? Pop in for ice cream, cereal milkshakes, and coffee.
- The Scene:
- Industrial retro dining-room hosts a go-ahead-and-play ping-pong hall.
Step into Ace Eat Serve, Denver’s only dedicated ping-pong hall, and any worries you might have about taking kids to an Uptown eatery will melt away. You’ll likely find children playing on the outside patio, chasing after balls that litter the indoor hall’s floor, and eating kids meals heaped on cafeteria-style trays. Favorite dishes include crispy spring rolls, potstickers with a delectable Chinese ginger mustard, and Thai crab fried rice, not to mention house-made sodas and desserts that include homemade fortune cookies and to-die-for mooncake ice cream.
- The Scene:
- Retro game-hall-slash-restaurant with activities for everyone to play together before or after a meal.
Located at the former Stapleton Airport’s air-traffic control tower, this self-described “mothership of fun” is filled with family-friendly activities like cornhole, giant Jenga, bowling, ping-pong, arcade and pinball games, private karaoke, shuffleboard, and tons of board games available for at-the-table-fun. With the outdoor patio’s new summer 2019 addition—an 18-hole mini-golf course dubbed the Putt Club—there’s another opportunity to keep kids happy. Enjoy scratch-made dishes like cocoa-dusted carnitas tacos, chicken ’n’ waffles, or rosemary fries. Adults can sip craft beverages while kids select from house-made sodas, fizzes, and milkshakes. And for brunch? Kids (and parents) will love the monkey-bread French toast.
- The Scene:
- A mad scientist ice-cream laboratory with decadent treats.
What you won’t find in this unique ice-cream spot: a display case filled with tubs of frozen flavors ready for the cup or cone. What you will see: giant tanks of liquid nitrogen. That’s because not one scoop of ice cream is made until someone comes into this magical West Highlands dessert shop and orders it. Like scientists in a lab, the staff concoct decadent shareable treats using a cream mixture, liquid nitrogen, and science, giving kids a chance to see their ice cream turn from liquid to solid right before their eyes. Don’t miss the giant s’mores cream puff or the unicorn tart, topped with a white chocolate horn and puff of cotton candy.
5 More Kid-Approved Food Destinations
Kids 8 and under wearing their pajamas to this brunch, each Sunday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Social Fare in the JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek, are treated to their own special (supervised) kids room, free pancakes and waffles, art activities, and a kids movie. Meanwhile, parents have the freedom to enjoy a quiet meal and build-your-own-Bloody Mary bar or mimosa popsicles.
Denverites have been in love with locally-churned Little Man Ice Cream for more
than a decade, whether it comes from the big silver milk can in LoHi, under the wing at The Constellation in Stapleton, or from the old-time counter at Sweet Cooie’s in Congress Park. Now kids can watch their favorite flavors come together and pick a sweet treat to try at the Little Man Ice Cream Factory near Sloan’s Lake.
Denver and Broomfield
While the atmosphere at a hibachi restaurant is not much more than a typical dining room, the fun begins when the chef fires up the grill. Kids—especially the five and up set—enjoy the chopping, food tossing, and antics that come from the chef preparing their food in front of them. This is more about the show than gourmet experience, but fried rice, grilled meat, and veggies will please any young palate.
Littleton and Louisville
Typically reserved for special grown-up occasions, a fondue dinner can be a drawn out evening of dipping and savoring through multiple courses, but tweens especially find this a novel dining experience. The Melting Pot, one of Denver’s few dedicated fondue spots, appeals to families with weekly kids eat free days at both locations. Littleton also hosts Magical Family Nights on Tuesdays from 5 to 7 p.m., where kids under 12 eat free and enjoy a magician. Summertime brings Fondue Fairy Tales events hosted by princes and princesses (costumes encouraged).
There are several rites of passage for Denver-area kids, and the legendary Casa Bonita, which turned 45 this year, is one of them. The pink-stucco tower in Lakewood represents more than a restaurant. With its indoor waterfalls complete with cliff divers, and live entertainment that includes a zany gorilla—not to mention Black Bart’s cave—it’s also a memorable childhood experience. Even more unforgettable? All-you-can-eat sopapillas.