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 $4 and under—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. RiNo and Denver Tech Center, Denver; Lone Tree; Aurora.
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 food truck event in Civic Center Park, held weekly throughout the summer, 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. Civic Center Park, Denver.
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. LoHi, Denver.
The Scene: Vintage Willy Wonka with an overhead conveyor belt and slide.
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 Central Park, 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. West Colfax, Denver.
The Scene: Industrial retro dining-room hosts a ping-pong hall.
Step into Ace Eat Serve, and any worries you might have about taking kids to an Uptown eatery will melt away. You’ll likely find children chasing after balls that litter the indoor hall’s floor, playing on the outside patio, and eating kid’s meals heaped on cafeteria-style trays. Favorite (adult) dishes include bao buns, potstickers with a delectable Chinese ginger mustard, and Tiger wings, not to mention house-made sodas and desserts that include homemade fortune cookies and sticky toffee pudding. North Capitol Hill, Denver.
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 Highland 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. West Highland, Denver.
The Scene: Theme park ride meets Mexican cuisine.
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? The sopapillas that made Cartman crazy (see: South Park). Lakewood.