Where Are The Kid-Friendly Restaurants Near Me?
Are the kids hungry, but you just don’t feel like cooking? There are some fantastic places in the Boston area for families to chill out and chow down, all without taking out a second mortgage.
The Boston area is a hotbed of great restaurants, most of which I wouldn’t dream of going to with my family. For one, we’d have to go hungry for a week to afford it. Then there’s the stress of trying to eat, while simultaneously keeping three boys in their seats and using their indoor voices. I wouldn’t say my husband and I have the worst behaved kids in the Greater Boston area– to be honest we even get the odd compliment from time to time. But there are three of them and things can get, shall we say, expressive at times.
And have you ever noticed something about the kid’s menus at most “family-friendly” restaurants? They’re uncannily similar from place to place: chicken tenders, grilled cheese, hot dogs, French fries, burgers–usually of the shoe leather variety–and mac and cheese. Believe me when I say that my kids, in their short little lives, have had far more of all the above items than I would ever feel comfortable admitting. But let’s face it, it’s not the healthiest food. Nor is it helping them to branch out, gastronomically speaking.
Take heart! We found some fantastic places around Boston, where you can finally feel good about taking kids out to dinner.
Machu Chicken’s cheerful golden yellow sign with its red and green Peruvian motif has become a staple in the happening heart of Union Square in Somerville. Inside it’s clean, with a simple tile floored space and a bar at one end. Windows look out onto the Square, and the warm bright colors are repeated on the walls. As you walk in, you are greeted by the most delicious smell of–you got it–roasted chicken. The service is quick and friendly, which is great if you’re with squirmy, hungry kids; the standard with us.
Take your typical rotisserie chicken, bump it up a notch or ten, and you might be getting close to the goodness that is the Peruvian-style chicken served here. Juicy and tender with a crispy skin, it has been marinated in Peruvian beer for about 12 hours, then flavored with soy sauce, oregano, cilantro, garlic and other spices, and cooked over a traditional charcoal grill.
The menu here is geared towards families, with the same dish often available in different sizes depending on the number you’re feeding. The chicken, for example, comes with salad, two dipping sauces, and a side; fries or rice, though delicious plantains, yucca, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are also available for a few dollars more. There are other sides on offer too; the tacu tacu, beans and rice, is a house favorite.
It’s like eating at home, but without the washing up, and really not that much more expensive. For an individual portion, it's $7-8, but you can get a half a chicken for $13, or a whole chicken, which feeds a family of 4, for $22. And yes, the sizes of the side dishes increase accordingly.
My kids will happily tuck into the family chicken meal, but you can switch things up by ordering your chicken heaped on to a sandwich with all the fixings for just $7. Perhaps try the $5 Empanada, a baked beef turnover, or a $7 roasted pork sandwich, with fried sweet potatoes and sarsa criolla. For the more adventurous, there’s a great selection of traditional Peruvian dishes, including the Tamale Criolla, a pork-filled tamale cooked in banana leaf and served with sarsa criolla, or the Choclo Con Queso, Peruvian corn-on-the-cob with farmer’s cheese. Each dish will only set you back $7.
If you’ve left enough room, I’d say treating your family to a dessert or two is a must. The Peruvian flan or Tres Leches cake are delicious, and both $5, and there’s a Peruvian custard for $4.
25 Union Square, Somerville, 617-623-7972, machuchickenboston.com
At 5 o’clock on a typical New England winter day, we hustle the kids inside KO Pies in South Boston and I suddenly have the feeling we are tourists on a far-flung, sunny vacation. Upbeat music and Australian voices ring out from the radio while, floor-to-ceiling, are Australian mementos: flags, maps, Aussie products, and koalas (not real). The place is small, just two bar-height round tables in the center of the room, but a bar all around the walls, with stools, provides more seating. Anyway, we had the place to ourselves–save a few take-out customers–as this location, though it’s open till 8pm, does most of its business at lunch.
The Shipyard location in East Boston is bigger, with a slightly more expanded menu, beer, wine, and a covered patio with 60 more seats; it’s also open later. What we came here for, and what this place does so well, are the pies. These are savory pies, meat and vegetarian, with fillings like Irish beef stew, curried vegetables, and braised lamb shank (a favorite with the Australians we were told.) They are all $7 and under, hearty and tasty. Sides like garlic mashed potatoes, mushy peas, or potato wedges with sweet chili and sour cream are available. As are salads and other entrée items. But back to the pies; they really hit the spot on a cold day, and I’m sure on just about any day. The kids tried the classic beef with cheese pie, while my husband got the ‘Pie of the Day’ which was braised beef, caramelized onions and blue cheese. The meat was tender, juicy, and the pastry was buttery and flaky. There were no leftovers; these pies aren’t huge (about 5” in diameter) but plenty for one serving, and we left very satisfied.
With no wait service, you can substitute desserts for a tip. Treat yourself to a lamington $3 (an Aussie style sponge cake dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut), have a British chocolate bar, or one of a selection of cookies including the traditional Australia/New Zealand ANZAC cookie, all $2.
256 Marginal St., Building 16, East Boston, 617-418-5234
87 A St., South Boston, 617-269-4500, KO Pies.com
Once I learned that the word Mamaleh’s is actually a Yiddish term of 'endearment for a young child', I thought it was worth looking into as a potential destination with kids. I’m glad I did - here’s a kid’s menu with something a little different. They start with a hot dog at $3.95, but branch out to potato latkes (2 with sour cream and apple sauce), matzah ball soup, Nana’s noodle kugel with cornflake topping, half a pastrami sandwich, and a turkey sandwich on a challah roll. All the above are under $7.
In addition, they serve small plates: quinoa tabbouleh with cucumbers, pickled vegetables and fresh herbs for $7.95, red lentil soup, or squash hummus with bagel chips, tahini, and pepitas; both are $5.95. It all sounded good to me!
It was super easy to make a reservation on line, though it’s not always necessary. And Mamaleh’s validates parking at the Kendall Square Cinema Garage - $3 for 4 hours, more than plenty of time for a relaxing dinner. We arrived at 6pm on a holiday Monday, and though the place wasn’t full, it was doing a brisk business that got brisker as the night progressed.
Mamaleh’s prides itself on being kid friendly; as co-owner Rachel Muller Munzer explained to me. The vision for the restaurant was a place that kids could come, do homework and run around. A jar at the front counter offers pretzel sticks for the young 'uns which, if your children are ‘hangry’, (and mine was) takes the edge off and provides a distraction.
The restaurant has a relaxed industrial vibe, a modernized take on a New York-style Jewish deli. At the bar, which takes up the center of the restaurant, I could see a bartender putting a pretzel rod into an egg cream. High tables around the windows look out onto the Kendall Square courtyard, a great spot for kids to run around before or after dinner.
Though I took only one of my children, I was pleasantly surprised by his enthusiasm about the food, especially because he entered the restaurant about as dubious as I’ve ever seen him. He ordered the potato latkes, with apple sauce and sour cream, and I just managed to get a few delicious bites before he polished it off. They were the perfect blend of crispy, salty and a little greasy (but in a good way). The braised brisket seemed steep at $23.95, but was shared between three people, two adults and my son, who tried it and then couldn’t get enough. It came on a generous bed of sweet potatoes, onions, prunes, pears and microgreens. Everyone agreed it was “melt in your mouth delicious” and, though it didn’t look huge when it came out, we couldn’t finish it.
The hot pastrami on rye, $13.95, according to my New York-raised Jewish friend Jeff, who was with us, tasted “just right” and, trust me, he’s picky about these things. My son also dug into the sandwich and heartily approved. Jeff was especially happy about the case of Dr. Brown sodas, which we sampled and enjoyed.
We also tried the whitefish salad, bagel chips, and a potato knish, none of which disappointed. And we finished off our meal with some rugelach, and tahini cookies, buttery, delicious and only 65¢ and 75¢ respectively; a bargain!
With breakfast served till 5pm and lunch all day, there’s plenty of affordable and delicious choices on this menu for everyone. I'll be back with my other children to try more of the offerings here.
One Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-958-3354 mamalehs.com
On December 23rd, my husband and I decided to take the kids to see the big Canadian Christmas tree on the Boston Common. I can’t claim we were exclusively motivated by a sudden onset of the holiday spirit; in truth, my kids were climbing the walls, and we knew that at the park they could run about till they exhausted themselves. It took us quite a while to find the tree as, inexplicably, the Christmas lights weren’t on, so it just looked like any other fir tree in the dark. The kids ran about anyway, until cold, hungry and vaguely disappointed. We ended up in the North End and stumbled into Regina Pizzeria.
Our spirits were lifted instantly by the warm lights and welcoming service. The restaurant is cozy, lively, kid-friendly, and an institution in the North End, though there are a number of other locations. Our seasoned waitress was patient, joked with the kids, and brought us soft drinks right away. You can get a pitcher of beer here for $12, or a glass of house wine for $6. But Regina Pizzeria is about pizza, and I can confidently state that their classic Italian style pies are something to write home about.
A 16” specialty pizza at Reginas is $20.89 – for a 10”, it’s $12-$13; you’d be hard pressed not to find one you like, with so many mouth-watering combinations to choose from. The pepperoni pizza was perfect, according to the kids, and I can vouch for the Margherita being one of the most sweet and tasty that I’ve ever had.
But if you’re looking for something seriously substantial, the Giambotta might be your best bet. It's loaded with three pounds of fresh flavorful meat toppings including Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and salami.
On weekends, be prepared for a line, or stop in at an off time. Regina Pizzeria will validate parking at the Parcel 7 Garage (Faneuil Hall).
The original Pizzeria Regina is in the North end: 11 1/2 Thacher Street, Boston, 617-227-0765, reginapizzeria.com
There are plenty of other locations, though many are in malls, so not a restaurant experience if that's what you're looking for.
Taqueria el Amigo
Don’t be fooled by the unassuming exterior of Taqueria El Amigo; this hidden gem in Waltham has been serving some of the best tacos and burritos around for 14 years (as the locals know). There are only 20 seats total, and it’s small and busy, but it does turn over fairly fast. We had a table for 4 (we pulled up an extra chair) within a few minutes when we arrived just after 6pm on a Tuesday. Kids are expected here; the couple next to us had two toddlers in high chairs happily devouring tacos. And the service is welcoming and the atmosphere intimate; it’s hard not to make friends, either with other customers, or with the friendly kitchen staff.
Within seconds we had a complimentary serving of chips and salsa on our table, which kept the kids quiet while we looked at the menu. Just about every entrée is under $10. From the platillos (or 'plates') to super quesadillas. Good-sized burritos are $6.95, and they serve sandwiches ('tortas Mexicanas') for $5.50. Sides are $1, except for guacamole which is $2.50 for a fist-size mound.
You can’t beat the kid’s menu here; all the options are under $3! Two small tacos served with cheese and your choice of meat, was a hit. There are also quesadillas and mini-burritos. If we had one complaint it was that the burritos were a bit flaky and didn’t hold together well which, for the kids, got a bit messy.
We ordered two taco especiales at $7.95 each. 4 small tacos on each plate, with avocado, cilantro, onion, and your choice of meat. You can mix and match here, and the kids enjoyed trying them. The combination of flavors was extremely tasty, sweet and savory with the lime accent, and the meat was tender. The drinks cooler offers real Mexican sodas, (as well as the regular). I ordered a horchata, a fresh rice drink, milky and sweet, that was $2, and it served as dessert for me. But for $3 you can get a milkshake (banana, papaya, melon or strawberry). We were all far too full to try them, but they sounded good, so we’ll just have to go back!
196 Willow St., Waltham, 781-642-7410, Facebook.com/Taqueria-El-Amigo
If Waltham is too much of a trek, look for an Anna’s Taqueria near you. There are locations all around Boston. This chain is a go-to staple for many families who want no hassle good food, without having to drain their wallets.
I’ve always thought that the magic bullet at Anna’s is being able to watch the staff make your burrito. Anyone that spends time with kids will know that when it comes to food, they like to recognize what’s on their plate. At Anna’s they can be involved in choosing their fillings, so they know up front what they’re getting. It gives them that modicum of control they so crave, and it’s fun for them to boot.
Whether you choose a burrito, a taco, a quesadilla, the Mexican bowl, or the salad bowl, it’s all under $8 and the portions are consistently filling. With no wait service, you save on money, (but keep the good karma flowing and contribute to the tip jar,) and there’s plenty of seating available. The atmosphere is bustling, and fast-paced; no need to worry about kids kicking each other under the table here. We have a plethora of Mexican restaurants in and around our neighborhood, and my kids have tried them all, but if you ask them where they want to go for burritos, they’ll always choose Anna’s Taqueria.
Several locations around Boston, annastaqueria.com
Super 88 (aka Hong Kong Supermarket)
Does every member of your family want something different for dinner? Let Super 88 in Allston come to the rescue. In 2009, it was renamed the ‘Hong Kong Supermarket’, but to locals, this longtime food hall is, and probably will always be, Super 88; perhaps that’s why the iconic ‘Super 88 Market Signage has never been removed from atop the building.
This is not somewhere you go for a true restaurant experience. You order at the counter, and sit at tables in a cavernous space that was pretty drafty when we were there. But kids can be kids here, you’re saving on a tip, and if you’re looking for variety you will not be disappointed. The choices can often be overwhelming. But most of the vendors have pictures of their food, and because kids like to know what they're getting this is especially valuable in helping them make decisions.
Try spring rolls and a big bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup at Pho Viets. The soups are all under $10 and would easily feed two kids. At JMP, (Indian cuisine) the tandoori naan breads are a hit with my three boys. They come plain, garlic, or with a huge variety of stuffings, like cheese, chicken chilli, and minced lamb; all are between $2 and $5. The cheese, vegetable, or meat samosas, are also under $5. Sushi? Not a problem, At Geido Sushi, you can feed the family with the $38 veggie party platter that includes 60 pieces of maki. And there are plenty of individual maki rolls to choose from that are between $4 and $6, while a bowl of miso soup here is $1.95.
Egg rolls at Kantin Hong Kong Cuisine are $2.95, dumpling appetizers are $5.95 and most of the huge selection of rice plates ring in at $8.50, as do the Lo Mein dishes. At the Szechuan style Chilipa restaurant, tailor make your meal by choosing your own ingredients and spice level, and they’ll cook it up and serve it to you in a wooden bowl.
I'm really just scratching the surface of the variety that makes Super 88 so great. There are fun drinks to try, like milk tea with jelly, or fruit shakes. There's a restaurant devoted to bubble teas, (Kung Fu Tea) coming soon. It's truly a place where everyone will leave happy, possibly having tried something new. So, if you haven't already, go see for yourself why this long-time Allston landmark has such a devoted following.
1095 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-787-2288, Facebook.com/Super-88