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Boston with a toddler

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I'm leaving for a long weekend in Boston next week, along with my wife and 2 1/2-year-old son. I've done some looking around for child-friendly restaurants in the city but haven't really had a whole lot of luck. Chowhound has been terrific for this on other trips, so I'm trying again!

The important details: We're driving in on Thursday, driving back home on Monday. The toddler is a very picky eater despite our best efforts, so we need a place that not only has high chairs and a "welcome, we love your screechy child" attitude but also an actual children's menu, you know, with chicken fingers and such. (I found couple of Chowhound threads about kid-friendly Boston restaurants, but when I went to the restaurants' websites, I saw nothing about children's menus.)

Cuisine isn't important, but like I said, there should be a children's menu. In my experience, that usually rules out a lot of ethnic places. Extra points for places that are fun and hip and young and new while still tolerating kids -- and we don't like to sacrifice quality just because we need a high chair. We love a good diner, but not now -- we're on vacation. I'm looking for both dinner and breakfast/brunch suggestions.

We always like to use food as an excuse to see neighborhoods. For dinner, I've targeted:

Jamaica Plain
South Boston
Back Bay
South End

Breakfast or brunch is a little more open-ended. Allston? Charlestown? Cambridge? I'm open to suggestions.

Oh, also: We're going to start one of our days by checking out the south suburbs, to which we're considering relocating one of these years. The Dedham/Canton area, specifically. So if you have any ideas for a nice breakfast there (and because it's the suburbs, we're more open to dinerish options), let me know.

Thanks in advance! I'm really excited about this trip.

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  1. We also have a 2 1/2 yr old. Russell House Tavern in Harvard Sq is very kid friendly and can get one of their great pizzas to your table in a few minutes. All of their food is pretty awesome.

    Not in Boston, but several suburban location, Half Way Cafe has a great kids menu and pretty decent pub food in general.

    Legal Seafood is very kid friendly. We recently ate at Island Creek Oyster Bar. Althought the kid ended up sleeping the entire time we were there, they were prepared to accommodate us.

    If you go to the Children's museum, I recommend Flour or Yankee Lobster.

    1. Full Moon in Cambridge for brunch. It is a kid-centric restaurant, with good food for both parents and kids. They have play space.

      2 Replies
      1. re: CookieLee

        second Full Moon.

        1. re: Science Chick

          Yeah, Full Moon seems to be the place to go for a lot of parents.

      2. Flour Bakery has a small kids menu (at least at the Fort Point location) and would be great for breakfast/brunch/lunch. (Plus near the Children's Museum!)

        1. Definitely Full Moon. It is specifically meant for small children and parents to dine out in a kid friendly atmosphere with good food. In the South End, Gaslight is good for brunch. Call and ask about high chairs. It is big and loud inside, so no issue with "screechy" child. On Sundays, there is a fun outdoor market in the parking lot next door.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Kat

            full moon also has beer and wine, sangria, mimosas. the food is not great but it is much better than just ok.

            1. re: Madrid

              I'm late to this discussion, and I may be in the minority, but I always found Full Moon to be the most unrelaxing of possible venues. If your toddler can sit through a meal at a table, I highly recommend against upsetting such good behavior with a place where the expectation is that the kids will NOT sit at the table but rather run around and play while the adults eat. (And of course many of the adults don't get to eat because they're busy chasing after their kid(s))!

              1. re: Blumie

                I' ve been many times over 10plus years (including before I had a child) and my experience is that many kids don't go to play area at all. In fact, I've usually gone with a friend's children before my child and all the children were happy to sit at the table and talk with the adults and look at books and the plastic toys in the buckets. But I've never gone at really peak periods. Years ago when people still used checkbooks, I remember watching a mom drink a glass of wine and balance her checkbook at a table while her son played peacefully in the play area with one other child. It was mid afternoon. It was quite a sight. To each his own.

          2. I would consider Brookline, West Roxbury or Arlington- all swarming with picky toddlers and great restaurants who are happy to accommodate families. The areas you have picked for dinner are much more adult oriented - might work better for brunch/lunch than dinner. For an early dinner I would recommend Porter Cafe in West Rox or Washington Square Tavern in Brookline. Both are very family friendly at 5:30.

            1. For breakfast in the Dedham area, I would recomend the 50's Diner (mind you there is always a line, unless you go early, like 8am, but I tend to get up early and go when on vaca), on right next to Legacy Place in Dedham. Good short order style breakfast, family friendly staff that gets what it's like to have a toddler (and loves them to boot). They have NEVER messed up my eggs (2 over medium, I like the yokes to still be liquid, consistancy of cold maple syrup, and the whites to be completely solid), a shockingly rare thing in the world of breakfast!

              1. Neither have a kiddo menu but Picco (delicious pizza, pasta, sandwiches, salads) and Myers + Chang, both in the South End, have been wonderful about my own toddler since he was born. He eats what we eat and some of the M+C menu may be too exotic, but Picco is likely a good fit. They have a killer grilled cheese for instance.

                Just remembered: the mac and cheese with peas and ham is a good option at Coda, and Charley's is good for kids too but lines can be long. Both are on Columbus.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ebaba

                  You DEFINITELY want to go to Picco. Pizza and ice cream, what could be more kid-friendly? If you go early enough, 530-630ish the place is swarming with families. You can get great food and a really nice selection of beer on tap, your toddler can have pizza. Plus, it's in the south end, a great neighborhood for walking around and exploring. Check out Peter's Park, in btwn Shawmut and Washington Streets for a fun playground. You can also see the dogs in the dog park...about a 5 minute walk from Picco.

                2. My experience dining with a toddler in Boston is that almost everywhere has high chairs, so that should not really ever be a problem, but that children's menus are much rarer.

                  Sel de la Terre has one, so that might be a reasonable option in Back Bay. Pico in the South End is a good pizza place, as far as I know no specific kids menu, but it's pizza. Legal Seafood (many locations) has a kids menu too -- although there are certainly better seafood restaurants in Boston, requiring a kids menu does limit you quite a bit so it is an option to keep in mind.

                  1. Thanks a lot for the great tips, everybody. I've been busy putting together an itinerary based on these suggestions, and I think we're set.

                    Sel de la Terre and Myers and Chang looked spectacular and were easy picks. Really appealing menus in both cases. Despite the lack of a kids' menu, Myers and Chang has a big-enough, diverse-enough menu that I was able to identify a few things my son will definitely eat. I wasn't sure about Full Moon, but after considering how many people recommended it, I gave it another look. I thought its focus on kids was going to amount to six crayons instead of the standard three, but we just can't pass up a restaurant with a dedicated play area and buckets of toys (or, as my wife put it, "buckets of germs").

                    Nobody mentioned it, but Canary Square in Jamaica Plain seems to be well liked and good for kids, so we're going to try that, too.

                    As for breakfast, we are going to the Children's Museum -- can't pass up a play area, remember? -- so we'll hit Flour first. And we'll brave the line at the '50s Diner in Dedham. Will probably wing it the other days.

                    As all of you with young children know, this is all extremely subject to change. (Though I will say we've done fairly well with hitting the restaurants we've planned on other trips in the past couple of years.)

                    I think I picked a suggestion from almost everyone who weighed in, so thanks again! I'll likely return after the trip to report on how it went.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: masterofzen

                      an added attraction about Full Moon: one of the best cheese shops in the country is just down the street. amazing cured meats, gourmet items of all sorts, etc.
                      http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/

                      1. re: masterofzen

                        Just a warning about Full Moon -- it is an absolute madhouse on weekends, pretty much all day long. You can't even get away with the early-bird trick like in other restaurants, because everyone else there also has little kids and arrives way earlier than regular people would want to eat. It's very kid-friendly, but if you have low tolerance for crowds (or other people's kids), you might want to avoid it.

                        After the Children's Museum, you might head to the Rose Kennedy Greenway (5-minute walk over the bridge into Boston proper) and check out the food trucks there, or keep walking to the North End. Or just relax on the Greenway -- they have all sorts of fun family events on weekends.

                        1. re: Pia

                          I actually have Full Moon slated for Friday. Don't know if that will make a difference -- hopefully yes. I know Friday and Saturday are by far the biggest nights in the restaurant biz, but maybe that's different when you're talking about kids.

                          As for the Rose Kennedy Greenway, I'm a big urban-park enthusiast and have been dying to visit it ever since it opened. I have it penciled in as the first stop on the itinerary on the first full day in Boston. I did NOT know it had food trucks, but that's really awesome. I might push it to later in the day, farther away from breakfast, so I can take advantage.

                          1. re: masterofzen

                            if you bring a change of clothes for your child, and it's a hot day, check out the kids spray park on the greenway.

                            1. re: Madrid

                              Second the spray park. A fun activity if it is warm enough. There is also the carousel on the greenway, the aquarium across the street, and Fanueil Hall on the other side of the street. Lots to do there.

                              1. re: twentyoystahs

                                And if you don't want to go into the aquarium you can at least watch the seals in the outdoor tank.

                                To keep it food related, James Hook is right on the Greenway (by the bridge to the Children's Museum) and they sell one of the best cheap lobster rolls in Boston. If you do hit the food trucks check out Clover for vegetarian sandwiches and rosemary fries.

                            2. re: masterofzen

                              On the Greenway, Clover (by South Station) is great and will make you kid-sized sandwiches if you ask (the options on the truck might be more limited than at the restaurant, but you should at least be able to get a cheese sandwich, and maybe peanut butter). IIRC, they are only there on weekdays.

                              1. re: masterofzen

                                During the week, there's often a grilled cheese truck in the tourist part of the Greenway.

                                It's now a very nice, continuous walk from the new Armenian memorial opposite the marketplace - which is nice though the sculpture is kind of bleh - to South Station. On one of the lawns near that end are some cool sculptures that are kid friendly. Think giant pumpkins. It has become a terrific urban park.

                                There is less food on the Greenway on the weekend, though that may change now the weather is warm.

                                One of my favorite things is the Harbor Pavilion with the map of Boston harbor in the flooring.

                            3. re: masterofzen

                              Meyers and Chang has a kid's section on the dim sum menu but might not be exactly what you're looking for. If you're interested in checking out JP, Canary Square is a good choice. The food will not blow you away, but it was so pleasant eating there with our 3 year old that we went very frequently when we lived in the neighborhood. As others have mentioned, Picco is fantastic with kids.

                            4. 2 summers ago, we took our then 2 year old daughter to Boston for a long summer weekend. We found great success with her almost everywhere we went to eat, and when we didn't it was b/c of her mood- not the establishment. We stayed at The Colonade so we could be located in an easy walk area, and avail ourselves at the pool. Breakfast at Brasserie Jo each AM before we headed out was a delight. They couldn't do enough for us. Catered to her every whim!! We had lunches on the go, and stowed the stroller easily. Plenty of places w/ outside seating on Newbury were especially happy to help us out. When we did the aquarium and the area around it, we lunched outside and let her romp in some of the sprayers. ( Do bring extra clothes, water diaper and water shoes in your stroller) We did 2 early "nicer" dinners. One at Post 390 where we sat near the open kitchen so our daughter could see the action. Again, they practically stood on their heads to keep her happy. It was terrific for her and we had a nice dinner w/ good drinks, too. In fairness, our daughter is a very good traveler and restaurant diner, so we are pretty lucky. Another night, we ate Lucca w/ her. The food was fine, nothing to rave about, but again, they were extremely happy to do whatever it took to make the evening work for all of us. And, b/c it was close to our hotel, all the better. One evening, we did eat in a very casual Italian place in the South End not far from Hammersley Bistro. Hammersley was totally NOT cool with the idea of us eating there. The hostess was actually super snotty when she saw us approach. Too bad b/c we tend to be very polite, eat a lot and tip nicely.
                              Good luck and have fun! Our daughter still talks about our trip to Boston and how much she loved it.

                              1. No children's menu, but Mary Chung's might be a good option, based on recent reports: http://www.chow.com/digest/117503/cat...

                                1. "Where kids eat free around Boston"

                                  http://www.boston.com/community/moms/...

                                  Haven't been to most of these places, and can't say anything about their food, except for the well known chains. But they must love kids, and would be "battle ready" on the free days! For specific restaurants, search this forum or ask the hounds. Some of these are in the neighborhoods, perfect reason to visit them.

                                  Also, if you should visit the Children's Museum, ordering a meal from a milk bottle can be a treat by itself.

                                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdevers/...

                                  Have a great trip, and tell us your Boston adventure!

                                  1. I'm back from Boston, and we had a really excellent trip, our best in years. Thanks to everyone here for giving me such great advice, and thanks for representing such a great city.

                                    We ended up going to all the restaurants I mentioned. Every one was spectacularly kid-friendly.

                                    As someone said, Canary Square wasn't blow-you-away good, but it was very good. This was actually the only place where my picky son wouldn't eat -- we got him macaroni and cheese -- but that's not really the restaurant's fault; he was sick and had just been through a whirlwind day of travel and tourism, two circumstances that have impeded his desire to eat in the past. We ordered way too many appetizers here, but they were the best part, so that's OK. Drinks were good and strong.

                                    Full Moon -- oh my God, why can't every town have a restaurant like this? We walked in, plonked our son (who was feeling much better by then) down in the play area and had a seat -- contrary to what we heard, there was no wait whatsoever and, in fact, the restaurant was half empty. Five to 10 minutes later, he came toddling over to find us. We put him in the high chair and he ate like a champ. The crayons and toy buckets didn't hurt, either. I love this place. As for the adult food, it's not going to win any James Beard awards, but it was tasty and portions were huge. In a sense, I thought it was a more enjoyable dining experience than Canary Square.

                                    Sel de la Terre. OK, here's the deal. I'm from New York. In New York, there are kid-friendly restaurants and there are classy restaurants, and never the twain shall meet, really. I loved that this place was both, even though we were all underdressed after a long day of slogging around the city. (Consistent with the place's lack of attitude, nobody batted an eye. Anyway, we like to try and blend in on vacation, so we weren't wearing Tigger sweatshirts purchased at Disney World or anything.) The food here was just terrific, and the service was friendly, helpful and understanding. I really appreciated the opportunity to visit this kind of restaurant with a child.

                                    The culinary highlight of the trip, though, was probably our last dinner at Myers and Chang. We ordered three items off the kids' dim sum menu, and guess what? My son ate ALL OF THEM, in an unprecedented display of gastronomic adventure. The grown-up food was unique and flavorful and satisfying. Special thumbs up to the homemade sodas. Service was a LITTLE wonky here, but still personable and certainly prompt.

                                    What else? The '50s Diner in Dedham was a good call. Just like with Full Moon, we heard rumors of long waits here, and in fact did experience the only wait of our trip, but it was only five minutes or so. Quality diner breakfasts, though service was slow. And Flour was just as good as everyone says, with the added advantage of a primo location near the Children's Museum.

                                    (About that Children's Museum! That may have been the best museum I've ever visited of any kind. It just goes on and on and on. We spent around three hours there, and by the end, my son was literally collapsing on the gift-shop floor. We could have spent two days there if he'd had the stamina.)

                                    Other food highlights:

                                    We tried Emack and Bolio's ice cream for the first time (even though they've got three locations in Manhattan now). I didn't love paying $7.50 for a Rice Krispies Treat cone, but I can't honestly say it wasn't worth it.

                                    We also hit the food trucks at the Greenway (which is amazing, by the way; my favorite thing in Boston), but all I got was some chocolate rice pudding. (The vegetarian truck was out of sandwiches and recommended the barbecue truck instead. "I can't believe the vegetarian truck just sent me to the barbecue truck," I said. "And I'm a vegan, too," the vegetarian-truck guy replied. "But we're a community.")

                                    And we had sandwiches at Nick Varano's Famous Deli, where we were the only customers due to the odd hour -- that was a great scene. Two really friendly guys -- one of whom I'm assuming was Nick -- making us huge sandwiches and chatting us up. I'd heard of this place, but we ended up just wandering in when we couldn't wait two hours for dinner, and I'm glad we did.

                                    So yeah, great trip. And nice people! One of the reasons my wife wants to leave New York is that people here are jerks. When I tell people this, they invariably say, "Your wife wants to leave New York because people are jerks, and you're looking at BOSTON?" But we found a much more personable, upbeat, laid-back vibe in Boston -- everyone, absolutely everyone smiled at our son -- and we appreciated that as much as or more than the architecture and the food.

                                    11 Replies
                                    1. re: masterofzen

                                      Thanks for the report! Glad you had fun and good chow. Funny, I always feel like folks in NYC are MUCH nicer than here......go figure! :)

                                      1. re: masterofzen

                                        Great report, thanks so much for writing it up!

                                        What kind of sandwiches did you get at Nick Varano's?

                                        I liked the story about the vegetarian and bbq trucks!

                                        Dave MP

                                        1. re: Dave MP

                                          Chicken salad, which they warned us was made with wine. I thought that was considerate but strange -- were they concerned about us getting drunk while caring for a 2-year-old?

                                          1. re: masterofzen

                                            Maybe they thought you would give it to the kid? I guess considering most chicken salad isn't made with wine, they just figured a heads up would be appropriate.

                                        2. re: masterofzen

                                          Great trip and thanks for reporting back. I almost felt like I was there with you and your toddler. It is a really good Children's museum. Nice to hear Boston described as friendly.

                                          1. re: masterofzen

                                            Glad you had a good trip.

                                            Only a New Yorker would consider Bostonians to be "much more personable, upbeat, laid-back" :-) BTW, did you try to drive within the City?

                                            1. re: eatntell

                                              Very appropriate that you should say that and then ask about driving. I drove everywhere (except for one ride on the T back to the car after a long day of walking), and like the friendliness situation, I found all the talk about how awful it is to drive in Boston to be overblown.

                                              Was it uniformly a great experience? Nah, I got stuck in front of TD Garden for three or four green lights while trying to turn left because every time I'd get a green light, another truck would block the intersection until my light turned red. And I ran into some genuinely awful traffic in the West End once. But I've found it much harder to drive in DC, and I absolutely refuse to drive in Manhattan unless I have to pick up a cat tree from someone giving it away on Craigslist or something like that. (Bonus tip if you ever have to drive in New York City: Do not ever drive in the right lane, because every two or so blocks, a taxi or bus will stop in front of you. If possible, don't drive in the left lane, either, because there are no turning lights, so drivers trying to turn left will block you. Oh, and if there's a center lane, don't drive there, either, because you'll risk being hit by cars trying to escape the right and left lanes.)

                                              Boston drivers seemed pretty considerate compared to what I'm used to. They often let me in when I had to quickly change lanes, for example. (This NEVER happens in New York. I mean that, literally never.) They were also slow to use the horn. Once I headed down a one-lane, one-way street and there was a car in front of me that was just stopped, just sitting there to wait for a parking space that would soon be vacated by another car. Though I thought this was really inconsiderate -- you're not allowed to stake out a parking space if you're impeding all traffic for minutes on end -- I was actually more struck by the fact that no other drivers seemed upset about it.

                                              I think a lot of the smack talk about Boston driving probably comes from the confusing layout and lack of a grid, but it's 2012 and I have a GPS, so that certainly wasn't an issue.

                                              1. re: masterofzen

                                                Your Boston driving experience tells me one thing: you live a charmed life! I bet you were able to find a metered parking space everywhere you went.

                                                I don't go to NYC often. I notice one thing in recent years: there don't seem to be hardly any cars double parked, which is routine and "accepted" in Boston. That wasn't the case a decade or so ago. Maybe Bloomberg has done a better job than Menino. Or the grass seems greener on the other side?

                                                1. re: eatntell

                                                  Heh, I mostly garaged it, but I did find a meter directly outside the entrance to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I couldn't believe it.

                                                  I live in Queens, and you see loads of double parking here. Like I said, I try not to drive in Manhattan so I'm less conscious of what's going on there, but come to think of it, I think you may be right.

                                                2. re: masterofzen

                                                  Visitors from Omaha were floored at how often Boston drivers let them in. (Great chow report!)

                                              2. re: masterofzen

                                                Thanks for reporting back! I'm glad you had a good experience at Full Moon (when it's good, it's exactly like you say... when it's bad, you end up with a headache and wishing you had stayed home).

                                                I'll have to try that rice krispie treat cone -- it always looks intriguing, but over the top. Better yet, I'll save the $7.50 and make it at home.

                                                Re: the wine at Nick Varano's, as a parent of a child with food allergies, I really appreciate it and take it as a good sign when someone makes the effort to let you know there are unexpected ingredients in a dish.

                                              3. We love the greenway as well. My boys have so much fun in the water!

                                                Museums...Indy has the best...get out there and check it out.

                                                Food...I'm thankful for this thread. Will need to try full moon and flour with my boys.