For families traveling internationally this year, the thought of dining out with kids can be the most daunting part (aside from a long plane flight!). While picky eaters will be just as picky overseas as they are at home, choosing kid-friendly restaurants can help everyone enjoy themselves a lot more.
John Donohue is an artist and dad who just published a three-book series, AlltheRestaurants.com. The gorgeous trio features his original artwork and details of restaurants he’s visited and loved in three iconic cities: New York City (where he lives), as well as Paris and London.
The restaurants below are all ones that John has taken his (now teenage) daughters too, both of whom have food allergies. So not only are they all family-friendly, but also accommodating of dietary restrictions. “When traveling abroad, my wife made little laminated cards in French, German, and Italian, clearly explaining the nut allergies in the local language so there would be no confusion,” shares John.
He suggests trying lunch if you’re not sure your kids will eat much. “It’s almost always cheaper, which can be less stressful, and then you and the kids can take a nap afterward!” says John.
I can’t say enough to recommend Verjus (52 Rue de Richelieu, 75001). It is a beautiful room with low-key, exquisite cuisine that treads the fine line between favorite flavors in unexpected and delicious preparations.
The night we ate there, my then 14-year-old had just flown in from Norway, where she had been in a soccer camp (long story!), and with people being tired, it felt like a gamble to go to a place with a tasting menu. But Verju triumphed. They not only adjusted their set menu to keep us from eating nuts, but they also accommodated my gluten intolerance. It was unbelievable.
Our favorite appetizer was delicate, crispy chickpea socca with wild herbs (mint, chives) that was so haunting it left us aching for more, and a main course of lamb three ways with chevre and haricots verts (loin, kebab, sausage) that created a heated debate among the family about which was most supremely delicious.
The restaurant sits adjacent to the Jardin du Palais Royal, and before dinner, it’s a nice place to wander. See if you can find the benches inscribed with lines from famous French writers on their backs.
Another favorite from my Paris trips is Quinsou (33 Rue de l’Abbé Grégoire, 75006). It has since picked up a Michelin Star, but when we were there, it had just opened. We found out about it by asking the waitstaff at The Clown Bar (114 Rue Amelot, 75011). As an aside, The Clown Bar is a celebrated place, which, on paper, sounded like fun for the kids, with colorful namesake figures on the wall tiles and a neat little feature where the flatware is in a drawer beneath each table, but the food was a little too outre for my family. If you have a sitter, though, don’t miss it).
Quinsou, on the other hand, was a big hit for lunch one day. What exactly we ate is lost in time, but the memories of a good meal remain. Also, we liked it so much that we bought a gift certificate for the folks who had lent us their apartment nearby for the trip (plus a case of an incredible local fruit soda that the kids had with their meals). Also, it is a short stroll from the Jardin du Luxembourg, where you can rent cute little sailboats to push around the Grand Bassin duck pond (the boats are the same ones first launched in the 1920s!). Great for kids!
One restaurant not to be missed if you have kids is Mokonuts (5 Rue Saint-Bernard, 75011). It is very family-friendly, especially for its owners. The husband-and-wife team of Omar Koreitem and Moko Hirayama only serve breakfast and lunch so they can be home for dinner with their kids. It is tiny, so reservations are a must (actually, in Paris, it’s a good rule of thumb to make reservations–I learned the hard way when I was there solo and found it difficult to get served before I figured this out!).
Koreitem was born in Lebanon and Hirayama in Japan, and the menu at Mokonuts mixes the flavors of their homelands with French influence for spectacular results. But that’s not the selling point for your kids. It’s a bakery, too, and some say they have the best cookies in Paris. Try telling them that!
In the Exmouth Market, a pedestrian-only street full of cafés, boutiques, and pubs, sits Moro (34-36 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE), a beacon of inventive cooking. Since 1997, the husband-and-wife owners (curiously named Sam and Sam Clark) have been mixing North African flavors and Spanish influences. They’ve developed quite the following for what Conde Nast Traveller called “exotic comfort food at its very best.”
We relaxed with a pomegranate and cava cocktail when we visited while our kids dove into the mezze appetizer spread with freshly baked pitas. Our favorite dish was a roasted skate with a piquant dressing of caramelized garlic and sherry vinegar. Our kids ate lamb tartare and loved it!
Ottolenghi Notting Hill (63 Ledbury Rd, London W11 2AD) is the famed chef’s first place, and it is essentially a deli. But a deli by Ottolenghi is worth buying a plane ticket for. It is in the heart of Notting Hill, a very family-friendly neighborhood.
The thing with kids to do here is to stop by and get some takeaway (the menu changes daily but is always fresh) and then head to the Portobello Road Market, one of the world’s most colorful and entertaining places for antiques and clothing. Just browsing is fun (though when we visited, my girls came away with a few cute silver and glass boxes for holding jewelry!)
Kids love adventure, and getting to Rochelle Canteen (16 Playground Gardens, London E2 7FA), a quasi-secret spot in Shoreditch, is half the fun. The restaurant is in a converted bike shed (don’t be alarmed) inside a walled garden. It’s on a circular street called Arnold’s Circus; to enter, ignore any signs that say “school,” and look for a small set of buzzers by a door along the brick ramparts on the southeast side. Hit the one marked “Canteen,” and you are in.
Go during the summer (be sure to make a reservation), and your kids can burn off extra energy on the grass. The menu changes daily, but no matter what they are serving, you will feel like you are in paradise. The cooking here comes with pedigree. A co-owner is Margot Henderson, whose husband is Fergus Henderson, of that premiere carnivore’s delight, St. John.
NEW YORK CITY
For years, when my kids were little, I thought that no matter how long the menu might have been at a restaurant, there was just one thing of interest to them–steak. At Peter Luger Steak House (178 Broadway, Brooklyn), which we visited for my 50th birthday lunch a few years ago, the menu basically starts and stops with steak (though there are other things on it, but why bother) so everyone was happy. It tends to be loud and boisterous, so you can (almost) let the kids be kids. If you still have room at the end of the meal, all the desserts come with homemade “Schlag” (whipped cream), which, after we discovered during our very filling afternoon there, makes a perfectly fine way to end a meal all by itself. (Famously cash only.)
Our family has always loved bibimbap and kimchi (well, mom and dad love kimchi, and its heady aroma is an easy way to clear kids from the vicinity!), and we have found the Korean diaspora to be one of the most reliable sources of delicious, fresh, healthy meals in far-flung locales across the states.
Also at home in Brooklyn, Haenyo (239 5th Ave, Brooklyn), which earned two stars from the New York Times, takes this up a notch, actually many notches, with their innovative yet crowd-pleasing dishes. Favorites include grilled oysters with seaweed butter (my eldest daughter will sometimes go on an oyster bender and forsake a main course for more and more of these addictive morsels) and the succulent sablefish with tender, verdant, crunchy bok choy.
Mexican food has long been a staple around our house, and when we want to enjoy cooking on another level, we go to Fonda (434 7th Ave, Brooklyn). The sopa de tortilla, with its rich hunks of chicken and avocado, is now my eldest daughter’s favorite. My youngest has taken to the Birria de Borrego (slow braised lamb shank). And my wife and I enjoy the margaritas.
Given that it’s in Park Slope, there’s no shortage of other kids, so everyone will feel at home. (Fonda also has locations in Chelsea and Tribeca).