VIA NORTHERN VIRGINIA MAGAZINE:
Dining with young charges can be exhausting—plotting amiable seating arrangements, scavenging for crayons/booster seats, etc.—without worrying if there’s actually anything healthy to eat.
These restaurants make kid-friendly their business.
6550 Little River Turnpike, Alexandria; 703-914-9280; http://www.foxfire-grill.com
Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$). Open for lunch, dinner and late-night dining daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday.
Becoming an actual pillar of the community is no small feat for an aspiring restaurateur. Yet Foxfire Grill owner Terri Fox and her crew make it seem effortless, treating every guest like a cherished regular—be they adult, infant or anywhere in between.
The tranquil suburban restaurant showers patrons with plenty of natural light (the collaborative efforts of the surrounding windows and mirror-polished blond hardwoods spray sunshine into every last square inch of the dining room). Staff are hyper-friendly and perfectly at ease with young children, going so far as to distribute complimentary Wikki Stix (fully poseable and totally reusable wax-like twists that will provide much more entertainment mileage than a box of cut-rate crayons) the average parent would be wise to pocket and re-deploy whenever boredom threatens to sour any future eating outing.
The kids’ menu features multiple, vegetarian-friendly dining options, including a personalized hummus and pita plate, cheese quesadillas (served with barbecue sauce, by request), traditional mac and cheese and crunchy carrot sticks. Baked whitefish filets are unapologetically fishy (no disguising the main event beneath breadcrumbs, cheese or anything untoward) but perfectly satisfying, while fruit kebabs flanked by honeyed yogurt grant children the sweet endings they crave sans all the processed sugars.
Daily specials like half-price burgers (reinvest the savings in gourmet add-ons like sauteed onions and tres tangy blue cheese) and discount wings help take the guesswork out of ordering for adults. Meanwhile, staff takes the bite out of scouting easy-to-sip wines by maintaining a list of 20 wines for under $20.
Multiple NoVA locations; http://www.redrobin.com
Average entree: Under $12 ($). Open for lunch and dinner daily.
Kitsch and kids go hand in hand at Red Robin, a gourmet-burger hut that keeps youngsters of all ages enthralled without forgetting that parents like to mix things up from time to time as well.
No matter what the age group, Red Robin most likely has something that’ll captivate your brood, be it an appearance by their costumed mascot (who doesn’t love hugs from giant, candy apple-red birds?), the bevy of reach-out-and-grab-’em balloons, interactive menus or quarter-gobbling game rooms. Grown-ups, meanwhile, can catch up on their sports highlights via the strategically placed TVs that dot the interior or enjoy a tension-relieving beverage from the fully-stocked bar (ample signature cocktails to choose from).
The kids’ menu is composed of under a dozen selections, but provides an amazing variety of permutations thanks to extensive substitution options (standard burgers can field beef, chicken, turkey, grain or Boca patties) and mix-and-match side items (mandarin orange slices are perfect for little hands, while baby carrots and ranch allow kids to mimic the condiment dunking they see everybody else doing). Meanwhile, the restaurant’s bottomless steak fries policy makes sharing a non-issue, particularly if any of your clan enjoys grazing on adjoining plates while family members aren’t looking.
The adult menu is all about rotating specialty burgers, and toppings run the gamut from caramelized pineapple rings to crispy onion strings. The hefty Santa Fe burger arrives dressed in melted pepper jack cheese, guacamole, roasted poblano peppers (expertly charred), crunchy tortilla strips and ancho mayo, all packed onto a roasted onion-backed bun.
Multiple NoVA locations; http://www.mimiscafe.com
Average entree: Under $12 ($). Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
The question isn’t what’s there to eat at Mimi’s, but how much of it do you want to enjoy?
This comfort food corral bends over backward to accommodate all kinds of different appetites. Late risers can enjoy breakfast till 4 p.m. Calorie counters can indulge on the “just enough” entrees in lieu of breaking out their portable scales. And curious palates can nibble freely on the various “petite” portions rather than wholly committing to any one cuisine/style/menu item.
As such, the average crowd is anything but, culling together a cross-section of casual dining aficionados ranging from groups of retirees (no doubt attracted to the budget-conscious carte) to extended families to burger-toting businessmen.
The funky decor—the starting point is pseudo-French bistro, but each restaurant seems to be afforded some latitude to carve out their own identity—provides conversation-starters for dealing with moderately older kids. And a four-page foldout menu stocked with word, counting and even basic cooking games that go far beyond generic connect-the-dots activities should keep youngsters engaged for a good while.
The kids’ menu swings from fingerpicking (around a half-dozen cocktail weenies wrapped in puffy, fried cornmeal are paired up with a banquet of fresh grapes, melon and pineapple) to substantial (a turkey dinner packs all the pageantry of the holidays onto one plate, delivering healthy chunks of unadulterated breast meat drizzled with a home-style gravy and accompanied by a savory herb stuffing) in just over a dozen dishes.
Adult offerings include beer-battered fish and chips (stocky haddock filets and shoestring fries, all begging for a shot of malt vinegar) or broiled salmon escorted by balsamic-splashed greens decorated with ripe, delicious strawberries.