Trying to find a special-occasion restaurant for kids where the food is actually good can be an exercise in frustration. Sure, there’s Chuck E Cheese and Rainforest Café, but wouldn’t you rather be known as the parent who did something else for a change? While these other options might not come with cute characters and games, the fare and the atmosphere is completely kid-friendly — and (perk!) fun for adults too.
1. Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, Bellevue and International District
1411 156th Ave., Suite A, Bellevue • 425-653-1625 • 609 South Weller St. • 206-623-6700 • All you can eat: $19.99 for adults, plus $2 broth fee; $13.99 for children 6-11, plus $2 broth fee
Kids of all ages will love cooking their own steaming pots of soup at Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, a Chinese chain that has been in Bellevue for several years, and recently opened in the International District. The fun really starts when the heaping platters of ingredients you pick start arriving at a fast pace: beef, shrimp, lamb, dumplings, veggies and noodles, to name just a fraction of what’s available. Watching the raw meat cook in the hot broth within seconds is akin to magic, and fishing around in the soup for favorites will keep kiddos rapt. Go with a large crowd, and you can order several pots to accommodate all different tastes. Picky eaters can stick with noodles, while the more adventurous set might try cuttlefish balls or tofu. The spectacle of it and the group atmosphere lend a celebratory air. Expand your kids’ horizons with yam mochi (a Japanese gluten rice cake), or just let them dig into ice cream in flavors of vanilla, sesame, mango and plum.
Party tip: Call ahead if you want to snag one of the large tables to accommodate a big group.
2. Paxti’s Pizza, Ballard
5323 Ballard Ave. NW • 206-946-1512; pizzas $20 and up
A pizza party never goes out of style, and with the arrival of California-based Paxti’s in Ballard, kids can experience authentic deep-dish-style pies. Even better: for anyone with allergies or food restrictions, Paxti’s serves up gluten-free, whole wheat and vegan crusts, as well as soy-based and vegan mozzarella. Little ones will like topping their pizzas with BBQ chicken and pepperoni while adults can go for artichoke hearts or anchovies, to name just a few. Besides the pizza, order up sides like meatballs for the kids or veggie-based artichoke dip. The large open space is conducive to large parties, and the staff is super friendly. Dessert is particularly fun here: ask your waiter for honey to pour over any leftover crusts.
Party tip: If you're planning to get the deep-dish pie, call ahead and pre-order. Otherwise, your little ones will have to wait 40 minutes for it to cook. Fun kid perk: they give out pizza dough to play with.
3. Trove, Seattle
500 East Pike St. • 206-457-4622 • barbecue prices vary widely according to party size and ingredients, noodles, $12; parfaits, $6.
Recently opened on Capitol Hill by the owners of Revel and Joule and already earning rave reviews by the likes of GQ Magazine, Trove is a mixed-use space that mingles noodles, Korean BBQ and parfaits under one roof. The walk-up noodle bar offers a variety of noodles fired before your eyes while, over in the BBQ section, there are tables with built-in grills on which you'll sear towering meat platters with a variety of sauces, perfect for sharing (they can accommodate parties up to 12 without reservations). While the offerings get pretty adventurous, there are a number of menu options kids will appreciate, such as short ribs with mustard maple sauce and smoked brisket.
No stop is complete without an icy treat from their parfait window, styled like a walk-up ice cream truck. Frozen custard in chocolate and vanilla are layered in glass jars with all manner of delish items, such as caramelized pineapple and cherry whipped cream or peanut butter nougat, caramel peanut and dark chocolate sauce. Adults can try edgier Korean treats such as black sesame cake and miso caramel. It’s like going to the food court at the mall, only ten times cooler.
Party tip: For the barbecue, reservations are accepted for parties of four or more. For parties over 12, email the manager to arrange a pre-set menu at firstname.lastname@example.org. The noodle bar is counter-service only; first come, first serve. BBQ prices vary widely depending on number of people and types of meat. And take note: Popularity can equal long lines, so try to go during off hours.
4. Hot Cakes, Ballard and Capitol Hill
5247 Ballard Ave. NW • 206-420-3431 • Treats approximately $10.
Autumn Martin’s phenomenally popular Hot Cakes in Ballard garners lines in both summer and winter for treats such as cool milkshakes, warm bread pudding featuring seasonal ingredients, grilled-chocolate sandwiches, signature gooey molten chocolate cakes or homemade s’mores. While the kids are digging into all that yummy goodness, adults can try hot drinking caramel spiked with mescal, a chocolate Guinness cake or a boozy milkshake blended with St. Germain. Order at the counter, get your number and wait for the staff to deliver it all. This place is so popular that Martin is said to be opening another location in Capitol Hill next year, where we hear she’ll have an outdoor grill for cooking up s’mores right on the sidewalk.
Party tip: If you're with a big group, you'll want to snag the large communal table so show up a bit before your celebration begins.
5. Twede’s Café, North Bend
137 W. North Bend Way, North Bend, WA • 425-831-5511 • Lunch entrees under $15
Your kids will never know that you’re fulfilling your own popular culture dream when you take them to Twede’s Café in North Bend, aka The Double R Diner made famous in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. With the resurrection of the show planned for 2016 (featuring nine new episodes in celebration of 25 years since the cult favorite went off the air), what better time than now to make a pilgrimage to the beautiful area where much of the iconic show was shot? While you’ll want to order the “cherry pie that’ll kill ya” and “damn fine coffee,” your tots can take their pick from burgers and Belgian waffles, spaghetti and fried chicken, sundaes and milkshakes, and much more. Afterwards, consider a hike up Little Si or just drive through the beautiful Snoqualmie Valley.
Party tip: Reservations are not required and it's generally not hard to get a table here.