When the elusive Pacific Northwest sun comes out of hiding to bestow summer splendor upon vitamin-D-starved families, we all hunger to eat outdoors. But wait, where to go? Despite the plethora of hip, interesting restaurants around Puget Sound, sometimes it’s hard to think of spots with kid-friendly outdoor spaces and tasty eats. So we did the research: Here are 13 picks, including newbies and classic faves. Plus, a sidebar of sweet scoop shops and stands that should make it onto your summer bucket list (ice cream road trip, anyone?).
6501 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle • 206-420-8548 • Plates and sandwiches $8–$11
Bongos, a Caribbean-Cuban inspired café across from Green Lake on Aurora, has transformed a former gas station into a little island getaway, complete with tables on a sand floor and sand toys for little diggers to burn energy while you dig into The Desi, a plate of citrus-braised pork with mango slaw. Beach umbrellas and more tables will be added this summer, all first-come, first-served. Try the not-spicy pollo Havana; don’t miss the various spins on plantain chips or yucca fries. Easy parking at the south end of the café.
Happy-kid tip: For kids, order a half portion of any sandwich or plate for $5.99, including apple juice or soda.
1303 N.E. Boat St., Seattle • 206-545-8570 • $7–$17
No secret here, but this Burke-Gilman staple fills with families, UW folks, cyclists and kayakers year after year for good reasons: tasty Baja-oriented Mexican food and a fantastic location, right off the trail with a deck facing Lake Union. If the deck is full (as it often is, no reservations), you can order to-go and enjoy the same lakeside views from the adjacent parklet (a few picnic tables, too). Kids’ menu ($4–$7) offers simple quesadillas and rice-and-bean bowls with meat add-ins. Slather stellar house-made salsa on chips or legendary fish tacos.
Happy-kid tip: Rent double kayaks on-site at the paddle club.
5520 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle • 206-946-1519 • From $8.30 for quarter-chicken dinner
Not your typical barbecue joint, Big Chickie in South Seattle’s Hillman City neighborhood specializes in finger-licking, Peruvian-inspired charcoal rotisserie birds (pollo a la brasa). Brilliantly simple: Order your bird (quarter, half or whole), sides and salad (fresh corn, monster kale, spring pea) at the speedy counter. Whisk your yummies off to one of the 10 outdoor first-come, first-served covered tables or one of the new picnic tables amid newly landscaped greenery. A whole chicken dinner ($26.75) gets you two sides, four cornbread muffins and two sauces, like jalapeno lime or tangy mayo-mustard.
Happy-kid tip: Top off with a pint of Full Tilt ice cream.
1201 Alaskan Way Pier 56, Seattle • 206-623-4340 • $19–$95; lunch sandwiches start at $13
If you’re playing tourist on the waterfront and looking for sustenance, head to Elliott’s 38 umbrella tables perched on the pier just south of the Great Wheel. The kids’ menu will keep small ones busy with chowder, burgers, fish-and-chips and pasta, while you can slurp away on slippery bivalves. The ultimate chilled platter is like having all the ocean’s shell-bearing critters on a single plate and makes for a good marine-science lesson for kids. Killer crab cakes, too. Note: They’ll try to honor outside seating requests when you make a reservation, but no guarantees.
Happy-kid tip: Snagging a patio table also means the chance for kids to watch ferries and Ferris wheel.
Eastside and North Sound
10146 Main St., Bellevue • 425-450-0520 • $11–$30
Families abound at this casual Old Bellevue spot that boasts a lush patio garden with roughly 20 first-come, first-served tables, hemmed in by high wood-lattice walls, flowers and 8-foot-high arborvitae (shade for the sun, heat lamps and blankets for chillier nights). For maximum peace, avoid weekday happy-hour crowds. $6 kids’ menu. The gargantuan meat-topped 520 nachos are a popular family pick. Brunch favorite: croissant French toast with English toffee macadamia-nut syrup.
Happy-kid tip: Servers at this decidedly noncorporate spot are known to throw extra cherries in the Shirley Temples or have coloring contests with kids.
15611 Main St., Duvall • 425-788-2095 • $11–$30
Leave it to farm-country-scenic Duvall to produce a family-friendly eatery where you can eat homey, farm-to-table fare on a quaint covered back porch overlooking a wooded valley. And there’s a kids’ corner with books and toys inside the restaurant, near the porch. Eats? The grass-fed pot roast gets raves, as does the Grangeburger on a soft pretzel bun, and challah French toast or eggs Benedict for weekend brunch. Items on the kids’ dinner and brunch menu start at $4. (Don’t forget the pizza and pasta on the regular menu, too.) Note: No outdoor reservations.
Happy-kid tip: Be sure to check out the fun cow motifs sprinkled around the restaurant.
1170 Carillon Point, Kirkland • 425-889-0303 • Entrées $14–$20
Come early to snag a prime table at the first-come, first-served lake-level patio with sweeping views over Lake Washington to the Olympic range. Favorites on the all-day menu include pork sliders on Macrina brioche buns, crab salad, seafood cioppino and tres leches cake with brûléed bananas. Kids’ menu from $4.
Happy-kid tip: Kids will love the loaner Etch A Sketches, dockside walking paths and a grassy area next to the patio.
456 Admiral Way, Edmonds • 425-771-4400 • Entrées $11–$20
Yes, it’s a chain and an oldie — but it’s also hard to beat, boasting killer Puget Sound views on the marina just south of the Edmonds-Kingston ferry. The beachside café is the more casual Anthony’s option, with plenty of room for kids to get their wiggles out and watch the boats tableside. (First-come, first-served tables are roped off on the marina deck.) Come early Mondays and Tuesdays for the all-you-can-eat specials from 4:30 p.m.: fish-and-chips on Mondays, prawns-and-chips on Tuesdays. Mahimahi tacos are worthy. Kids’ menu for the under-10 set starts at around $5 (grilled cheese, prawn- or fish-and-chips, mac and cheese). Make time before or after to play at the beach or scooter on the pedestrian paths along the marina. Free parking to boot.
Happy-kid tip: The biggest draw here for littles is the long sandbox area right next to the outdoor tables (yessss!).
23718 Bothell-Everett Highway, Bothell • 425-487-3202 • Entrées from $14
This Italian/Mediterranean spot in the Bothell Country Village complex may have been voted a top pick for romantic meals (live music on weekends), but families frequent the quaint front patio. (Don’t be surprised if a chicken or rooster roams by.) Rare among outdoor spots, the dozen umbrella tables are reservable. Gnocchi and beet risotto with Gorgonzola cheese are standouts. Save room for baklava. The kids’ menu features several pizzas and pastas.
Happy-kid tip: There’s an old but decent small playground for little ones at Country Village, plus manual carousel, duck pond, “train” rides and super toy store worth browsing.
28201 Redondo Beach Drive S., Des Moines • 253-946-0636 • entrees starting at $18.95; lower-priced items available at the walk-up seafood bar
Fancy enough for special occasions but with a casual Northwest feel, Salty’s is ideal for taking grandma for Sunday brunch, celebrating a landmark event or entertaining out-of-town guests. Dine on the beautiful wraparound deck overlooking the sound. Or order to-go at the walk-up window, which has a pared-down version of the regular menu — think fish-and-chips and clam strips — and find a spot on the beach. Water play abounds in the summer months.
Happy-kid tip: Check out the free aquarium at the HCC Mast Center at Redondo (currently open to the public Saturdays 10 a.m.–2 p.m.).
8802 Sixth Ave., Tacoma • 253-565-4532 • $8–$18
Note: Steamers is temporarily closed as of April 2016.
Fish-and-chips are the go-to meal at this casual spot on Titlow Beach. Outdoor seating is tables and chairs on the patio, or public benches next to the beach. You can also take grub to-go and picnic at neighboring Titlow Park, which has an excellent playground and sprayground, plus nature trails and a fantastic beach (one of the best in the area for low-tide exploration). Portions are on the small side, but you get a lot of view with your meal. If you’re hitting the beach and park, too, don’t park at Steamers.
Happy-kid tip: Keep an eye out for trains — tracks go right by the restaurant.
3313 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor • 253-858-7175 • $10–$14
Come for breakfast or lunch and sit outside on the deck overlooking the water. Portions are huge here, but locals say you should save room for the cinnamon rolls.
Happy-kid tip: This spot is only open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, so plan accordingly.
5910 N. Waterfront Drive, Tacoma • 253-752-9700 • entrees around $15 and up
It’s hard to beat the view from the deck of this Point Defiance outpost of the homegrown chain. Seafood standards are well done, the servers are pros, and kids will enjoy watching ferry traffic and other marine action. Take a stroll on Owen Beach before or after your fish-and-chips.
Happy-kid tip: If the wait is long, one grown-up can hold your spot while another walks the beach path with the kids. For a deal, try the sunset menu, which includes a four-course dinner for adults for $21.95 (4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday).
1715 Dock St., Tacoma • 253-301-3835 • entrees $12 and up
At this premium spot right next to Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, you can see the reflecting pool from the outside dining area as well as boats on the Thea Foss Waterway. Outdoor dining is benches around fireplaces. The kids’ menu is labeled Small People and is limited but tasty. Don’t expect crayons and coloring here, though.
Happy-kid tip: The wait gets long here on sunny summer evenings. Try to go early, or get a sitter and hit happy hour for great deals on specialty drinks.
9001 S. 19th St., Tacoma • 253-565-1919 • entrees around $13
This restaurant at the Narrows Marina, with a lovely outdoor deck, is a nice addition to the University Place area, which has relatively few dining options. A variety of sandwiches and salads are offered at reasonable prices. Kids’ menus come with crayons and include the usual variety of choices. (Note that some children’s drink refills cost extra.) The huge desserts and ice creams are all made in-house.
Happy-kid tip: The outdoor deck is very popular and waits can get extremely long on summer evenings; try going on an overcast day.
2100 W. Bay Dr. N.W., Olympia • 360-943-1850 • $9-$26
This spot is right on the water. In fact, they’ll even rent you a kayak. Olympia area mom Lisa Pemberton likes it for its tasty food and casual, family friendly atmosphere.
Happy-kid tip: Ask about the kayak and breakfast special on Saturdays and Sundays. 48.00 gets you two breakfasts, two coffees, and two single kayaks for two hours. Explore Budd Inlet and look for seals!
Sweet news for summer
Scoop shops, shave-ice stands and Popsicle carts to put on your summer radar
1. Marination Ma Kai, West Seattle: Slurp sunny, rainbow-like authentic Hawaiian shave ice at the West Seattle brick-and-mortar branch of the popular Marination food truck — no extra charge for the phenomenal Alki views.
2. Parfait, Ballard: Find organic artisan versions of old- school Push-Up pops, plus artisan ice cream, macaron ice cream sandwiches and more. Look for the truck at farmers markets.
3. Lick Pure Cream, South Lake Union: On any given day, this hip spot (tucked into a pizza joint) turns out eight to 10 foodie flavors from mango mascarpone to grilled-pineapple coconut.
4. Snoqualmie Scoop Shoppe, Maltby: Visit to find the flavors that don’t always make it into stores, as well as soft-serve ice cream, signature sundaes, milkshakes, boozy shakes and floats.
5. Triple XXX Root Beer Drive-in, Issaquah: This nostalgic favorite may not make the most gourmet ice cream out there (it’s Darigold), but come for the 1950s diner scene and the regular Saturday “cruz-ins” with cool cars.
6. Ice Cream Social, Tacoma: The draw at this popular ice creamery in the Sixth Avenue neighborhood is handmade ice cream with locally sourced, all-natural ingredients and inventive flavors.
7. Shake, Shake, Shake, Tacoma: Find retro-style decor (imagine the Jetsons opening a diner), tasty burgers and inventive ice cream shakes at this Stadium neighborhood favorite.