The Dish: Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Rhode Island

Dining out with kids doesn’t have to be stressful with these restaurant tips.

The interior at Wara Wara includes robot sculptures.

Dining out with kids doesn’t have to be stressful. I frequently go out as part of my job here at Rhode Island Monthly, and because I have two children – ages one-and-a-half and four – I am constantly in search of kid-friendly places to eat. It’s cheaper to order kids’ meals than pay for a babysitter. Plus, I want them to grow up eating in restaurants since this is a huge part of my life.

Along the way, I’ve learned some tips and tricks for keeping my kids happy throughout a sit-down meal. I try to choose loud places where you can hear lots of laughter and music, and I always pack crayons, markers and coloring books to keep them busy while we sit. (Sticker packs from the dollar aisle in Target have become my savior a few times). I always bring sippy cups with me in case the restaurant doesn’t have kids’ cups available, and I bring snacks, just in case the food takes a long time to arrive to the table.

If children’s meals are not printed on the menu, I’m not afraid to ask if there’s an off-menu option for little ones. Oftentimes, I’ll find that the restaurant offers something simple for a minimal charge rather than me cobbling something together from the regular menu and hoping for the best. I always use wet wipes to clean up my kiddos’ sticky faces and hands so they don’t get ketchup or barbecue sauce all over the seats and table. (When my kids are teenagers, I’ll still be carrying around wet wipes). Last tips: Be kind to your server and tip a little extra for the cleanup.

Here are some of the kid-friendly places we’ve found in Rhode Island. The criteria are that the restaurant must have kid-friendly options on the menu, most have high chairs available, and they all have a genuinely friendly atmosphere (bonus points if it’s loud).

1. Angelo’s: Angelo’s is a family-friendly Italian spot where kids can’t get bored because there’s a train that travels around the perimeter of the restaurant’s ceiling. Just bring plenty of quarters to keep it running, or else there could be trouble….  You can’t go wrong with a menu stocked with pasta, meatballs and french fries, though try to get the kids to branch out by selling them what I call “pizza chicken,” which is the famous chicken parmigiana. 141 Atwells Ave., Providence, 401-621-8171, angelosri.com

2. Bayberry Beer Hall: The owners of Bayberry, Tom and Natalie Dennen, have a toddler of their own, so they made it a priority to make their restaurant family-friendly by having high chairs and a changing table in the restroom. When they planned the restaurant, they wanted it to be a welcoming atmosphere for everyone. Since the evening hours get really busy and they don’t take reservations, your best bet is to go for weekend brunch. The Portuguese sweet bread French toast and waffles are always a hit with the wee ones. 381 West Fountain St., Providence, 401-383-9487, bayberrybeerhall.com

The interior at Bayberry Beer Hall.

3. Blount Clam Shack: When the Clam Shack in Warren opens in late-spring, it’s always one of our top spots to visit as a family throughout the fall. The casual waterfront atmosphere makes it fun for the kids to play cornhole outdoors and watch the boats bob by while we wait for food. There’s even a wooden lobster cutout they can stick their faces in for photos. The Riverside location is right next to the Looff Carousel for some extra family fun. Blount has Lil Snappers kids meals available that come with a drink and your choice of french fries or fresh cut fruit and a gold fish cookie. 406 Water St., Warren, 401-245-1800; 684 Bullocks Point Ave., Riverside, 401-628-0485, blountretail.com

The atmosphere at Blount Clam Shack in Warren.

4. Durk’s Bar-B-Q: Durks’ atmosphere is super casual with counter service, friendly waitstaff and assembly-like plating of trays in front of the giant Ole Hickory smoker where you can see all of the meats before you eat. Mark your order on the paper checklist menu, then collect your comfort food feast at the counter. Choose your proteins: brisket, ribs, barbecue chicken leg, pork belly or pulled pork and sides of kid-friendly mac and cheese, potato wedges, cornbread, coleslaw and more. 275 Thayer St., Providence, 401-351-2807, durksbbq.com

5. Easy Entertaining: The beautiful cafe just got a fresh update, making it a larger space to serve more diners. Kids always love Donut Fridays, available only on Friday mornings until treats sell out, but there are also quite a few kid-friendly breakfast and lunch options, including egg sandwiches and oatmeal, grilled cheese and pressed ham sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. The monthly burger night is also a big hit with families, so stay tuned to social media accounts to find out upcoming dates. 166 Valley St. Building 10, Providence, 401-437-6090, easyentertainingri.com

6. Flatbread Company: This gourmet pizza spot boasts a large dining room where you can watch the wood-burning oven bake the pizzas that are made with organic ingredients, nitrate-free housemade sausages and free-range meats. They have free crayons for kiddos and menus feature children’s art drawn on the spot and slid into the back of the plastic covers. If kids get antsy, head to the small library in the back where there are some children’s books. 161 Cushing St., Providence, 401-273-2737, providenceflatbreadcompany.com/providence

Having some fun at Flatbread.

7. Mews Tavern: The Mews keeps everyone happy with a vast menu and a beer list featuring sixty-nine drafts on tap (for the parents). The atmosphere is playful and fun with a graffitied tree sculpture in the middle and ski lodge-like decor. The South County hotspot is known for its burgers, wings and pizzas, and kids clean their plates with the usual suspects of chicken fingers, quesadillas and mac and cheese. 456 Main St., Wakefield, 401-783-9370, mewstavern.com

8. Mission: A place that gives you a plastic toy dinosaur while you wait for your food? This is real life at Mission. Order your best-in-the-business burger at the counter and they’ll track you down when your food’s up. Mom and dad can enjoy some craft beer options while the family sits at a table or at the counter. The ground-in-house burgers are simply delicious and perfectly grilled, and the hot dogs are housemade. Go ahead and bribe the kids with a housemade popsicle…if they eat their meals, that is. 29 Marlborough St., Newport, 401-619-5560, missionnpt.com

You can get a plastic dinosaur at Mission while you wait for your food.

9. Red Stripe: The first part of finding a family-friendly restaurant is making sure the noise level is louder than your kids. You wouldn’t want to go someplace where you can hear a pin drop, and luckily, Red Stripe has a convivial atmosphere full of laughter and groups of friends enjoying a meal. Red Stripe has a kids menu available and, if all else fails, the fries are always a surefire hit. 465 Angell St., Providence, 401-437-6950; 455 Main St., East Greenwich, 401-398-2900, redstriperestaurants.com

10. Rosalina: Looking at the upscale atmosphere, you wouldn’t think this place is kid-friendly, but rest assured, it is. The Italian comfort food is some of the best around, surpassing even some Federal Hill hotspots. The owners of Rosalina have children of their own, so they get it. Parents can order whatever they desire, while the kiddos will be satisfied with the “Il Bebe” menu, which includes a small portion of spaghetti with sauce or butter and cheese, or the fried dough pizzette. 50 Aborn St., Providence, 401-270-7330, rosalina-ri.com/dinner

11. Thirsty Beaver: With a costumed beaver as its mascot, this place is a whole lot of fun. The fluffy creature is known to participate in karaoke and trivia nights and perform on select Friday and Saturday nights. The Thirsty Beaver has onsite games, including Big Buck Hunter and a bubble hockey arcade game, plus a well-thought-out children’s menu with $7 dishes like mini burgers and pulled pork sliders, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers and more served with a drink and fries. Parents can also sub out the fries for veggies or tater tots for $1. 288 Atwood Ave., Cranston, 401-270-7686;
45 Cedar Swamp Rd., Smithfield, 401-349-4790, thirstybeaverri.com

12. Tilly’s Cheesesteaks: This place scores ooey-gooey points with families. Of course, you can order a cheesesteak  stuffed with all the toppings you can fit into the giant sesame seed hoagie, but I’m partial to the simple Philly, a riff on the classic whiz-wit (If you’ve been to Philly, you’re familiar wit the lingo). It oozes with cheddar sauce and caramelized onions. The kids version is built for smaller appetites and it comes with tortilly chips, pickles, dessert and a drink. 3711 Kingstown Rd., West Kingston, 401-783-7711, tillyscheesesteaks.com

13. Waffle: While not a traditional restaurant, this Providence outpost crimps sweet and savory liege waffles using all kinds of fun ingredients. It offers kids portion sizes and there’s a tall bed-like hangout where kids can climb a step stool to eat “breakfast in bed” on a nifty wooden tray. Try a breakfast waffle with fried eggs, a pizza waffle or one served with tomato bisque and cheese, or go for sweet versions that are updated daily. We like the sea salt caramel with caramel sauce, caramel ice cream, sea salt and whipped cream. There’s even a wafflewich made with ice cream stuck between two waffles. And they have Honest juice boxes! I’d call that a win. 45 Weybosset St., Providence, 401-808-6569, waffleprovidence.com

A sea salt caramel waffle at Waffle.

14. Wara Wara: The robots had my son at hello. Although it’s tough to distract kids who can’t practice “look, but don’t touch,” this Japanese spot is amazing for parents who crave a taste of Asian cuisine in an accessible atmosphere. Go for the bento box option for lunch, which includes your choice of entrees along with white rice, seasonal vegetables and fruit. The noodle dishes and ramen are also popular picks. The kids menu includes everything from mini chicken ramen and chicken yakitori to popcorn chicken and steamed buns. 776 Hope St., Providence, 401-831-9272, warawarari.com

A Bento Box at Wara Wara.

15. The Wharf Pub: For the kid who loves tater tots, this is the holy grail: Tots come in all types of variations from the classic version served with mustard aioli and rosemary ketchup and pizza tots to the adult-friendly pork belly and Big Country tots topped with gravy and melted cheese. The kids menu has every dish of kids’ dreams, including sliders, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, hot dogs and more. It’s a fun atmosphere straight out of the Deep South with lots of dark wood detailing and a speakeasy vibe. Bonus points: Fun drinks for adults. 37 Bowen’s Wharf, Newport, 401-619-5672, thewharfpubnewport.com

16. Wurst Kitchen: Every kid loves a hot dog and these are dogs parents can feel good about because they’re housemade and don’t contain questionable ingredients. The Wurst Kitchen is a restaurant in a restaurant, inside the more upscale Chez Pascal. It’s super small with only two four-top tables with stools and two doubles. In warmer weather, the Wurst expands to the patio with many more tables, and you can order food from the walk-up window. 960 Hope St., Providence, 401-421-4422, chez-pascal.com/hot-dog-cart-location

I know there are many more kid-friendly spots in Rhode Island. Please add your own favorites in the comments!

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