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Small Plates
By Alexa Beattie
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Most folk with young children know by now that taking their offspring to fine dining establishments really isn't on. But new parents, often desperate to get out and about with a baby, are often too afraid to step foot inside a restaurant of any kind. We, however, have done some thinking about this and some research. With the help of most restaurants' worst nightmare -- a two-year-old boy -- we've tested the waters and come up with some pretty reliable spots. In some cases we even have managers saying, on record, that they like kids.

Just remember that a bit of common sense is really all that's required. Most casual restaurants and most chains will be welcoming. Restaurants that serve pizza are good bets, so are barbecue joints. We plan to add to this list and, as always, could use your help. Send us a message, let us know about spots you find.

2 Amys  |  Big Bowl  |   Cafe Deluxe  |  Five Guys  |  Noodles & Company  |  Star Diner  |  Generous George's  |  Hard Times Cafe  |  Rio Grande  |  Bistro Bistro  |  Ecco  |  ESPN Zone  |  More

2 Amys, 3715 Macomb St. NW; 202-885-5700
Peter Pastan, the man who owns Obelisk -- one of the city's best restaurants in our book -- opened this airy pizzeria a year or so ago. Perfect for kids, 2 Amys is casual with an upper case "C"; it feels entirely European in its carefree attitude. The staff brings crayons to the table and even pins artwork to the walls.

Big Bowl, 11915 Democracy Dr. Reston, Va.; 703-787-8852
Big Bowl is an Asian restaurant that does its best to welcome children. Not long after you are seated, a bowl of hot rice arrives for any child at the table, as well as a little "Chinese take-away" box of tricks that includes fortune cookies and drawing materials.

Cafe Deluxe, 3228 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-686-2233
When we called to inquire whether a child was welcome at Cafe Deluxe, the person on the other end of the phone laughed. "We love kids," she shrieked, "and we get plenty in here." It's true, especially on a Sunday when folks hurry in after church; the place is filled before it has been open 10 minutes. The restaurant prides itself in its accommodations for a younger set, providing old faves like buttery noodles, PB& J, chicken fingers, a cheese quesadilla and even kid-size pancakes at brunch. A bucket of crayons arrives like magic and, conveniently, the tablecloth is made of paper. The children's menu is available all the time.

Five Guys, 107 N. Fayette St., Alexandria, Va.; 703-549-7991
Five Guys is as easy as it gets. It isn't fine dining, mind you. But big and little people alike are pleased as punch with these burgers and fries. The cups are Styrofoam, the knives are plastic, one barely needs a fork. It's practically a picnic. The food comes out quickly and after a few inspired bites, the young can turn their attention to writing odes to the fry and patty on the pieces of paper provided. These are then tacked up on a board for review by other patrons. It's fun.

Noodles & Company, 1201 S. Joyce St., Arlington, Va.; 703-418-0001
Noodles & Company is a chain that's cashing in on the pasta and Asian noodle craze, both of which are ideal for young eaters. This is an order-at-counter kind of place, but a waiter brings your food to the table. It's an odd menu that lists both mushroom stroganoff and sesame-seared lo mein. But the food is fresh and it's quick to appear. The restaurant serves an awfully delicious mac and cheese to tots.

Star Diner, 705 Center Point Way, Gaithersburg, Md.; 301-921-8222
The Star Diner in Kentlands Market Square gives out free jars of Gerber and goes out of the way, it seems, to make all ages happy. "Oh we don't mind a bit," says manager Sharon Kobrin to a question about tempers and tantrums. "And sticky floors are okay too."

The breadth of the children's menu here takes into account the whims of young preference. Many of the dishes -- scrambled eggs, chocolate chip pancakes, French toast, dog and eggs, grilled cheese -- come with home fries. Others -- like spaghetti and meat sauce or the fudge sundae -- do not.

Generous George's Positive Pizza & Pasta Place, 3006 Duke St., Alexandria, Va.; 703-370-4303
At Generous George's Positive Pizza & Pasta Place, children quite simply rule: There's a Mickey Mouse painted on the door, a playroom, a mechanical "fish" ride, a bright interior in pink and green and plenty of balloons. From Monday through Thursday, during lunch, children can make their own pizza and have a tour of the kitchens. Note to parents: If you purchase a special Generous George T-shirt for $13.99, your child can eat for free for one whole year. Now that's friendly.

Hard Times Cafe, 1404 King St., Alexandria, Va.; 703-837-0050
The Hard Times cafes are ideal for kids because the mood's casual and the food kind of messy. The lighting also tends to be dim and the jukebox is often cranked -- both beneficial when dining with the rambunctious. Crayons come out, so does cornbread, and the children's menu is broad and cheap.

Rio Grande, 4301 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington, Va.; 703-528-3131
A big draw for children at the four branches of Rio Grande is the tortilla machine that pushes dough through a circuit and flattens it into rounds. When the novelty of that wears off, order your small companion something from the extensive children's menu, which includes nachos, crispy tacos, fajitas, enchiladas and "kidsadillas."

Bistro Bistro, 4021 S. 28th St., Shirlington, Va.; 703-379-0300
Bistro Bistro tends to its young clientele by offering mini pizzas and side-dish-size portions of pasta. All tables are covered with thick white paper and crayons are provided. Kids may take their drawings (and their crayons) with them when they leave.

Ecco Cafe, 220 N. Lee St., Alexandria, Va.; 703-684-0321
Even though there isn't a special menu, Old Town's Ecco Cafe considers itself "extremely kid-friendly." Here, too, crayons and paper amuse between courses, and cartoony "kiddie cups" make a drink a little more interesting. An easy mood at this pleasant pizza and pasta joint makes it pleasant for the whole family.

ESPN Zone, 555 12th St. NW; 202-783-3776
Young sports fans will delight to find themselves at the ESPN Zone, where there's so much going on, the food on their plates is the last thing they'll have time for.

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