You didn’t come to Cleveland’s trending restaurant scene to eat at the same mediocre national chain restaurants, right? But what if you have kids?
For frustrated parents everywhere, we have good news: Cleveland’s got dining spots that are just as appropriate for kids as they are for adults. Here are some restaurants we find “kid friendly” — in the sense of appeal, right-sized choices available and a welcoming attitude toward families. And, of course, each one is authentically Cleveland.
Eat Like a Local
Over in Ohio City, hit up Johnny Mango World Cafe. It’s cheap, it’s good and it’s noisy enough that no one will hear your baby cry. Kids get their own menu and will color the time away while they wait for their food. The menu trends toward Mexican and Asian, but there are also lots of vegetarian and vegan options available. They'll enjoy the exceptional quesadillas while adults should try the Calypso — perhaps the best salad in the city.
Cleveland’s Little Italy is just up the hill from the treasures of University Circle, and there you’ll find Mamma Santa's, a treasure of another kind. In business since 1961, Mamma Santa’s unassuming checked tablecloths and brown-paneled walls give it a cozy, casual feel. The pizza will please everyone in the family, and the grownups can choose traditional (and delicious) Italian entrees if they’re all pizza-ed out from life with kids. After dinner, stroll down the block to Presti’s, another authentic neighborhood stand to choose from the enormous dessert case while sipping exceptional coffee.
A grilled cheese restaurant? Of course it’s kid-friendly. But with sophisticated sandwich melts, plus salads, soups, burgers and macaroni & cheese, there’s something for everyone in the family. Kitschy (year-round) holiday decorations and retro signs are a feast for your I-Spy eyes. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available. Wait times can reach 30 minutes or more during peak hours, so call ahead to see if it’s a wait your little ones can handle. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, kids’ meals are just $3, and only $6 every other day. Melt has almost a dozen locations across Northeast Ohio including its flagship in Lakewood, with special outposts at Cedar Point and Progressive Field.
West side Mason’s Creamery concocts and handcrafts small batch ice cream flavors that excite every palette, kid and parent alike. Some flavors change daily, others weekly, but ingredients range from vegan to global flavors. The staff contribute their ideas from their own Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Hispanic cultures. This week you're trying their fruity pebbles flavor, but next week might be blueberry cheesecake. Might as well go with the kids daily to try them all.
Located on the corner of Euclid Avenue and East Fourth Street in Downtown Cleveland is the Corner Alley. It offers tasty pub fare like pizzas, burgers, sammies and, of course, bowling on clean, shiny lanes. You can even order food right from your lane, so you never have to make sure those wiggly, hungry kids are sitting still.
This one’s a little different — in the best sort of way. PSC is an old-time neighborhood pub, so don’t expect anything new or shiny. The Old World, Eastern European patina that’s been polished off much of the increasingly hip Tremont neighborhood is still in full effect here — topped off with pierogies and stuffed cabbage on the menu. But never fear, the kids can still get burgers or mac and cheese if that’s more to their taste. The regulars (as well as some of their hipster counterparts) will admire your children while you wait for your food and play old-school board games. (Sorry!, anyone? ) After dinner, grab some quarters and squeeze in a full bowling game on the vintage mini bowling machine.
With over a dozen locations throughout The Land, Winking Lizard is the perfect place to catch a bite before a family night of fun, offering a menu full of sandwiches, salads, burgers and BBQ. Parents can choose an adult beverage from the staggering beer and whiskey lists, while the kids grab a bag of popcorn. Plenty of weekly specials make this Cleveland staple an affordable family meal spot.
Gluten-Free and Veggie Options
Close to University Circle is Cleveland Heights’ Coventry neighborhood, which contains quirky shops and unique restaurants, including Tommy’s. It’s most famous for its thick milkshakes, which went viral in 2017 when the restaurant generously had one delivered to a Virginia hospital to fulfill a dying woman’s wish. Besides milkshakes (of course), Tommy’s serves a delicious range of casual food and is extremely vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. Allergies are no problem. Kids are always welcomed — even when we went with friends and carted six kids in at once!
Kids love this local diner chain, which has nine locations from Downtown at Playhouse Square to Cleveland’s eastern, western and southern suburbs. There is a wide selection of yummy kids' meals (ice cream included), as well as plenty of grownup casual fare like soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees. (But we won’t tell if you grownups get the anytime breakfast for dinner — we do!) Gluten-free options are prominently featured.