When you want to eat, you want to eat. When your child wants to eat, well, get out of the way because the prince or princess must be served. But where do you take your kids out for a good, quick meal that isn't fast food?
We asked some bay area moms, whose children range in age from 3 to 12 years, to give us the skinny on their favorite kid-friendly restaurants. You know, the places where no one is going to give you the evil eye if your child yells, spills something or announces loudly that he has to go to the bathroom — now!
Cody's Roadhouse: Kids eat free on Monday and Tuesday nights (up to two kids free per one adult entree purchased). They offer free peanuts, a balloon maker, coloring on the tables and "the best rolls with honey butter in town.'' says mom Kristin, whose kids are 6 and 3. Locations throughout the bay area; www.codysoriginalroadhouse.com,
Johnny Rockets: Here you get fast food that takes a little longer to make. They have all the staples of the picky eater — chicken tenders, hot dogs and PB&J — and some of the best milkshakes around. But the best part is the atmosphere. Watch the waiters sing along when YMCA pops up on the jukebox. And who can resist getting one of those cool paper hats just like the waiters wear? JR is at BayWalk in St. Petersburg and Westfield Citrus Park in Tampa; www.johnnyrockets.com
Carrabba's and GrillSmith: Both have good selections for kids, especially GrillSmith, which has a varied kids menu with about 10 items, including steak, salmon, pasta, chicken fingers, corndogs, and mac and cheese, says Jennifer, mom to kids 6 and 9. But both restaurants also have good quality food for adults, wine or beer, and a reasonably adult, if casual, atmosphere. Carrabba's has locations throughout the bay area; www.carrabbas.com. GrillSmith has two locations in Tampa (14303 N Dale Mabry and 1108 S Dale Mabry) and one in Clearwater (2539 Countryside Blvd., Suite 6); www.grillsmith.com.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries: There's casual dining and then there's Five Guys, Jennifer says, where you can eat peanuts and toss the shells onto the floor guilt-free. Perfect for toddlers who toss everything on the floor! Here, you don't have to worry about it. The service is fast and friendly. The burgers are cheap and tasty. The fries are the ultimate finger food. Locations throughout the bay area; www.fiveguys.com.
Moe's Southwest Grill: They are inexpensive and have a nice kids menu featuring the Moo Moo Mr. Cow kid-sized burrito, says mom Lisa. Plus, because of the beans, rice, tofu and fresh veggies for fixings, it's less unhealthy than the usual fast-food joint. (locations throughout the bay area; www.moes.com/locations.aspx)
Chik-fil-A: Most CFAs feature family night on Tuesdays, which means a kid's meal is free when you buy an adult combo. Plus you can sub out fruit for unhealthy fries. And did you know that you can trade out your kid-meal prize for an ice cream cone or cup? Now that is cool! (Look for Dress Like a Cow Day coming up in July to get free food). The added bonus for Jounice, and her kids ages 3 and 6, is the air conditioned play place, so perfect on a too-hot Florida day. Locations in — oh please, they're everywhere!
Circles New Tampa Bistro: It's good because they have a family side and bistro side. The family side, which welcomes kids with crayons on the table and large booths, has the same menu as the bistro side but also includes an extensive kids menu. Circles is at 19651 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa; circlesbistro.com
BD's Mongolian Grill (Oldsmar): While it may not sound like the place you would take a kid, Times food critic Laura Reiley says it is the perfect place because kids get to chose their own ingredients to create their meal and then can enjoy the drama of the guys behind the grill preparing it. BD's is at 3140B Tampa Road, Oldsmar; www.gomongo.com.
Too Jay's: While you will get the usual burgers, chicken fingers and PB&J, parents can also get some great deli food, which kids would actually enjoy too. And the desserts are to die for — ginormous slices of key lime pie, mini black and white cookies and the famous Killer Cake. Yum! Too Jay's is on Bay Street at International Plaza in Tampa; and at Westfield Countryside Mall in Clearwater; www.toojays.com.
Old Northeast Tavern (St. Petersburg): A good neighborhood restaurant, says Jennifer, who has two kids ages 9 and 6. The food is good (paninis, pizzas and salads) for adults and kids and there is lots of good people-watching. The tavern is at 201 Seventh Ave., N, St. Petersburg; www.oldnortheasttavern.com.
Macaroni Grill (five locations in Pinellas and Hillsborough): Judy, who has two sons, likes the Grill because the great bread is brought to the table quickly so the kids and adults have something to munch on. MG also provides the kids with a coloring/activity book that keeps them occupied and the kids can also draw on the tablecloth. Yowza! The Grill has five locations in Pinellas and Hillsborough; www.macaronigrill.com
Bonefish Grill: It may seem a little upscale for youngsters since it has real napkins, but Suellen, whose daughter is 10, says Bonefish has good food and atmosphere for adults and a healthy, but kid friendly, children's menu. This might be best for a slightly older child rather than the tiny tot set. Bonefish has locations throughout Tampa Bay; www.bonefishgrill.com
Sushi Rock Grille (St. Petesburg): Suellen adds that this is one of the few sushi/Thai restaurants that has a children's menu. Children's chicken teriyaki, for example, has a slightly smaller portion size and is half the cost of the adult version. This restaurant certainly exposes children to new flavors. Get a piece of the Rock at 1163 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N; www.thesushirockgrill.com.
Beef O Bradys: For Shawn, who has four kids ages 5, 6, 8 and 10, this is the perfect place "because the kids can run around and play games and nobody gets irritated.'' If you're a meat lover, this is your place: ribs, burgers and wings are high on the menu. Locations throughout the bay area; www.beefobradys.com.
Hook's Sushi Bar & Thai Food (St. Petersburg): The food is great and the atmosphere is casual, "a must for noisy monsters,'' says Dianna, who has three kids, ages 8, 6 and 4. Her family goes on $1 sushi night each Wednesday. If you take the kids, she advises that you go early because the restaurant gets busy and, "Who wants to wait, especially with kids?'' The menu features a variety of sushi favorites, miso soup and edamame (pea pods), which are so good. Hook's is at 1210 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg; www.hookssushi.com.
Cafe Fresh by Juice Zone (Wesley Chapel): Phuong is pretty picky about what she gives her kids, ages 3 and 5. She says Cafe Fresh has kids meals that include healthful, whole wheat sandwiches or wraps and real-fruit smoothies for $3.99. And there are usually buy-one-get-one-free coupons floating around, she said. Just remind the little ones not to roll around on the wheeled ottomans, as tempting as it is. Get in the Zone at 1219 Bruce B Downs Blvd., Wesley Chapel.
Cheesecake Factory: All the goodness is built right into the name. And because it is such a huge place and a little noisy, kids are more than welcome. The menu is great, offering pizza, pasta and burgers, and everything is big, so you definitely want to take home a doggy bag. And don't leave without dessert. The kids will have lots of fun deciding what they want to try and you will too. The Factory is at International Plaza, Tampa.
Thanks to all our mom advisors: Dianna, Jennifer (x2), Jounice, Judy, Kristin, Laura, Lisa, Phuong, Shawn, Silvia and Suellen.