Top Twin Cities Eateries For Families to Get Their Local On

Savory waffle from the top kid-friendly restaurant in the Twin CitiesSavory waffle from the top kid-friendly restaurant in the Twin Cities

It seems a shame that McDonalds, with its kids meals, plastic toys, and nearby playgrounds, and its cohort of fast food joints have cornered a large share of the market of family-friendly dining. Fortunately, a number of locally-owned neighborhood restaurants offer kid-friendly dining and food that you can feel good about taking out of the earth and putting into your kid. My top five are listed below, counting down to number one. Then I add a few more honorable mentions at the end. (And please, let me know if I missed your favorite.)

5. Citizen Café
Sometimes what you're looking for is right under your nose. A few weeks ago, the teacher in my mom-baby yoga bonding class asked students to share their favorite family-friendly eatery. Another mama recommended Citizen Café. "It's not that they have a great kids menu," she explained, "but they are really nice to kids there." I hadn't even thought about this great, relatively new restaurant even though it's right down the street from me. It might be too quiet and dimly lit to earn a spot further up the list, but the staff is super welcoming to kids, and in the warmer months, the outdoor seating is ideal for sitting with youngsters. The menu, which features locally sourced products, is sophisticated enough for an adult palate with a few items, like the "Citizen Joe" (think Sloppy Joe) and the "Sausage on a Bun" (think hot dog) that will please the little 'uns too. Citizen is definitely a go-to lunch place for parents on leave with new little ones or parents with kids who are ready to upgrade from counter-service to "sit-down and order for yourself" dining. The roasted vegetable salad featuring Stickney Hill chevre is lovely.

4. Galactic Pizza
No kid-friendly restaurant list would be complete without a pizza joint. The eat-in option has limited seating, but some of it is on the floor and what kid wouldn't like to eat pizza on the floor in a restaurant? Otherwise, Galactic Pizza has brightly colored picnic tables outside during the warmer months. Of course, part of the huge draw of ordering Galactic Pizza from home is that, aside from the convenience for the parents, a super hero delivery guy brings the pizza in a space-pod-like electric vehicle. Plus, aside from sourcing locally, Galactic boasts power from renewable wind energy and hemp both in items on their menu as well as in the paper on which their menus are printed. Order the Paul Bunyan – the morels, wild rice, and bison sausage is a mouthful of Minnesota.

3. Butter
On a recent sunny afternoon, I received a phone call from my sister. She was practically yelling at me from the other end of the line: "Why haven't you FORCED me to go to Butter before? These carrot cookies are delicious! I can't believe you haven't made me go there!" she shouted between bites of her cream-cheese-filled treat. Indeed. Perhaps I should have forced my sister to Butter at an earlier time. To make up for it, I'm hereby forcing you, dear reader, to go to Butter Café at the very least for their carrot cookies, if not for an entire meal. Counter service makes a restaurant easy for families who don't have much time before becoming in danger of a meltdown or for those who can and want to linger over their meal. Aside from a kids' menu, Butter has a case full of tasty cupcakes and other baked goods (baked in small batches!) and a window ledge full of crayons, toys, and board games. The charming mural on the wall makes the space bright and inviting. Try the beet burger. You won't regret it. Consider yourself forced.

2. Brasa
The last time I went to Brasa, I counted no less than three tables with kids, not including my own. That's a lot for this small (one-time garage) space. What's the attraction? Aside from a noise level and ambience that can drown out a screaming or fussy kid, Brasa has a menu where even the pickiest eater is bound to find something he or she likes. Aside from their signature meats, Brasa offers ankle-biter-friendly corn bread, rice and black beans, rice and peas, and cheese grits. For those with ultra-picky eaters, the kids menu has a stand-by grilled cheese. Perhaps the best aspect of Brasa is the family-style eating. What better way to bring family together and encourage kids to try new eats?

1. Birchwood Café
I have never been in the Birchwood when there hasn't been at least one other table with children. Talk amongst restaurant-goers is that owner Tracy Singleton has been making an effort to make this Minneapolis institution even more kid-friendly than ever since she had one of her own -- Lily, whose cute picture is next to the cash register. (OK, by "restaurant-goer" I really mean just my sister, who lives in Seward and, obviously, often has something to say about food.) Not only does the Birchwood have a kids' menu, they now carry Sweet Cheeks baby food. The tables toward the front of the restaurant have enough room for a stroller and the Birchwood has, hands down, the best draw-on-able placemats in town. Most importantly, adults are offered an ever-changing selection of local and consistently delicious eats. I can barely make it a week without one of their savory waffles topped with salsa, a fried egg, butter and lardons. Yes. Lardons. The Birchwood is never so precious with its food that it wouldn't offer cubed chunks of fatty goodness.

I would be remiss if I didn't include a few more restaurants. The Honorable Mentions go to:

Sen Yai, Sen Lek is where you can ease your toddler or elementary schooler into foreign and potentially spicy foods. Few kids can resist noodles and Sen Yai, Sen Lek, which is Thai for "big noodle, little noodle," has no shortage of the slippery buggers.

French Meadow not only has a kids' menu, it has plenty of space for high chairs, car seats, and strollers. Counter service means you can eat and go, or dine for a while. A friend and I once sat there with our kids for four hours and no one batted an eyelash.

Many of the daily offerings at Common Roots are set out in the deli case, meaning that the little ones can see what they're getting before they order. By the way, the restaurant is donating a local and organic breakfast to the upcoming Whittier Elementary Community Breakfast.

Lucia's To Go offers quick family meals to take home and enjoy together, as well as easy sandwiches, salads, and breakfast fare to eat in.

Did your family's favorite make this list? If not, post a comment and let me know.

Rhena Tantisunthorn, a native of Washington, DC, grew up knocking back Shirley Temples and cultivating a love of food at the bar rail of her parents' restaurant. She's eaten her way through much of Southeast Asia when she lived in Thailand for three years. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. She currently lives with her husband and daughter in South Minneapolis where she writes, edits and creates.