The Hungry Hound and his children- Madeline and Max- like Pilsen because it's close to Chinatown, where they spend a lot of time, and near the highway so it's an easy trip.
Last year, they featured Simone's Bar on 18th street. And this year, as they continue to search for places with good food that appeals to both kids and adults, they checked out Nightwood. It's the second restaurant from the team behind Lula in Logan Square-- and it's definitely a place they plan to return to.
You can tell, pretty quickly, by the quality of the ingredients and the attention to detail, that the kitchen staff at Nightwood, in an emerging section of Pilsen along South Halsted, takes its food seriously. But not to the point of exclusion. After all, the owners have a child of their own.
"I think the most important thing is to be welcoming to the kids themselves, to look for their needs. Whether they need water in a special cup or a spoon to bang on the table with," said Nightwood owner Jason Hammel.
At 12 and nine, Madeline and Max won't be banging on the table, but they do appreciate simple, well-made food. Take the fried mozzarella, for example; a far cry from the sports bar staple.
"I thought that was really clever idea. I liked how, ya know, every kid likes cheese. Who doesn't like fried cheese?" said Madeline Dolinsky.
Especially when it's paired with a chunky, homemade marinara. Same goes for the crusty French bread with creamy goat cheese from downstate paired up with fresh baby greens and a side of strawberry-rhubarb jam for spreading.
"The jam makes it more sweet and it gives it that flavor," Madeline said.
Madeline also appreciates the homemade gnocchi, topped with a bit of butter and fresh herbs. Meanwhile, Max goes right for the whole-grilled trout, which rests on a bed of black beans and gets a jolt of richness from creme fraiche.
"It's very rich and smooth. I don't know what to say about it. I'm speechless! It's so good," said Max Dolinsky.
I thought the thick, juicy grilled burger was a winner, especially the homemade fries that came with it.
"I didn't think it was going to be like some of the usual places that we go to. There's just something about it. It's really good," said Max.
"Food wise, I think kids are really willing to eat almost anything if it's good and you're excited about it yourself. Because they're imitating you," Hammel said.
Nightwood is open for dinner only, as well as Sunday brunch.
2119 S. Halsted
1820 W. Montrose Ave.
Kaiten (conveyor belt) style sushi
1641 Algonquin Rd., Rolling Meadows
1610 N. Wells St., 312-266-7999; open for dinner daily, brunch Sat.-Sun. 2005 W. Division St., 773-252-9990; open for dinner daily, brunch Sun.
While Mom and Dad are sipping margaritas at these North Side Mexican restaurants, the kids can study their own menus to learn some Spanish ("Tengo hambre" means "I'm hungry"). Offerings include Mexican pizza (with tortillas and black bean puree), chicken and steak tacos and, yes, chicken fingers (but don't they sound better as tiritas de pollo?). Corn pancakes with maple syrup are available for brunch. Entrees: $3.95-$4.95 (kids 10 and under).
Big Bowl Asian Kitchen
60 E. Ohio St., 312-951-1888 (and four other locations). Open for lunch and dinner daily.
This "Asian-inspired" chain, known for its create-your-own-stir-fry bar, rolls out the red carpet for tots. Kids are greeted with a four-page menu/activity book (which includes space for drawing, playing tic tac toe, writing a fill-in-the-blank samurai story); a takeout carton with crayons, a toy and a fortune cookie; and chopsticks rigged with a rubber band for easier use. Meal options include a small bite combo (two chicken satays, two potstickers and rice); chicken noodle soup; and a kids' version of the stir-fry bar. Entrees $3.95-$4.95 (kids 10 and younger).
59 W. Hubbard St., 312-595-0800. Open for dinner daily.
Children visiting this big brasserie receive their menu affixed to the back of an Etch A Sketch. While their parents tuck into foie gras and escargots, the little ones can make some pictures and ponder their choices--among them, an open-faced grilled cheese; a tomato-cheese tarte; and filet of salmon with asparagus; all are served with either pommes frites (french fries) or pommes puree (mashed potatoes). Kids' meals include a petite chocolate mousse for dessert. Entrees $6.95-$8.95 (no age restriction).
445 N. Clark St., 312-661-1434. Open for lunch and dinner Tue.-Sat.
At this acclaimed Mexican restaurant, children can nibble on guacamole and chips, a mixed green salad or jicama slices with lime while they await their tortilla soup, chicken taquitos, cheese quesadillas or chicken enchiladas. If they have a hankering for spuds, they can take the advice (as mentioned on the menu) of 13-year-old Lanie Bayless, daughter of chef Rick Bayless and co-author with him of the new "Rick and Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures," and ask if the restaurant has any mashed potatoes on hand. Entrees $3.95-$6.95. (kids 8 and younger).
Mitchell's Fish Market
2601 Navy Blvd., Glenview, 847-729-3663. Open for lunch and dinner daily.
This seafood chain, whose first Chicago area restaurant is in the family-focused Glen Town Center, caters to both the fish-wise (crab cake with fries and fresh vegetable; fried shrimp and fries; fish and chips) and the fish-phobic (grilled cheese, buttered noodles, etc.). Menus, which include fish facts, puzzles and games, come with crayons and stickers, and children can check out the lobster tank while awaiting their food. Entrees $4.95 (no age restrictions).
Pete Miller's Seafood & Prime Steak
1557 Sherman Ave., Evanston, 847-328-0399; open for dinner daily. 412 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling, 847-243-3700; open for lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner daily.
According to the children's menu at these steak and seafood spots, it was developed with input from the kids of restaurant staffers--and they appear to have good taste. Children can sip a Goose Island soda or kiddie cocktail while perusing the list of appetizers (animal crackers, fried shrimp, chicken on a stick, grapes and melon). Entrees include spaghetti and monster meatballs; baby back ribs; fish and chips; and mini surf & turf (3-ounce filet and 4-ounce lobster tail). If they save room for dessert, they can opt for a root beer float, an ice cream sundae or Oreos and milk. Entrees $2.95-$10.95 (kids 12 and younger); kids eat free on Sundays at the Evanston location.
Prairie Grass Cafe
601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook; 847-205-4433. Open for dinner Tue.-Sun., lunch Tue.-Fri.
This contemporary American spot opened this fall by former Ritz-Carlton Dining Room chefs Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris appeals to the mini-gourmand with its breaded chicken cutlet or a petit filet mignon with twice-baked potato. All kids' meals come with a side of fresh vegetables (glazed carrots, zucchini with basil butter). A combo plate of apples, bananas, carrots, cucumbers and cheese is available as an appetizer. Entrees $4-$12 (for kids 12 and younger).
South Water Kitchen
225 N. Wabash Ave., 312-236-9300. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.-Fri., brunch and dinner Sat.-Sun.
This all-American restaurant in the Hotel Monaco serves up a sense of humor along with a decent array of choices for children. Options include pizza with "smiling pepperoni," honey-mustard glazed chicken fillets ("because chickens don't have fingers"), a TV dinner (meatloaf with ketchup gravy, smashed potatoes and veggies) and ABC (that's American, Blue and Cheddar) mac & cheese. For $9, young diners get a soft drink, a small plate (entree) and a sweet treat (dessert) of vanilla ice cream with cookies and candied strawberries. The kids' menu has a serious side too: 50 percent of proceeds go to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Meals $9 (for kids 12 and younger).
Tsuki Japanese Restaurant and Lounge
1441 W. Fullerton Ave., 773-883-8722. Open for dinner Mon.-Sun.
It's at least partly about the packaging (just ask McDonald's), and this Lincoln Park spot's formula puts the burger emporium to shame. Kids here can select from several bento boxes (chicken teriyaki, chicken katsu, California sushi, tuna sushi), all of which come with miso soup; egg omelette; edamame; steamed broccoli and potato; an orange wedge; and a Japanese candy. All are served in cute plastic trays: Hello Kitty for girls and Japanese Bullet for boys. Meals $7.95-$8.95 (for kids 12 and younger).
110 E. Pearson St. (312) 266-3110
Introduces les enfants to French cuisine with approachable interpretations of traditional dishes. Between the Mini Burger Brochette, three miniature hamburgers stacked in a tower served with French fries ($9.50); the thin crust Pizette ($6.25); and the Chef Tougnes's secret recipe Macaroni and Cheese ($5.50). Brunch selections include Bistro 110's Pigs in a Blanket Brochette, sausage and pancakes skewered on a kabob, topped with maple syrup ($6.50) and Crepes a la Nutela ($6.99). To finish the meal, the Bistro Fondu Platter with fresh fruit and homemade chocolate and caramel dipping sauces.
Lucky Strike Lanes
322 E. Illinois St. (312) 245-8331
In the River East entertainment center. With updates on classic comfort foods such as Bite Size Mac & Cheese Balls ($7.50), Tomato and Cheese S'mores, grilled miniature roasted tomato, basil, and mozzarella sandwiches ($7); and the Jumbo Chicken Sampler, with Ancho, Key West, Asian, and Chipotle skewers ($19.50), all ages can dig in. Dessert offerings include riffs on savory favorites, Sweet Pom-Frites, sponge cake fries dusted with sugar; served with raspberry and lemon sauces ($7) and PB & J, crispy filo shells with warm peanut butter and raspberry jelly ($5.50).
260 Green Bay Rd., Highwood. (847) 433-7005
North Shore families can indulge their junior members with a specially designed three-course menu. Young guests start the meal with Chicken Noodle Soup or a petite House Salad. For their entrée, selections include Roasted Chicken Breast with Mashed Potatoes ($8); Spaghetti with Marinara or Butter and Cheese Sauce ($7); and PB & J, upgraded to brioche toast ($6). Kids can select fresh fruit, cookies or ice cream for dessert.
1202 W Webster Ave.
Sweet Mandy B's
1208 W Webster Ave.
Kitsch'n on Roscoe
2005 W. Roscoe
Kitsch'n River North
600 West Chicago Avenue, Suite 5
410 W Huron St.
Joy Yee's Noodle Shop
2159 S. China Place (Chinatown Sq. Mall)
1335 S. Halsted
521 Davis St., Evanston
1163 E. Ogden Avenue
The Kids' Table
2337 W. North Ave.
Flavour Cooking School
7401 W. Madison, Forest Park
offers classes for 4-12+
The Chopping Block
4747 N. Lincoln Square
offers classes for 7-12, only at Lincoln Square Location