Dining out? Just do it

“What could be more kid-friendly than momo?” 

This was our reasoning as Nick and I approached Himalayan Restaurant on East Lake Street, our two toddlers in tow.

We sat down and ordered the signature steamed dumplings as well as some chicken tikka masala and a couple glasses of wine. Despite our standard speech about “restaurant behavior,” both children quickly popped up out of their chairs and went capering across the room, heading straight for a steep staircase leading to the basement. 

Fellow diners glared at us as we dragged our loud, squirming scamps back to the table. Then, having once again settled in, one of the children immediately upended a glass of red wine. At this point we asked for the check and a few to-go boxes.  

Is it worth it? 

Dining out with toddlers can be a fraught experience. But according to some inspirational meme I saw on Facebook, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over fear.” 

With that in mind, toddler parents, I encourage you to face your fears and step heroically into the unknown (e.g. Black Sheep Pizza). Read on to learn about some of the dining establishments that have, against all odds, delivered some pleasant experiences with our toddlers. 

Sweet treats 

If you can’t face an actual meal in a restaurant, but still want to leave the house, consider one of these places for a quick treat:

Mel-O-Glaze (4800 28th Ave. S., Minneapolis): This neighborhood bakery is one of the city’s best bets for tasty, affordable doughnuts. It’s been around since I was growing up in then-unfashionable South Minneapolis, and the prices reflect this history. Leave the $6 “artisanal” doughnuts for the 20-something yuppies in Uptown. If your kid isn’t into cake, the mega-size donuts here can easily stand in for a birthday cake; just add candles.

Yogurt Lab (throughout the Twin Cities): Despite the hints that this organic yogurt place might be “a healthier choice” — what with all the sugar-free, fat-free options and the fresh fruit toppings — everyone knows the real joy of Yogurt Lab is discovering just how high a yogurt tower you can construct (all for one flat rate)! Hint: Put a whole bunch of toppings in the middle of the tower so you don’t weight it down at the top.


Actual meals 

Ready to take your over-tired toddler out for dinner? Here are some of our favorites:

Moscow on the Hill (371 Selby Ave., St. Paul): Known for their infused vodkas and potent cocktails, Moscow on the Hill might not seem like an obvious choice for a family night on the town. But for some reason, it works. The staff are friendly and unpretentious, the lighting is dim and the bathrooms feature dramatic, toddler-entrancing paintings. Good choices for kids include the Moscow fries and the dumplings, naturally: Felix likes the Siberian pelmini; Lydia prefers the vareniki. 

Kyatchi (308 E. Prince St., St. Paul and 3758 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis): Kyatchi is the rare Japanese restaurant with a kids’ menu, featuring everything from ramen to hot dogs. The food is good, the atmosphere is relaxed and there’s a giant fish on the wall that captivated Felix on our last visit. I should also mention that the desserts are excellent, particularly the cheesecake and the ginger panna cotta. 

Your preferred hangout: Kid-friendly restaurant suggestions are all well and good, but you ultimately want to find something that’s steady and dependable — something of your very own. We’ve developed a long-term relationship with our beloved Brunson’s Pub (956 Payne Ave., St. Paul). 

Why Brunson’s? It’s close to home, we all like the food and the owners are great people. It’s our go-to place when someone’s visiting from out of town or we have a birthday to celebrate. 

It’s where we told the kids that my husband, Nick, had cancer. I fully expect at least one of our kids to get engaged at Brunson’s in 30 years or so.

So I encourage you to get out there and take your toddler to restaurants, and experience all the highs and lows that come with it. But when you stumble upon that one restaurant that accepts your family the way you are, that welcomes you with open arms, that really sees you — well, you don’t have to put a ring on it, but acknowledge the beauty and give them your regular business. (And don’t forget to tip well.)  

Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.