Are the Kids Asking, “What’s for Dinner?”?
Happy Valley Comes to the Rescue with Fantastic Family-Friendly Dining Options
A self-proclaimed foodie in my pre-parenthood years, I love going out to eat. But I don’t always love going out to eat with kids in tow. And I really don’t love fast food or pizza every day. So with two attention-loving kids under 3, I’m always looking for new local places where I can enjoy a good meal, keep my girls entertained, and not spend a fortune on food they may or may not eat. While some of my favorite Happy Valley restaurants are now reserved for date nights only, I’ve rounded up a few of the top spots in town to visit when the kids are tagging along.
Baby’s Burgers and Shakes
The atmosphere alone is enough to keep their attention long enough for you to chow down on a Baby's Famous Whimpy (a.k.a. tiny burger) or two. Set up like an authentic '50s diner, the restaurant features red and chrome booths, waiters and waitresses in '50s attire, a soda fountain, a Wurlitzer jukebox, and traditional diner fare complete with thick shakes, 5-alarm chili, and wet fries. Plus, all kids' meals come with a free Teeny-Weeny--a really small hot fudge sundae. For parents like me who need to eat as fast as possible before someone starts crying, has a diaper blowout, or runs amok, Baby's slogan of "Eat and Get Out" is perfect.
Hot deal: Kids eat free from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays with the purchase of an adult entree.
131 S. Garner St., State College; 814-234-4476; www.babysburgers.com
Sometimes you just want some good old fashioned home cooking, without doing the cooking at home. Enter Hoss's, the regional family-friendly steak and sea house. Order from the full menu, or enjoy a meal from the Soup & Salad Bar which features fresh salad, homemade soups and breads, extras (like mac and cheese or nachos), and fresh desserts. And, if the kids break free from your booth, like my 3 year old tends to do, they’ll go unnoticed with the serve-it-yourself-soup-and-salad crowd. The biggest bonus is the self-serve soft-serve ice cream machine, which lets kids make their own ice cream sundae to end their meal.
Hot deal: Kids 5 and under eat free from the Soup & Salad Bar every day.
1450 N. Atherton St., State College; 814-234-4009; www.hosss.com
The Waffle Shop
Their motto is "fresh, fast and fun...every day". Count me in. While there’s nothing that really stands out to keep the kids’ attention here, the fact that it's a quick breakfast-served-all-day sort of place will keep my waffle-loving toddler happy. And the fact that there is wait staff that keeps my coffee cup full keeps ME happy. There are four Waffle Shop locations in Happy Valley (three in State College, one in Bellefonte). While the downtown location got top nods for best restaurant in State College on TripAdvisor, I prefer the North Atherton or Blue Course locations with less of a line and on-site parking.
Hot tip: Be sure to bring cash; The Waffle Shop doesn't accept credit cards.
I'll usually pick an indigenous restaurant over a chain any day, but sometimes you need to go with a tried and true family-friendly spot. And, sometimes you just need to go somewhere that will keep the kids entertained long enough for you to enjoy a really good steak and an ice cold beer or cocktail. Your kids will love grabbing a handful of peanuts from the bucket on your table and throwing the shells on the floor (allergen alert!), or watching the wait staff break into a line dance at certain points throughout your meal.
1885 Waddle Rd., State College; www.texasroadhouse.com
OK, I know I said I’m not a fan of chains OR fast food, but Chick-fil-A makes an exception in my book. Not only does their southern hospitality shine through, but they also make a mean chicken sandwich. And, the kids’ meals at other big fast food joints don’t compare to the ones here (in my humble opinion). My daughter will eat an entire fruit cup with mandarin oranges and fresh apples and berries before she even touches her chicken nuggets. So that makes me feel somewhat good about fast food. But the real highlight of this place is that it’s the only restaurant in town that has an indoor playground for the kids. While it’s just for ages 3 and under, it’s a great alternative to the back of your booth for them to climb and explore.
Hot tip: Go early during your weekend visit; all Chick-fil-A locations are closed on Sundays.
1938 N. Atherton St., State College; 814-231-0900; www.chick-fil-a.com
While I haven't yet ventured here with my young kids, it was a favorite quick-stop lunch spot of mine pre-parenthood. Older kids will love making their own stir fry. It's easy: you go through the line, fill your bowl with any combination of fresh veggies, sauces, and meat stick (to indicate your selection of beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp, then watch as your masterpiece transforms into a delicious edible work of art on the grill. Plus, it’s all you can eat, so everyone in the family will get their fill (and can create as many meal combos as they’d like).
Hot bonus: A healthy meal for the kids. You won’t find nuggets, pizza, or mac and cheese here.
131 W. Beaver Ave., State College; 814-238-0600; www.thegreenbowl.com
For the days you have a really big appetite, take the kids to Pittsburgh-based Primanti Bros., and get yourself a sandwich piled on Italian bread and topped with cole slaw and fries. While the kids menu is standard among the sea of kids’ menus, Primanti Bros. made my list of top spots to bring the kids for one reason alone: they hand out triangle shaped crayons. For every parent who has contorted their body and crawled under a table to quickly rescue a rollaway crayon before a meltdown ensued, this one's for you. Plus, their kids’ menus double as placemats with games that are actually fun to play, and come with scannable QR codes to help bring their activities to life.
Hot tip: Go ahead and order a beer. You deserve it.
130 Hiester St., State College; 814-862-9367; www.primantibros.com