Best for Families: Dining + Destinations 2015

Julia Bunch
December 2015 in
DallasChild, FortWorthChild, NorthTexasChild
November 23, 2015
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Our annual Best for Families: Dining + Destinations survey returns with some beloved favorites and a few newbies too. We polled you, crunched the numbers to find the winners, then did our research to see what makes these restaurants and destinations the créme de la créme. Read on to see if your picks made the list. Then start planning your next family outing, as recommended by fellow local moms.

Best Brunch
DallasChild and FortWorthChild Winner: Blue Mesa Grill
Come for the free meal for kids under 5 and stay for the street taco station or the Belgian waffles (or the omelet bar or the assorted desserts). And sip mimosas while you let a variety of coloring activities entertain tiny Tex-Mex lovers. If you — or someone else in your brunch bunch — have dietary restrictions, find Blue Mesa’s allergy-friendly options and other nutrition information online. Bonus: The Plano and Addison locations serve Saturday brunch too.
Multiple locations
NorthTexasChild Winner: Café Brazil
This coffeehouse and restaurant has something for everyone on the menu: gourmet cups of joe for coffee connoisseurs, omelets and crepes for the egg enthusiasts and kid-approved breakfast and lunch eats — with two servings of fruits and veggies. No need to be confined to breakfast or lunch (or even brunch) hours; all menus are available all day. Bonus: If you’re dining for supper, kids under 12 eat free with the purchase of an adult entree Sunday−Thursday, 5−10pm.
Denton, 940/442-5323

Best Restaurant for Healthy Dining
DallasChild Winner: Garden Café
The name of this café is no euphemism. Indulge in omelets and oats for breakfast and try the salads or sammies — all stuffed with veggies grown in the restaurant’s garden — for lunch. We recommend dining during nice weather so you can sit outside with your BYOB beverage while the kids read children’s books or create chalk art on the family- and Fido-friendly patio. Don’t forget to pay a little visit to the hen house so the kids can see where their breakfast scramble originated.
Dallas, 214/887-8330

FortWorthChild Winner: Z’s Café
Better known for large-scale catering, this family-owned Fort Worth staple does offer a modest Lighter Side menu with salad, quiche, soup and sandwich options as well as a Chicago-Style Eats menu with Reubens, sausages and meatball sandwiches. We recommend grabbing a pint of chicken salad and some mixed fruit to go. Bonus: Order online and pick up in store or get delivery for orders of more than $35.
Fort Worth, 817/348-9000
NorthTexasChild Winner: ModernMarket (formerly ModMarket)
Since opening in September 2014, Modmarket has had us salivating over the mere mention of the superfood salad (a spinach/kale blend with quinoa pilaf, feta, carrots, almonds, grapes and champagne vinaigrette), wolfing down gluten-free pizzas and licking every last drop in our green chicken chili bowls. Dine in or place your takeout order online for those stay-at-home kind of dinner nights without the hassle.
Flower Mound, 469/312-5180

Best Burger Joint
DallasChild and NorthTexasChild Winner: Twisted Root Burger Company
Twisted Root serves some pretty adventurous fare, like burgers made with bison or lamb (options vary by location) instead of just the typical beef or turkey on regular or gluten-free buns. For kids, there are corn dogs; chicken nuggets; specialty root beer flavors, including blueberry and butterscotch; and a chocolate, banana, peanut butter and bacon milkshake. For adults, sweet-tooth satisfiers come spiked if you like — we’re fans of the wedding cake milkshake made with vanilla vodka.
Multiple locations
FortWorthChild Winner: Kincaid’s Hamburgers
Kincaid’s has been grilling hormone-free grass-fed beef and using local veggies since before it was trendy (since 1946, to be exact). Order a classic hamburger or pile it high with bacon, chili, pimento cheese or jalapeños. Kids choose from a junior size burger, chicken strips, a hot dog, grilled cheese or a corny dog. Get an order of stuffed jalapeños, onion rings or deviled eggs to share and definitely get at least one Dreamsicle milkshake — though you probably won’t want to share.
Multiple locations

Best Pizza Place
DallasChild Winner: Campisi’s
What began on Mockingbird Lane as the Original Campisi’s Egyptian Lounge has become a Dallas institution of pizza pies. Whether you’re a fan of the delicious crab claws, gluten-free pizza crust or extensive kids menu, Campisi’s offers dine-in, carry out, delivery and online ordering at each of its 10 locations. And on busy nights when there’s no time to cook, order the take-and-bake option and have dinner on the table in 10 minutes.
Multiple locations

FortWorthChild and NorthTexasChild Winner: Mellow Mushroom
Mellow Mushroom takes the classic pie — bread, sauce and cheese — to the next level with creations like the red skin potato pie, complete with all the fixins’, or the bayou bleu that starts with a spicy blue cheese base instead of the traditional red sauce. Less adventurous palates choose from a selection of calzones, hoagies, salads, even burgers (a new addition). Visit the site before you go to see the complete list of allergy-friendly options (you can customize what you want to avoid). Littles pick among four options on the kids menu, but it’s more fun to order a family-style, build-your-own pie and share.
Multiple locations

Best Taco Joint
Torchy’s Tacos
With famed breakfast tacos, guacamole and street corn worth blowing your diet for, Torchy’s has had us pledging allegiance since they expanded north of their Austin roots. Try the brushfire, made with Jamaican jerk chicken, grilled jalapeños and mangoes; the crossroads, which combines smoked beef brisket with grilled onions, jalapeños, cilantro, jack cheese and avocado; or the independent, stuffed with fried portobello mushrooms, refried black beans, roasted corn, pickled carrots, queso fresco, cilantro and avocado.  And definitely get green chili queso and chips to share (or to devour yourself — we won’t judge).
Multiple locations
Best Mexican Restaurant
DallasChild and NorthTexasChild Winner: Mi Cocina
This Tex-Mex giant is just upscale enough to give you a break from drive-thrus and plasticware, but not so upscale that you need to dig out your Sunday best. Mini Texans love the crispy tacos and quesadillas. We suggest you order the quinceañera salad, a combination of tropical fruits and crunchy veggies, and a jalapeño-agave margarita. If you’re more of a takeout tribe, try fajitas or tacos off Mi Cocina’s “Familia Style” menu. For gluten-free families, there’s an entire menu of options.
Multiple locations
FortWorthChild Winner: Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant
We’d still frequent Joe T.’s even if they didn’t serve up all our Tex-Mex favorites, just to enjoy the delightfully manicured patio. This year, the cash-only restaurant celebrates 80 years in Fort Worth with its usual out-the-door lines. We recommend family-style combination fajitas with a house margarita for grown-ups and a chicken child’s plate for the kids.
Fort Worth, 817/626-4356

Best Barbecue
DallasChild Winner: Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q
It’s true this ’cue is smokin’ good. But we also love Rudy’s because of the unpretentious ambiance, picnic table setup, customizable portions, drive-thru and attached gas station. In addition to the usual barbecue offerings, such as ribs, brisket and turkey, Rudy’s has lots of tasty sides too, including potato salad and cream corn. Pick up Rudy’s sauces and rubs — which make great stocking stuffers for the grill master on your list — before you leave.
Allen, 214/383-5353
Frisco, 972/712-7839

FortWorthChild and NorthTexasChild Winner: Hard Eight BBQ
Meat lovers salivate at the words “Hard Eight BBQ.” A variety of mesquite-smoked meats including barbecue staples such as brisket and sausage, as well as rare finds like ham, prime rib, and shrimp can be ordered by the pound or on a sandwich. Kid-friendly favorites pack the sides menu — from mac and cheese and onion rings to fries and fruit bowls.
Coppell, 972/471-5462
Roanoake, 817/837-8888

Best Doughnut Shop
Hypnotic Donuts
Playful doughnut names, such as expresso yo self and sin’amon roll, make you smile before you even taste the spellbindingly delicious doughnuts and chicken biscuits at Hypnotic Donuts. Get the littles a Homer with sprinkles while you feast on a Jim chicken sandwich served on a glazed donut bun. Hypnotic Emporium, a 1920s-inspired soda fountain, will open next to the doughnut shop early next year.
Dallas, 214/668-6999
Best Grilled Cheese
Dallas Grilled Cheese Co.
This Bishop Arts gastropub isn’t a just-for-kids sandwich shop. Sure they offer a grilled PB&J or classic grilled cheese and tomato soup, but they also put sophisticated grown-up twists on the traditional — like combining American, aged cheddar and Gruyére cheeses, crumbled bacon and Dijon mustard on Parmesan-crusted sourdough bread — making Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. wildly successful since it opened in January 2015. Order the four-cheese bacon mac and cheese for adventurous kiddos and the Via Domitia with prosciutto, green apples, walnuts and Brie for you.
Dallas, 214/944-5515
Best Place for an After-School Snack
DallasChild Winner: Sprinkles Cupcakes
Not many sweet shops can compete with Sprinkles’ bakery, cupcake ATM and ice cream shop trio, which is probably why they usually have a line out the door of their Preston Center storefront. And with lots of gluten-free and vegan flavors, your kiddos may have trouble deciding between a scoop of malted milk chocolate ice cream and a red velvet cupcake. Follow Sprinkles on Facebook for discounts.
Dallas, 214/369-0004

FortWorthChild Winner: Steel City Pops
This ice pop shop has quickly become the coolest after-school treat in Cowtown. Indulge in a creamy smoked fig with cheese pop or a fruity cinnamon apple pop without the guilt, since these frozen treats are made with organic ingredients and none of the artificial stuff. Flavors rotate seasonally, so you basically have to return often. Plus, they offer cookie pops dipped in chocolate during fall and winter months.
Fort Worth, 817/744-8544

NorthTexasChild Winner: Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream
The chalkboard menu, homemade desserts, retro décor and antique soda machine make this shop so nostalgically sweet that we need another scoop of pralines ’n cream to cope. While the shop serves sandwiches, soups and chili, Beth Marie’s customers come for the ice cream floats, warm waffle cones, banana splits, chocolate shakes ... (Need we go on?)
Denton, W. Hickory, 940/384-1818
Denton, Wind River, 940/591-1010

Best Kids Play Area
DallasChild Winner: Central Market, Plano
When the kids are bouncing out of their car seats and your grocery list is longer than the kids’ wish list for Santa, visit Central Market in Plano. Let the tots climb, slide and run wild on the barnyard-themed playground, which is fenced and surrounded by picnic tables, while you grab a quick bite (or glass of wine) from the café before tackling the grocery list.
Plano, 469/241-8300
Best Themed Restaurant

Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament
Leave the 21st century behind (at least for a bit) while you feast on a four-course meal (sans silverware) and take in a two-hour jousting tournament and show in this 11th century-style castle. The souvenir photo, educational displays and gift shop make this experience feel more like a night at an amusement park than dinner out with the family.
Dallas, 214/761-1801
Best Place to Grab a Family Dinner on the Go
DallasChild Winner: eatZi’s
Whether you’ve got a house full of picky eaters or foodies in the making, eatZi’s serves prepared meals and customized salad and sandwich creations sure to please every palate at the dinner table. Grab an Italian cream cake for the school bake sale, place an order for cornbread stuffing to take to the holiday get-together or let the kids pick their meal du jour from the Chef’s Corner. Snap up free samples — lots of them — before making your selection.
Dallas, Lovers Lane, 214/358-3100
Dallas, Oak Lawn Ave., 214/526-1515
Plano, 972/535-6305
FortWorthChild Winner: Central Market
Between the gourmet groceries, extensive holiday menu, grab-and-go prepared meals and Southlake’s castle-themed playground, Central Market is several cuts above your average corner store. The one-stop shop stocks lots of organic foods, extensive beer and wine selections, natural beauty products and endless self-serve trail mix, granola, nuts and candy. Before you leave, order yourself a salmon burger and orzo salad and get the kiddos a cheese pizza or sandwich from the made-to-order café, then eat it there or take it to go.
Fort Worth, 817/989-4700
Southlake, 817/310-5600

NorthTexasChild Winner: Market Street
This grocery store feels more like a farmers market and café hybrid. Grab precut and preseasoned veggies and meat to throw in the oven at home or buy premade sides, entrees and desserts in family-size portions to make your life even easier. And if you can spare a moment for yourself to just sit and relax, you can let the kids run off their energy in the playground out back.
Coppell, 469/322-6800
Flower Mound, 972/355-4007

Best City or Suburb for Raising Children
DallasChild Winner: Plano
Anyone living in North Texas for longer than five seconds already knows what a family-friendly city Plano is. With 84 parks, 73 trails, top-tier public and private schools, low crime rates (that are still falling) and countless cool restaurants and attractions, it’s no wonder Plano sits in this coveted spot. We’re especially excited about the new dining (welcome, Shake Shack!) and shopping epicenter, Legacy West, set to open in early 2017.
FortWorthChild Winner: Fort Worth
Whether you’re a recent transplant or have lived here your whole life, you know that Fort Worth is gaining a reputation as a family-friendly town. Top-rated elementary, middle and high schools, more than 200 public parks and green spaces, a respectable culinary scene, a rich agriculture and military history and housing costs that haven’t yet spiked have families flocking to Cowtown.

NorthTexasChild Winner: Flower Mound
Flower Mound has been racking up accolades as a family-friendly suburb, including winning this category for five years in a row. Moms and dads love the extremely low crime rates and multitude of top-tier schools. Kids love the 50 parks and playgrounds and family attractions. And, with many new restaurants (welcome, Snap Kitchen!) popping up all over, there’s almost no need to venture to Fort Worth or Dallas, even though they’re only a few miles away.

Best Place for a Family Staycation
Great Wolf Lodge
The nearly 80,000-square-foot indoor water park at Great Wolf Lodge draws families to this Grapevine destination, but it has more to offer than water slides and activity pools. Let the kids try MagiQuest sleuthing scavenger hunt adventure, get an ice cream manicure at Scooops Kid Spa, play arcade games or attempt the ropes course. Don’t miss this year’s newest winter-themed attraction, Snowland Suites, with lots of snowflakes, cookies and a decorated holiday tree until January 3.
Grapevine, 817/488-6510
Best Art Museum
DallasChild and NorthTexasChild Winner: Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art hosts interactive classes and workshops for kids throughout the year to foster any little artist’s talents. Classes vary by age group and include art projects linked to a specific exhibit. We’re fans of the Family Workshops, where kids and adults create art together. Register online in advance.
Dallas, 214/922-1200
FortWorthChild Winner: Kimbell Art Museum
The Kimbell understands that no touching in a museum is no fun for kids. That’s why they’ve created lots of options and workshops for aspiring artists. Take a short gallery tour and complete a related project during free Drop-In Studio hours on select Saturdays.
Stop by the Piano Pavilion’s playroom where kids 5 and younger can play with blocks, books and interactive stations with art themes. Introduce the kids to impressionism at one of the museum’s current exhibitions, Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye, on display until February 14.
Fort Worth, 817/332-8451

Best Children’s Theater
DallasChild Winner: Dallas Children’s Theater
Theater-loving tykes can take advantage of the Dallas Children’s Theater in two ways. One, take the kids to watch a favorite story play out on the stage. Miracle on 34th Street is playing now through December 20. Hansel and Gretel comes March 4 and The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) opens on April 29. Additionally, enroll your drama queens and kings — as young as 3 1/2 years — in an academy class, organized by season, to practice acting techniques with a fun theme, such as Wondergirls and Superheros.
Dallas, 214/978-0110

FortWorthChild Winner: Casa Mañana Theatre
Introduce the kids to musical theater by taking them to one of Casa Mañana’s fun children’s productions. Frosty the Snowman plays through December 23, School House Rock Live Jr. comes February 5−21 and Seussical Jr. runs April 15−May 8. If your little drama queen — or king — is meant to be on the big stage instead of in the audience, check out the website for lots of acting classes for preschoolers on up.
Fort Worth, 817/332-2272

NorthTexasChild Winner: Studio B Performing Arts Center
Enroll aspiring actors as young as 4 in Studio B’s seasonal comedy, music and acting classes, camps and workshops — all taught by professionals. Keep an eye out for junior productions of your kiddos’ favorite stories. Plus, don’t miss your chance to meet Saint Nick at Cookies and Cocoa with Santa on December 6.
Highland Village, 972/966-2787

Best Western Experience
Stockyards Station/Fort Worth Herd
You’re not a true Cowtown-er until you’ve experienced … well, cows. Daily cattle drives with Texas longhorns (what else?) through Stockyards Station reenact the good ol’ days of Fort Worth’s thriving livestock exchange. Formerly known as “The Wall Street of the West,” this 98-acre property has become a shopping and dining destination for locals and visitors. Don’t miss meeting some furry friends at the petting zoo.
Fort Worth, 817/625-9715

Best Place to Explore Science and History
DallasChild and NorthTexasChild Winner: Perot Museum of Nature and Science
It’s likely that your tiny North Texans love exploring and learning among the Perot’s 11 permanent exhibit halls. The newest temporary exhibit, Creatures of Light – Nature’s Bioluminescence, runs until February 21 and explores the natural phenomenon of living light (read: lightning bugs and lots of photo ops). The Moody Family Children’s Museum makes a great starting or ending point to your Perot escapade with its miniature versions of the Dallas cityscape and Dallas Farmers Market, water tables and a nest-themed crawling park for babies.
Dallas, 214/428-5555

FortWorthChild Winner: Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
Originally strictly a children’s museum, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History now houses five permanent exhibits, an IMAX dome and a planetarium. Explore botany, mineralogy, zoology, paleontology, marine biology and more, then grab some popcorn and a seat for National Parks Adventure, a film that takes nature lovers soaring down canyons and trekking up mountains.
Fort Worth, 817/255-9300

Best Place for an Animal Encounter
DallasChild Winner: Dallas Zoo
This zoological adventure boasts more than 2,000 animals from the tiptop to the very bottom of the food chain. Visit during various kids’ events, such as Wild About Art and Family Safari Night Hike, or let the kids run wild anytime at the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo. For an up-close-and-personal activity, try the 90-minute Backstage Safari Experience, where kids participate in elephant feedings and penguin snuggles.
Dallas, 469/554-7500

FortWorthChild and NorthTexasChild Winner: Fort Worth Zoo
With 556 species of animals to ogle and lots of kid-centered games and activities to explore (like the hurricane and tornado simulators), it’s hard to imagine having a wilder time at the Fort Worth Zoo. That is, until last May when Safari Splash, a 14,000-square-foot splash pad water park, opened. Stop by the Texas Wild! exhibit on your next visit to say hello to the zoo’s newest members — jaguar cub sisters Luna and Estrella, who turn 1 on May 11.
Fort Worth, 817/759-7555

Best Place to Get Outdoors
DallasChild Winner: Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden/Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden
The 8-acre children’s garden is a must-see attraction for children of all ages. Daily programs, such as Nestled Nests or Cold-Blooded Creatures, allow kids to participate in science experiments. Seasonal exhibits, like The 12 Days of Christmas (now through January 3), make the arboretum a weekend destination year-round. Check out the gardens after dark during one of the Cool Thursdays Concert Series, which happen in the spring and fall. Bring your spouse or your girlfriends and BYOB.
Dallas, 214/515-6500
FortWorthChild Winner: Fort Worth Botanical Garden
Take the family on a leisurely stroll through the Fort Worth Botanical Garden’s 12 gardens, and be sure to bring the camera for endless photo ops. The Green Thumb Club, Little Sprouts family activity and Family Drop-In evening programs help gardeners in the making cultivate their inner horticulturalists.
Fort Worth, 817/392-5510

Best Kid-Friendly Shopping Center
DallasChild Winner: NorthPark Center
Even if kids store staples Build-A-Bear Workshop and Lego didn’t call NorthPark home, kids would find plenty to do in the CenterPark Garden green space and Bookmarks, a Dallas public library. Bookmarks hosts free story time, yoga, music and magic classes for kids of all ages (even babies) weekly. Or you can always let your little ones climb the slides — er, planters — by the turtle pond outside Neiman Marcus.
Dallas, 214/363-7441

FortWorthChild and NorthTexasChild Winner: Grapevine Mills
You love the one-stop shopping for your clan at stores such as Crewcuts by J. Crew, Carter’s and Old Navy. The kids love Legoland Discovery Center, Sea Life Grapevine Aquarium and the AMC movie theater. Save your quarters for spring 2016 when Round One Entertainment opens a 78,300-square-foot arcade.
Grapevine, 972/724-4900

Best Bank for Kids
Wells Fargo
Kids only need $25 to open a savings account at Wells Fargo. Four options, including one for joint ownership with a parent, allow kids to get involved in their financial future so they can start saving for that new bike. The Junior Agent Saver Club, found online, explains financial goals in an age-appropriate way using interactive games and plans.
Multiple locations
Best Grocery Store
DallasChild and NorthTexasChild Winner: Kroger
These days you can buy bread and milk at every corner store. But North Texas moms take their grocery lists to Kroger because the chain contributes more than $220 million annually to community services, such as hiring veterans, campaigning for breast cancer awareness and donating to local food banks. With a gas station, pharmacy and ATM, Kroger lets moms check more off the list than just the market staples. It also helps that the staff is friendly (and there are lots of free samples).
Multiple locations

FortWorthChild Winner: Central Market
Between the gourmet groceries, extensive holiday menu, grab-and-go prepared meals and Southlake’s castle-themed playground, Central Market is several cuts above your average corner store. The one-stop shop stocks lots of organic foods, extensive beer and wine selections, natural beauty products and endless self-serve trail mix, granola, nuts and candy. Before you leave, order yourself a salmon burger and orzo salad and get the kiddos a cheese pizza or sandwich from the made-to-order café, then eat it there or take it to go.
Fort Worth, 817/989-4700
Southlake, 817/310-5600

Published December 2015


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