It is a unique experience to take a kid to a hipster bar, but The Ace in Roncesvalles is more than accommodating to its pint-sized customers. The 12 and under set get their own special menu with the Ace's famous burger on it, alongside the typical grilled cheese and spaghetti. Mac and cheese sneaks in some cauliflower florets and sides are not just French fries, if you have the kind of kid who will eat broccoli at a restaurant. Adults get their choice of some of the finest cocktails in the city alongside beautiful dishes like flat iron steak with red wine jus or lamb shank with creamy polenta.
Recommended for Family Friendly because: The children's menu at The Ace goes above and beyond the usual.
Courtney's expert tip: This is still a bar in the evenings. The best time to go is for brunch or lunch if you are bringing pint-sized customers.
If you have a sports-loving kid, the right thing to do when you are visiting Toronto is to stop over at Wayne Gretzky's in the heart of the entertainment district. Wayne's has 32 high definition televisions that play "all sports, all the time." A great selection of beers, along with martinis that sometimes use Wayne's personal ice wine as a flavour enhancer (who better to create ice wine than a hockey player?) are the perfect refreshment for the adults in the group. Food also serves as a tribute with "The Great One's Burger" with the number 99 (his jersey number) seared onto the bun. The kid's menu includes hockey trivia, a drink and tried-and-true favourites like grilled cheese and fries, which they dub "The Goalie."
Recommended for Family Friendly because: A sports bar may seem like the last place to take the family, but Wayne's is kid-friendly, and rowdy enough for your mini athletes.
Courtney's expert tip: Ask for the peewee menu if your kids like fueling up with chicken fingers. The adult menu will give them more choices of burgers and wings. Just keep the hot sauce to a minimum.
Sure, you could go and indulge in some street meat. But if you want a hot dog that deviates from the trinity of ketchup-relish-mustard, you must give Fancy Franks a try. To start, they have all premium beef hot dogs, rather than a generic shoulder-shrug of ingredients. The toppings also warrant the $6 price tag with dogs like the Frankaphone, with smoked gruyere, horseradish cheddar, squeaky curds and honey dijon mayo. Or earn the "fancy title" with Fancy-aano dog, with prosciutto, reggiano cheese, balsamic and arugula. You can almost add it to the category of salad. If your kids are fixed on peanut butter and jelly, there is a PB&J dog. Even if you are stuffed, try their amazing mini doughnuts, a steal at $5 a dozen, with flavours like lemon curd & powdered sugar.
Recommended for Family Friendly because: The franks are for the kids...the fancy part is for you.
Courtney's expert tip: The dogs are big, so let your kids split one. They can always make up for it in french fries or mini doughnuts. Just make sure that the measuring tape is out so that you don't get blamed for playing favourites.
The Old Spaghetti Factory has been a landmark in Toronto for 40 years. Originally a blacksmith shop from 1898, the old warehouse was converted into a restaurant in 1971 with high ceilings, European stained glass windows and an 100 year old carousel. Many people happily recall their childhood memories while bringing their own kids to continue the tradition of wearing spaghetti. Adult meals include soup or salad, sourdough bread and spumoni ice cream for dessert. The prices are definitely reasonable for a belly stuffing family excursion. The kids menu runs for under $10 and kids will be delighted with their free ice cream.
Recommended for Family Friendly because: Reliable food for a low price, with interesting artifacts to keep the kids focused on dinner.
Courtney's expert tip: Bring your kid hungry. If they finish the first bowl of pasta, the second is free. Spaghetti and meatballs also come with a salad or veggies and dip, which they can suffer through in order to get to their ice cream at the end.
If you are looking for a hip restaurant to take your kids, Pizzeria Libretto is your answer. This is the real deal kind of pizza. You may find yourself enthusiastically affirming the taste of real Neopolitan Pizza at Pizzeria Libretto in Italian. Or, if words fail you, "Mmmm" works well in most languages. This pizza has a soft chewy crust that is beautifully blistered by the piping hot oven. Each pizza is made as a single serving and is not overwhelmed with toppings. Cheese and toppings such as duck confit or house made sausage merely accent the pie, allowing it to be melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Crayons and an activity sheet will magically appear in front of your child. Pizzas take just 90 seconds to make, which is just about right for a toddler's attention span.
Recommended for Family Friendly because: A kids menu, high chairs, booster chairs, crayons and pizza. You may make parent of the year.
Courtney's expert tip: When your kids inevitably have to use the washroom, be thankful for the small step that helps them to reach the sink. Clean hands will help with the pasta and bread eating interspaced with crayon handling.
If you are a person who hears the words "baby back ribs" and salivates, you must make a trip over to Roncesvalles for a spectacular meal. Owners and childhood friends Jonathan Persofsky and David Neinstein left the corporate world to dedicate more time to their passion of genuine pit BBQ. Every piece of meat is treated like a work of art, and the word succulent doesn't even begin to do it justice. Nosh on the complementary popcorn with dipping sauces as you wait for the meal, and try your best not to drink the homemade BBQ sauce. Kids are immediately handed play dough and colouring books to keep them busy, and simple foods like chicken strips, fresh fruit and fries will keep them as happy as you are with that dipping sauce.
Recommended for Family Friendly because: Booster seats, high chairs and crayons, along with a kid's menu that will let your kids enjoy their standbys while you chow down on brisket.
Courtney's expert tip: Every Sunday night is family night, with a weekly updated menu. Large platters of food are for sharing, from baby back ribs to crushed herbed potatoes to cupcakes for dessert.
The Beet is a lovely restaurant in the Junction area of Toronto, which supports local farmers, buys fair trade when possible and is proudly 99% organic. You would think that such a model is kid friendly, but you have to enjoy a place that offers things that kids like outside of tater tots. Little ones can choose from bite-sized pieces of tofu or chicken, as well as avocado, cheese or PB&J. Even babies aren't left out, as The Beet will puree banana, applesauce, avocado or sweet potato. There is a sizeable solids menu for adults, including tempeh tacos, rice bowls and an avocado stuffed with brown rice, veggies and topped with spicy peanut sauce and pesto. The whole family can be happy.
Recommended for Family Friendly because: A changing table in the bathroom, purees for your baby and bite-sized tastes for your bigger kids.
Courtney's expert tip: If your kids are early risers (and which kids aren't?) go as early as 8am during the week. The Beet's kitchen is not open but you can get juice (for them) and coffee (for you).
Lazy Daisy's may be a modern restaurant in Toronto, but it was built on a long lineage of people who have been caring about where their food has come from. Local farm-fresh food is served to busy coffee guzzlers and leisurely families alike. Kids don't only get to succumb to the pleasures of grilled cheese, but there is also a train table and a basket of books to allow you the chance of a dinner where you are not shovelling your food in your mouth. There is a new kid breakfast every single day, which keeps things simple for developing palates. Adults will enjoy the wide variety of fresh, local food including an egg sandwich served on a country biscuit and a chili made with naturally raised beef from "Farmer Frey."
Recommended for Family Friendly because: Distractions for the kids in the form of food and toys.
Courtney's expert tip: If you do decide to go on the weekend, be prepared to wait. Lazy Daisy's is a popular brunch with families.
Piano piano is the rare family-friendly restaurant that is sophisticated, classy and not at all turned off by the antics of your children (which are likely far from sophisticated and classy). The bright look evokes a playful Alice in Wonderland vibe. Adults will be delighted with dishes like eight hour ragu heaped upon made-from-scratch pasta. The kids menu was designed by Chef Victor Barry, Nikki Leigh McKean and Certified Nutritionist Danielle Binns. Trays for picky eaters include crackers and guacamole, blueberries and mozzarella cheese cubes. There is also pasta and pizza, served on a cheerful, silicone "happy mat" which you can buy and take home. After the kids order, they can go to the play room, or battle over a vintage Pac Man game or classic games like dominoes and Go Fish. Going out to eat just became fun again.
Recommended for Family Friendly because: It doesn't get much more kid-friendly than Piano Piano, with a fun and healthy menu designed for children and games galore to keep them busy.
Courtney's expert tip: Kids are free to get up, move around and play in the rooms. You can stop saying the words "Sit down!" for once.