Most of my extended family lives out of town and all of them love to eat. So when we have guests visiting, we’re always looking for nice restaurants that the whole family can enjoy. And when Kathy asked me for some favorites, a list immediately popped into my head.
Now, I’ll preface this list to say a couple of things: When it comes to eating out, I don’t shy away from taking my kids to nicer restaurants. My family doesn’t splurge on a lot of things, but, from time-to-time, a great meal is worth the cost for us. Both of my girls, ages 3 and 7, are great eaters. For them, dinner out is a great prize for showing good table manners at home.
Of course, we have a few rules: If it’s for dinner, we always get to the restaurant as early as possible. We’re often waiting at the door as they unlock it for the evening. And, as soon as either of my children make any noise other than a happy one, we’re out the door.
So, with all that said, here’s my Five Faves for special occasion restaurants for the whole family:
The Angus Barn (Raleigh) - When I asked for suggestions last week on Go Ask Mom’s Facebook page, many put this Raleigh institution at the top of their list. “They treat children royally with a visit to the toy box, live elves and make your own ice cream in the real bustling kitchen!” wrote one of our fans. “The Angus Barn is one of the most kid-friendly and kid-loving restaurants I have ever been to,” wrote another. Indeed, the restaurant has special wooden toy chests scattered around the restaurant with toys for the kids to take home. Children dressed as elves hand out candy. And, along with a kids meal, comes the opportunity to make-your-own sundae in the kitchen as long as it isn't too busy. Dinner at at The Angus Barn is obviously a splurge. The kids, or as it’s called "calves menu" features entrees for $11 each. But it’s definitely an experience.
Guglhupf Bakery, Restaurant and Cafe (Durham) - Compared to The Angus Barn, Guglhupf is on the more affordable side. This German cafe and bakery serves up some amazing food, including sandwiches, salads, small plates and dishes that feature house-made artisanal meats and sausages. Items on the kids menu are $4.50 or less and include a grilled Nutella sandwich (hello!). This is a very casual restaurant. At lunch, you order at the counter and your food is brought to you. It’s busy and interesting with outdoor seating when the weather is nice. Best of all, once the kids are done eating, you can head down to the bakery to pick up some treats for the ride home. We always pair a trip to Guglhupf with a walk at Duke Gardens.
Herons (Cary) - This Five Diamonds restaurant might not seem family-friendly at first. It is fancy. But this is a great place, particularly for brunch, if you’re looking for a very nice setting to take out-of-town guests. Items on the brunch menu are mostly less than $20 and include a stack of pancakes for $8 (your choice of regular, blueberry, chocolate chip, banana or red velvet, at last check). When my husband and I took our seven-year-old there for a special treat, the staff treated her like royalty. When she ordered a dessert that featured five kinds of ice creams or sorbets, she wondered out loud if it would come with five spoons. Our waiter came out with the plate and then artfully laid five spoons on the table. It happened months ago and she still loves telling that story.
Fearrington Village (Pittsboro)- You can go to the very pricey Fearrington House Inn for its fine food and setting. But you also can go to The Fearrington Granary for its more affordable menu and casual atmosphere. Here, you not only get a great meal, you also get a great place to linger for a while as you check out the shops and see Fearrington’s famous Belted Galloway cows, always a kid favorite. McIntyre’s Books is another great place to visit with kids. It has a nice children’s section and often has special events.
The Carolina Inn (Chapel Hill) - This long-time Carolina favorite does it up big time for the holidays with its Twelve Days of Christmas. You’ll find everything from special teas for kids to a gingerbread house display to meals with Santa and much more. And from the gingerbread houses to all of the decorated Christmas trees, there’s plenty here to keep young children occupied while you wait for your food.
Some honorable mentions of other locally owned restaurants as recommended by Go Ask Mom Facebook fans: TriBeCa Tavern, Shuckers and Over the Falls in Wake Forest, Wakefield Tavern, Gonza’s in Raleigh, Nantucket Grill in Raleigh, Twisted Fork at Triangle Town Center, 518 West Italian Restaurant in Raleigh, Yard House in Raleigh and Lucky 32.