New Orleans is a town where dining out practically is considered a birthright. Towing the kids along to your favorite bistro, however, isn't always a treat: close quarters can make for irritated table neighbors, fussy eaters may dampen appetites and, once the check comes, when you're paying for three or four (or more) diners, things can get expensive quickly.
Here's a list of places that won't break the bank, where parents can enjoy a meal out and the kids stay entertained.
For a unique take on breakfast or lunch, Messina's at the Terminal can't be beat. Ask to sit in the Flight Deck room, which overlooks the tarmac at the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. Watch the planes take off and land from one of the many tables that hug the floor-to-ceiling windows. No matter where you sit, you're pretty much guaranteed a good view.
Most items on the kids' menu are less than $6 and include chicken tenders or burgers with fries, a PB&J with chips and fried shrimp or catfish. Adults can kick up their game with a bellini or two and chef Leon West's "famous" crab cakes: two Louisiana blue crab cakes topped with lump crabmeat and a cream sauce.
A great spot for early birds, the Live Oak Cafe hosts a daily breakfast, brunch and lunch with live music ranging from piano solos to jazz quartets and string bands. Following a remodel last year, the larger space now includes a pastry and coffee counter, a place for musicians to play live and a bigger kitchen where the chefs bake fresh pastries and churn out a host of dishes, including smoked salmon Benedict and eggs Florentine, both served on house-made biscuits. Kids will love the child-sized version of the popular Mama Leavy's breakfast pancakes ($6.50), which includes one scrambled egg and a choice of bacon or sausage.
Nearby Willie Mae's Grocery and Deli provides a casual neighborhood spot for fans of Willie Mae's famous fried chicken. The restaurant sits on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Cherokee Street and serves a menu that mirrors that of the Treme flagship restaurant, Willie Mae's Scotch House. Even if the kids aren't chicken aficionados, they'll enjoy watching the streetcars roll by on St. Charles Avenue.
Other standbys at Willie Mae's include fried catfish, chicken-fried pork chop and red and white butter beans. Kids can get fried chicken nuggets, wings or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for under $8.
Lakeview's The Backyard is a place where both kids and grownups can go a little wild. The play structure in the back keeps little ones entertained for hours, and it's fenced in, so adults can enjoy one of the restaurant's heavy-poured margaritas and relax while the kids play nearby. The children's menu includes spiral-cut hot dogs, Angus beef grilled burgers, and sloppy joes. For $7.50 a plate, kids get a meat of their choice, tater tots or sweet potato fries, a side of fruit and a drink.
Sushi is popular with adults, but not a lot of kids get excited about the prospect of raw fish. Enter hibachi, the Japanese restaurant trend of cooking teppanyaki-style, where chefs put on a show for guests by slicing and tossing meats and vegetables on a searing gas-heated flattop. A dinner out at Miyako Japanese Seafood & Steakhouse therefore, can do double-time, supplying both dinner and a show. For kids under 10, meals come with a house soup or salad, rice and ice cream.
Brisbi's, which sits on elevated stilts overlooking Lake Pontchartrain, provides a lake full of things to watch and a menu to please parents as well as younger diners. Kid's meals include platters with fried catfish, shrimp or chicken and a spaghetti and meatballs option. Parents can order raw oysters, tuna tartare tacos and the catch of the day, taken straight from Lake Pontchartrain and served with a brown butter and lemon-scented meuniere sauce.
When hankering for a burger fix, both Cowbell in the Riverbend and Company Burger on Freret Street offer good options that step up the patty game while remaining casual and affordable.
The laid-back, playful atmosphere at Cowbell includes communal seating both inside and outside the funky building. Burgers are the standard here, but kids also can choose from a number of pint-sized specials including the "kiddie mac 'n' cheese" or the Mr. Noodles curly pasta with butter. For grownups, there's a full bar with potent margaritas and several rotating drink specials.
At Company Burger the tummy-busting burgers and tater tots are a hit with kids and grownups. Creamy milkshakes and malts are a sweet treat, and there's a full bar. A television showing sports adds to the vibe here, which can get lively but never becomes raucous. A couple of shaded outdoor tables provide a nice place for families to sit on cooler days.
Even though the Bywater darling Pizza Delicious provides delivery to area residents, the airy warehouse space provides a fun and casual night out that won't break the bank. Diners place their order up front before grabbing a seat at one of the tables or, weather permitting, a spot in the shaded backyard.
The New York-style cheese, pepperoni and Margherita pies are popular with picky eaters, but daily specials and add-ons make sure diners find what they want. A daily special vegan pie always is featured.
After dinner, head across the street for an icy treat at Piety Street Sno-Balls, where standard flavors of cherry, grape and strawberry meet all-natural varieties, including bracingly fresh watermelon and kaffir lime. Grownups can cap the evening with the Vietnamese coffee version, topped with creamy condensed milk.