As as special treat, my kids occasionally ride the train downtown with me and spend the day at my office. After a morning of being good, lunch at the restaurant of their choice is a highlight of the day. Some of the restaurants they choose have kids’ menus; others have an interesting or unique atmosphere they enjoy. And at some, they just like the food.
These are the restaurants my kids request when they are visiting downtown.
Corner Bakery (Locations Throughout the Downtown)
This chain of sandwich shops caters to downtown office workers looking for a morning coffee, breakfast, or a quick bite to eat at lunchtime. My kids like the casual atmosphere, quick service, and the people-watching. Corner Bakery gives them a glimpse into a world (downtown office workers) they seldom see, and that’s what they like about it.
Many of the Corner Bakery locations have tables or a counter where the kids can look out the windows and watch the goings-on in the street. And for them, what happens on downtown streets–the passing buses, taxicabs, interesting and unusual pedestrians–is a novelty.
Corner Bakery does have a children’s menu, but my daughter prefers to order off the regular adult menu. Her favorite: the cream soups. The kid’s menu includes turkey and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If you go, your kids will also enjoy the desserts. Corner Bakery has chocolate chip cookies, whoopie pies, and brownies that are fun desserts for kids.
Another plus is the reasonable (for downtown) prices.
Rainforest Cafe (605 N. Clark)
In the summertime, the lines and waits for Rainforest Cafe, a popular favorite with tourists, sometimes stretch around the block. After the tourist season ends and through the winter, it’s possible to get a table at Rainforest Cafe with no wait on a weekday afternoon (on weekends, expect a line). At this restaurant, the focus is on an entertaining theme, not the food.
My kids like the animatronic animals, fish tanks, water falling from the ceiling, and jungle noises. The Rainforest Cafe is especially fun for younger preschool age children who can’t sit still without entertainment.
Rainforest Cafe offers a kids’ menu with the usual burger and fries, macaroni and cheese, or chicken fingers. The adult menu offers salads, pastas, and sandwiches. Entrees are large enough to be shareable, and appetizers are large enough to serve as a meal.
The quality of the food is nothing to write home about. Everything tastes fine, but the food is no better than at any of the casual chain restaurants in the suburbs. Expect boxed macaroni and cheese on the kids’ menu, french fries that have been sitting under lights, or average burgers. If you’re going to the Rainforest Cafe, it’s to be entertained by the animatronic environment, not for the food.
American Girl Place (Water Tower Place)
Is this restaurant expensive for lunch? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
Like the Rainforest Cafe, the emphasis is on a theatrical experience at American Girl Place. But even though they have seatings several times a day, the waitstaff is always warm and welcoming, and they make my daughter (and her doll) feel like a princess.
The food again is not ground-breaking cuisine, but it is well-prepared and healthier than at many restaurants catering to children. Lunch includes an appetizer, drinks, entree, and dessert. They also provide a seat, and a place setting, for your doll. If you don’t have a doll, they’ll lend you one.
If you want to eat at American Girl Place, you should definitely call ahead of time for a reservation. Bring your camera, and enjoy. It’s great fun if you have a daughter. If you’re looking to save a few dollars, consider the afternoon tea or breakfast seatings.
The Walnut Room (7th Floor, Macy’s, 111 N. State)
The Walnut Room is that old-fashioned big-city department store restaurant your grandma would bring you to when she took you downtown. It’s looking a little faded, but the velvet curtains, chandeliers, paneling, and white tablecloths make the Walnut Room feel fancy and marvelous to my kids. Expect to find salads, sandwiches, and chicken pot pie on the adult lunch menu. And yes, there is a separate kids’ menu.
Many families visit the Walnut Room at Christmas time when Macy’s (formerly Marshall Fields) erects an enormous tree. Like all popular traditions, dining at the Walnut Room comes with a long (several hours) wait. But if you’re willing to forego the tree and eat there at other times of the year, your kids will still enjoy it. When it’s not Christmas, there’s no wait for a table.
Because they are open in the late afternoon and early evening, the Walnut Room is an ideal place to eat before or after a children’s concern at the nearby Symphony Center or a play. And everyone is already all dressed up.