The Malibu Barbie pop-up is going to make all your summer dreams come true
Dining out doesn’t have to be a snooze fest. There are lots of places to let your kid’s imagination truly run wild. If you’re looking for fresh ideas for fun family time in Chicago, immerse yourself in different worlds that range from American Girl and Barbie Dolls to trains, planes, and automobiles. Take advantage of the distractions to get your kids to eat something they might not otherwise be willing to try.
Sure, we know these themed restaurants in Chicago can sometimes be sensory overload, mostly for parents, but embrace the silliness. Who says you have to be serious all the time, anyway? No need to sacrifice food quality for ambiance either. Our top picks include the best of both.
APPEASE THE SPEED CHASERS
2Toots Train Whistle Grill
Kids will delight in having delicious menu items delivered to them no matter where they sit at the 2Toots Train Whistle Grill. It is the only train-themed restaurant where all the seating is on the tracks. Have kids with food allergies? Don’t worry. You may bring their own food in, and they will do their best to have it sent out on the train with the other meals. 2 Toots is also known for Champion—an authentic 1950s mechanical, coin-operated wonder horse.
203 S. Main St.
450 N. Main St.
1567 N. Aurora Rd., Unit 119
The Choo-Choo has been delivering burgers and fries counter-side by model train since 1951. Better yet, The Choo-Choo is located only a block away from the local Metra station so you can take the train in for an even fuller experience. They also offer free parking. Sign your kids 12 and under up for the birthday club and get a free cupcake topped with a train whistle to celebrate each year.
600 Lee St.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane . . . wait it actually IS a plane. This aviation-themed restaurant is located at the Schaumburg Regional Airport and the windows give a panoramic view of the bustling runway where your kids can be mesmerized by take-offs and landings. The bright interior is also dotted with model planes and other flying things that are fun for kids to point out. The made-from-scratch menu is extensive with everything from “World Famous” chicken tenders with top-secret honey mustard to fall-off-the-bone ribs with a guava BBQ sauce.
905 W. Irving Park Rd.
Sushi + Rotary Sushi Bar
Not only will the kids enjoy selecting their own sushi items straight off the conveyor belt as they go by, but sit along the wall and order items that will be delivered via a race car. What a great way to get the littles to try something new!
2131 S. Archer Ave.
4430 Fox Valley Center Dr., #106
3219 N. Broadway St.
DINE WITH YOUR FAVORITE DOLLS
American Girl Cafe
If your child is forever with a doll in tow, their mind will be blown by this cute cafe inside the mega downtown flagship of American Girl Place. Dolls have their own “treat seats” with a place setting and bright centerpieces. Every meal starts with welcome cinnamon buns followed by healthy choices for the kids and yummy entrees for the parents. The store also has a doll hospital and salon so you can schedule a bit of make-believe pampering and a free doll wellness check. This spot is incredibly popular with out-of-towners, so book weeks in advance if you’re looking for a weekend or take advantage of less crowded weekday times.
835 N. Michigan Ave.
Malibu Barbie Cafe Chicago
Celebrate all things Barbie at this limited-time, pop-up experience through September 15, 2023. Guests will be transported into the world of Barbie in 1970s Malibu, California, with vibrant colors, retro glam, and beach motifs. There will be tons of photo opps, including one inside the iconic, life-size Barbie doll box. Enjoy a themed menu and of course plenty of unique merch.
324 S. Racine Ave.
EXCITE THE GAMERS
Formerly Pac-Man Entertainment, Enterrium is a contemporary American restaurant and arcade located at Woodfield Mall. They pride themselves in their elevated craft bar and upscale restaurant experience, while still being a cool place for kids to play. The space includes boutique bowling lanes, classic and modern arcade games, and private event space.
Woodfield Mall, Unit A
Kings Dining & Entertainment
Kings Dining & Entertainment features everything you need to keep the kids entertained, including luxury ten-pin bowling lanes, a full-service restaurant, HD projector screens for all the sports action, billiards tables, shuffleboard, foosball, and air hockey tables.
1500 N. Clybourn Ave., #c102
5505 Park Place
Lucky Strike Social
This Lucky Strike Entertainment creation has sweet views of Wrigley Field. The 30,000-square-foot social space brings together chef-driven food and craft beverages with eight Lucky Strike Lanes, over 100 electronic gaming systems, (including the exclusive Daytona Championship USA Motion SDLX – a first in the world of its kind), ping pong, pool tables, air hockey, board games, a very addictive basketball version of Connect Four and more.
1027 W. Addison St.
Punch Bowl Social
Schedule a date, in fact, make it a double. Punch Bowl Social in West Loop’s no-fail fun for family date days. You’ll find made-from-scratch dishes and craft beverages paired with throw-back social activities like shuffleboard, ping-pong, marbles, 80s video games, bowling, virtual reality, and skeeball in an urban and eclectic atmosphere. The fun is family-appropriate until 10 p.m. and then it’s big kids only.
310 N. Green St.
KICK IT OLD SCHOOL
Ed Debevic’s is Chicago’s most famous retro diner. In addition to the 1950s decor and old-fashioned milkshakes, your kids will be stunned when the wait staff climbs on top of the tables and counters every hour to put on a short song and dance performance. Ed Debevic’s is known for the over-the-top snarkiness of the staff. If you’ve raised your lot to always be polite, don’t worry as they tend to rein it in for the younger set. Yet they will still be amused by all the flash and sass.
159 E. Ohio St.
A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR THE SWEET-TOOTHS
Calling all Chocolate lovers! Every dish at this adventurous eatery in Gurnee includes chocolate as an ingredient. The pastry and chocolate team is always at work, so request a table near the action to keep the kids entertained as the splendid chefs work their magic making homemade cakes, puddings, truffles, and more. The real entertainment, however, is the dessert menu. A magical chocolate fountain flowing with your choice of white, milk, or dark chocolate will be brought directly to your table, as well as an assortment of dipping items.
5101 Washington St.
JoJo’s Shake Bar
JoJo’s Shake Bar brings a nostalgic take on creative desserts and a reimagined and elevated approach to classic diner fare. Along with deliciously whimsical desserts, you’ll find delightful tongue-in-cheek decor and their River North location regularly hosts over-the-top seasonal pop-ups.
23 W. Hubbard St.
835 Michigan Ave.
Water Tower Place
916 W. Fulton Market
Time Out Market
5 Jackson Ave.
The sweetest of the sweet-tooths will be satisfied when mealtime leads you to Sugar Factory. The nearly 40-page menu makes a separate kid’s menu unnecessary, as several food options can be prepared in smaller portions if requested. Kids will think they’re on a trip to heaven with drinks served in goblets—with and without alcohol for the parents—candy galore, milkshakes, ice cream, and chocolate fondue. And, oh yes, the insane milkshake that includes a chocolate-covered glass and anything from a slice of cheesecake to a cupcake on top.
55 E. Grand Ave.
5445 Park Place
TRAVEL AROUND THE WORLD
It’s just about everyone’s favorite theme in food—Mexican! The 3,500-square-foot restaurant near Naperville’s riverwalk features retractable garage doors, creating an indoor/outdoor space perfect for fun, warm-weather eats. Their menu covers everything from empanadas to enchiladas, in addition to the much-loved margaritas and free chips and salsa while you wait to feast. Kids that need distraction will get a kick out of the sombreros available for photo opps and the stuffed donkey over the bar that engages diners at random.
47 E. Chicago Ave.
Take your kids for the smiley-est meal in Chicago at Wow Bao, which specializes in steamed bao (aka Asia’s favorite portable Chinese snack). Children under ten can enjoy the Lil’ Bunz Meal ($5.99) with their choice of 1 cheeseburger or pizza bao, with a chicken potsticker, a carrot, and rice.
Locations throughout Chicagoland
Additional reporting by Amy Bizarri