Best for Families 2012 / The best in family-friendly dining, attractions and services in North Texas
You voted and we crunched the numbers. Now you can open our holiday gift to you – the winners in our annual roundup of the best of everything for families in North Texas, from children’s theaters and shopping centers to burger joints to entire cities. Check out what makes each place stand out and plan some new adventures for your family in 2013.
Best Healthy Dining
Spiral Diner & Bakery
No mystery meats or unpronounceable ingredients in a meal at Spiral. Everything on the menu is natural and 100-percent vegan, so you know exactly what you and your kids are eating. But healthy and delicious go hand in hand at this casual diner, where kids can try anything from quinoa to a patty melt and finish off the meal with something sweet. Celebrate Star Wars: Episode VII with a Deathstar Sundae or relax with a cup of organic fair-trade coffee.
Fort Worth, 817/332-8834; spiraldiner.com
Zoës Kitchen makes healthy dining for the whole family a snap. All food is made from scratch with wholesome ingredients and doled out in plentiful portions. You won’t find a single fried item on the Mediterranean-inspired menu, and gluten-free and vegetarian options are available. Kid favorites such as the cheese quesadillas are served with a side of fruit and chips, and grown-ups will love the power plate, which packs a punch of protein. If you’re in a hurry, pick up one of their dinners for four to go.
Flower Mound, 972/355-8471; zoeskitchen.com
Tastiest Local Burger
Twisted Root Burger Company
At each of its seven unique locations, Twisted Roost serves up fresh ground beef and homemade sides in a fun, quirky environment. Chow down on a classic hamburger or opt for the less traditional boar, ostrich or kangaroo patty – that is, if the alligator burger doesn’t tempt you first. Or go breadless with a salad or burger in a bowl. There’s a kids’ menu (and to-go boxes) for small appetites. New locations coming in 2013.
Multiple locations; twistedrootburgerco.com
This local burger chain grew out of a meat market, and they still cut and grind their own meat on-site daily, so you know it’s fresh, never frozen and completely free of preservatives and fillings. Next year they’re aiming to entirely eliminate freezers from their store, promising to hand-make their corndogs, chicken tenders and famous crinkle-cut fries. Kids love the friendly atmosphere, and parents love the rabid devotion to quality.
Multiple locations; kincaidshamburgers.com
MOOYAH Burgers and Fries
MOOYAH’s tasty made-to-order burgers have become a favorite with North Texas families who love a fast burger without the fast-food taste. Picky kids love choosing among numerous extras and toppings to complement their Little Mooburger. The MOOYAH burger is the star of the show, but sweet potato fries on the side are also a family favorite. Stop in the newest MOOYAH, located in Denton.
Multiple locations; mooyah.com
Best Place to Brunch with the Kiddos
The Original Pancake House
With six area locations, The Original Pancake House is ready and waiting for your next breakfast craving, whether it’s on a Sunday morning or a weekday evening. Check out their new healthy menu items – including the delicious Pineapple Crepe or the favorite Veggies and Egg Whites – or sample the seasonal Pumpkin Pancakes while they last.
Multiple locations; originalpancakehouse.com
Ol’ South Pancake House
Family-owned since 1962, the Ol’ South Pancake House is celebrating 50 years of family-friendly service and round-the-clock breakfasts for kids and adults alike. This casual Fort Worth staple has added healthy options to its classic menu, including egg white options. In 2013, Ol’ South will also add one or more gluten-free items to the menu. So go ahead and try something new, or you can always order an old favorite like the Dutch Babies.
Fort Worth, 817/336-0311; olsouthpancakehousefortworth.com
For brunch that lasts all day and a family-friendly atmosphere, Mimi’s Café is the place to be. Their large menu includes favorites such as omelettes and Eggs Benedict for mom and dad, but kids really go crazy for the fresh-baked muffins that come in six different flavors. Anther kid favorite is the Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes served with a side of fruit.
Multiple locations; mimiscafe.com
Best Kid-Friendly Food Truck
Kids love Bubbles, Trailer Cake’s vintage Airstream adorned with way-out flowers. Bubbles will roll right up to your birthday party or event, but if you’re averse to treats from a trailer, stop in their brand-new Dallas storefront for a sweet something. Their great-tasting cupcakes and cakeballs keep parents and kids coming back. Give the PB&J cupcake a try for a new take on a classic kid favorite.
Dallas, 214/789-1642; trailercakes.com
Yum Yum Food Truck
Food truck fever is in full swing in Fort Worth, and the Yum Yum truck is here to serve. This family-friendly food truck offers something for every member of your brood. Try a variety of items for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The Yum Yum Truck serves everything from hamburgers to quesadillas and their menu is affordably priced, making mealtime a snap.
Fort Worth, 469/446-2267
Best Place to Grab a Sweet Treat
Wholesome natural ice cream from artisan Italian family recipes – yeah, we think it sounds like heaven too. You and your kids will love the fresh flavors, especially seasonal favorites such as Peppermint Twist. Let your kids roam in the special activities area while you sip a gelato-based smoothie or latte. Some locations have kids-eat-free and adults-eat-free specials, so keep your eyes and appetites peeled.
Multiple locations; paciugo.com
Nothing Bundt Cakes
These aren’t your grandma’s bundt cakes. Nothing Bundt Cakes are hand-made daily with real eggs, real butter and real cream cheese. The high-quality cakes are served in multiple sizes and flavors such as white chocolate raspberry and cinnamon swirl. Cakes can be decorated with toppers for special events and birthdays. But if you’re just in the mood for a sweet treat, stop in and grab a personal-sized cake to go.
Multiple locations; nothingbundtcakes.com
Coolest Themed Dining Experience
Magic Time Machine
Magic Time Machine offers themed dining at its finest. Where else can you be seated by Cinderella and waited on by Woody? Kids can mix their own greens from the Salad Car and order a kid-friendly dinner from their very own “celebrity” waiter (just try to break Jack Sparrow’s character). If you’re feeling parched, be sure to order a bubbling cup of potion – try the “ugly” flavor.
Addison, 972/980-1903; magictimemachine.com
With the addition of the Tiger’s Den, North Texans’ favorite forested restaurant has gone even wilder. The Rainforest Café’s animatronics now include two adult tigers and two cubs that periodically move and growl. Your kids’ stomachs will be growling too when they see the new menu additions, including healthy options such as applesauce and carrot sticks. Kids’ meals are just $5.99 – no extra charge for close encounters of the tiger kind.
Grapevine, 972/539-5001; rainforestcafe.com
Best Family-friendly Diner
The Village Grill
The Village Grill has been making customers feel like family for 15 years, but this family-oriented, full-service restaurant is always looking for ideas to keep the menu fresh. Try one of their new steak, seafood or pork chop dishes, or opt for the traditional pot roast. Adults and kids alike will love the specialty burgers, and there’s a reasonable kids’ menu. Despite the casual atmosphere, you and your family will definitely feel spoiled.
Highland Village, 972/317-3390; villagegrill.com
Favorite Restaurant to Share a Family-style Meal
Babe’s Chicken Dinner House
From fried chicken to fried catfish to unlimited Southern sides, the menu at Babe’s is full of old-fashioned favorites that will make your family feel right at home. But before you fill up on fried goodness, save room for a homemade dessert like Banana Pudding. Babe’s doesnt take reservations, so be sure to get there early – you might even dance the hokey pokey once or twice while you wait.
Multiple locations; babeschicken.com
Best Place to Grab Dinner on the Go
Head to Market Street and do dinner one of two ways: Pick and choose from the salads, pizza, sandwiches and hot and cold bars, or grab a prepared meal that’s ready to pop in the oven. Either way, you take home lots of food for little money, and you know it’s all high-quality Market Street fare. And they serve breakfast too – maybe that will inspire you to get the shopping done early.
Coppell, 469/322-6800; marketstreetdfw.com
For healthy and hearty meals on the go, Whole Foods can’t be beat. Whether you just left soccer practice, are fresh out of produce or need a break from the kitchen, the prepared foods section at Whole Foods offers something for every taste, however picky. Pick up ready-to-eat items such as seasoned grilled chicken breast paired with asparagus and mac ’n’cheese. While you’re there, go ahead and let the kids pick out a fresh baked chocolate cake for post-dinner noshing.
Multiple locations; wholefoodsmarket.com
Forget the drive-through lines: Central Market has salads, sandwiches, sushi, casserole and even boxed kids’ meals all fresh and ready for your busy family. Customize a chef-prepared dinner by the serving to suit your family’s needs (and your picky young ones) or grab a ready-to-cook meal from the Grab-and-Go wall. Kids away for the evening? Pick up a Dinner-for-Two option with a main course, sides and bread.
Multiple locations, 817/989-4700; centralmarket.com
Swirl Bakery Café and Takery
Swirl makes everything from scratch in-house, so taking home one of their ready-to-bake meals is like preparing a homemade dinner, right? Well, unless it’s better. With options such as chicken spaghetti, baked spaghetti, meatloaf and classic Southern sides, Swirl’s Takery case is the busy mom’s best friend. Check out their stress-free holiday dinners too, including decorated cookies the kids will love.
Flower Mound, 214/513-1334; swirlbakery.com
Hottest Kid-friendly Taco Joint
Fuzzy’s Taco Shop
Fuzzy’s bright and energetic atmosphere coupled with tasty and affordable Baja-style meal options make it a hot destination for family-friendly meals. Dad can have a beer and Mom can indulge in a margarita while the kids chow down on their Mexican dish of choice. Mom and Dad love the prices and laid-back atmosphere at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, and kids love the food and colorful surroundings that offer a feast for the eyes as well as the belly.
Multiple locations; fuzzystacoshop.com
Angelo’s has been serving up tried-and-true Texas barbecue in a rustic setting for 54 years. The family atmosphere and great food have been making customers feel right at home since 1958, and that philosophy of hospitality hasn’t changed. Best-selling dishes include fall-off-the-bone ribs and classic cut brisket. The sauce is tasty too.
Fort Worth, 817/332-0357; angelosbbq.com
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Kids eat free on Sundays at Dickey’s, but you can come in any time for barbecue done the Texas way. Try the new Barbecue Honey Ham or go for the classic Texas Style Chopped Beef Brisket. Children can order a kid’s plate for the same barbecued goodness in smaller portions – or chicken nuggets, if they haven’t developed a taste for barbecue (yet). And there’s always free ice cream waiting at meal’s end.
Multiple locations; dickeys.com
Pizza Kids Love to Eat
CiCi’s Pizza has been a longstanding favorite of parents and kids alike. Parents love the affordable price, and kids love the buffet offering a wide array of pizza, pasta and dessert options. Next time you peruse the CiCi’s buffet expect to see a little something new. The garlic parmesan knots are CiCi’s newest menu item and are the perfect size for little mouths and hands.
Multiple locations; cicispizza.com
Parents and kids can meet in the middle with dinner at Mellow Mushroom. The pizza pleases all members of the family, and kids have plenty to occupy their senses while Mom and Dad enjoy grown-up conversation. Kids love gazing at the interesting artwork adorning the walls and watching the dough circle through the air in the open kitchen. If that’s not enough, there’s a chalkboard where kids can doodle away. Mellow Mushroom is growing. A new location will open in Mansfield in 2013.
Fort Worth, 817/207-9677
Palio’s Pizza Café
Palio’s is local family favorite for their thin-crust gourmet pizzas. The dough is made in-house from scratch, and the veggies and toppings are fresh. Kids can choose from pizza, spaghetti, nuggets, baked ziti, baked mac ’n’ cheese, or whatever specialty pizza is on your plate (guard it carefully). If you’re not in the mood for pizza, try a salad. Be sure to save room for dessert.
Multiple locations; paliospizzacafe.com
Best Place for a Family Staycation
Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine
The Grapevine resort is huge, with 605 rooms and an 80,000-square-foot indoor waterpark. Tube down the six-story funnel ride or float the lazy river, and dry off for the 4D thrill ride, 24-hour arcade (adults only after midnight) and an action movie-like laser obstacle course. Stay only one night for nearly two days of play, and the kids will be howling for more.
Grapevine, 817/488-6510; greatwolf.com
Best Place to Have an Animal Encounter
Dallas World Aquarium
Since opening 20 years ago as solely an aquarium, the Dallas World Aquarium has expanded into an impressive replication of exotic habitats with ominous crocodiles, playful otters, South African penguins and more bird species than you can count in one visit. Feed blueberries to toucanets and aracaris, walk through the shark tunnel or follow staff around the exhibits for animal feedings and talks every half-hour starting at 10:30am.
Dallas, 214/720-2224; dwazoo.com
Fort Worth Zoo
With the 5,000 reptiles and amphibians in the award-winning Museum of Living Art, it’s easy to see why the Fort Worth Zoo is routinely ranked as one of the top zoos in the country. Watch the elephants get a bath from zookeepers and learn about the animals’ personality traits, like the new baby rhino and giraffe, during Wild Encounters talks. Register your 3–5-year-olds anytime for Zoo Preschool and stay tuned for a new stage show with birds, reptiles and mammals in the outdoor learning theater.
Fort Worth, 817/759-7555; fortworthzoo.org
Best Venue for Exploring Science and History
Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
For a lesson (or two or 10) in science and history Texas-style, discover North Texas’ natural resources in the Energy Blast exhibit and measure up to the State Dinosaur of Texas, the Paluxysaurus jonesi, at the DinoLabs exhibit. Swing by the Fort Worth Children’s Museum, see the night sky even more clearly in the Noble Planetarium and sit back in the Omni Theater for two new IMAX films starting in December.
Fort Worth, 817/255-9300; fwmsh.org
Favorite Artsy Spot for Creative Kids
Dallas Museum of Art
If you’re searching for extensive family programming to ignite your child’s artistic curiosity, look no further than the classes, workshops and summer art camps at the Dallas Museum of Art. The Dallas Arts District museum makes even the most sophisticated of exhibits accessible to children through their Late Nights and First Tuesdays events. Check out the family activities in the Center for Creative Connections and look for programming at the new Klyde Warren Park just across the street.
Dallas, 214/922-1803; dma.org
Kimbell Art Museum
This year the Kimbell reflects on its 40th anniversary and plunges forward with making its art more accessible through the Google Art Project. Take the family on an audio tour with 25 kid-friendly stops or save your trip for Saturday festivals, art camps and workshops inspired by children’s books. The museum hopes to expand its sell-out children’s events, exhibits and performances with the opening of the Renzo Piano Pavilion in 2013.
Fort Worth, 817-332-8451; kimbellart.org
Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
Discover where creative arts and the sciences intersect via activities and exhibits for the kids at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Excavate faux fossils at the outdoor DinoDig and take play X-rays inside the Fort Worth Children's Museum. Design collages inside the Innovation Studios, look closely at 1930s-era editorial cartoons in a display through January and mark September 2013 in your calendar for the Curious George exhibit. The illustrated children’s book debuted in 1941.
Fort Worth, 817/255-9300; fwmsh.org
Best Spot for Open Space and Fresh Air
The arboretum shines during the springtime Dallas Blooms festival, and every day seasonal bulbs are planted somewhere across 66-acre gardens and rotated out for maximum presentation. Bring a cooler from home or grab eats from on-site cafés and spread out a picnic blanket anywhere on the grounds. Then shake off the crumbs to explore the Chihuly exhibit (through December 31). Keep an eye out for the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden coming May 2013.
Dallas, 214/515-6500; dallasarboretum.org
Fort Worth Botanic Garden
The 110-acre Fort Worth Botanic Garden is open every day of the year, so pick at least one to spend strolling through its 23 themed gardens including the 10,000-square-foot tropical conservatory, a vegetable garden tended by local schoolchildren and the Japanese Garden with wooden footbridges, waterfalls and koi fish ponds (feed the fish for only a quarter). Visit 13 interactive stations along the Texas Native Forest Boardwalk and lay down a picnic blanket anywhere on the grounds for a casual lunch.
Fort Worth, 817/871-7686; fwbg.org
Best Place to Get a Little Bit Country
Fort Worth Stockyards
Let the kids dig their spurs into the attractions at the Fort Worth Stockyards, especially the cattlepen maze and the mechanical bull at the Rodeo Zone for an eight-second (or less) ride. Cheer on pro bull riders in the coliseum, watch the twice-daily cattle drive – it’s called Cowtown for a reason – and see the countryside on a round trip aboard the Grapevine Vintage Railroad.
Fort Worth, 817/624-4741; fortworthstockyards.org
Best City or Suburb to Raise Kids
The City of Plano is only a half-hour drive – or a trip on the DART Rail – away from major destinations in Dallas, but you’ll want to lay your roots in the city Forbes named as the safest city in America for two consecutive years. Take the kids to the annual Plano Balloon Festival, discover the city’s rural history at the Dallas Heritage Village and enjoy monthly family programming at the new Environmental Education Center.
Plano, 800-817-5266; planocvb.com
As the United States’ 16th-largest city, the “big little” town of Fort Worth feels like just the right mix of Southern hospitality and Western heritage. In CNBC’s last “best cities to relocate to in America” survey, Fort Worth ranked up there at No. 4. So become a tourist in your own city and explore the Trinity River trails, the Fort Worth Cultural District and Sundance Square after renovations are complete in fall 2013.
The Town, not “city,” of Flower Mound made both “Best Places to Live” and “Top Earning Towns” lists in CNN’s Money Magazine for 2012. It’s not far from the cultural hubs of Dallas and Fort Worth, but its hometown feeling has remained much the same to many residents over the years. Take the kids to the newly completed Fort Wildflower playground, and stay tuned for the new Post Oak Park and skate park opening later in 2013.
Best Place to Shop with Kids in Tow
Its string of luxury boutiques defines NorthPark as the epicenter of Dallas fashion, but with interactive stores such as The LEGO Store, Build-A-Bear Workshop and activities catered to kids, the shopping center also doubles as a family fun destination. Slide down the brick planters near Neiman Marcus, run around the grassy CenterPark, visit the indoor duck pond or stop by Bookmarks for interactive performances, readings, crafts and Mommy and me yoga sessions.
Dallas, 214/363-7441; northparkcenter.com
You may come for the shopping at Justice or The Disney Store, but you and the family will stay for the SEA LIFE Aquarium, LEGOLAND Discovery Center and other attractions made to keep the kids happy. Hitch a ride on the kiddie train, hoist the kids on the carousel’s painted ponies or eat at the Rainforest Café. Look out for a mall-wide renovation in 2013 and the new Magic Maze Emporium.
Grapevine, 972/724-4900; grapevinemills.com
The Shops at Highland Village
Take your family to the one-stop outdoor shopping center for stories at both Brilliant Sky Toys & Books and the Barnes & Noble store, or to dip their fingers in the center’s fountain. Let them run wild at the center’s Adventure Kids Playcare location while you shop at The Children’s Place and then catch dinner and a movie for a night out with the family.
Highland Village, 972/668-2986; theshopsathighlandvillage.com
Best Theater for Young Thespians
Dallas Children’s Theater
Only on stage can children express themselves while pretending to be someone else. Encourage your little diva or superstar to pursue acting, singing or dancing in professionally taught classes at Dallas Children’s Theater. The nearly 30-year-old theater produces 10 musicals or plays per season, including puppet shows, so get a seat for Goodnight Moon or The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley and meet the actors in the lobby after the show for autographs.
Dallas, 214/740-0051; dct.org
Casa Mañana Theatre in Fort Worth
Does your child need a creative outlet? Choose from a multitude of acting, singing and dancing classes for ages 5 and older at the largest professional theater in Fort Worth or sit back for children’s performances on stage October through May. After the shows meet the actors in the lobby for photos and on select dates, stay for a Q&A with actors for kids interested in pursuing theater.
Fort Worth, 817/332-2272; casamanana.org
Studio B Performing Arts Center, Highland Village
Do your children serenade the family with living-room performances? Help them discover and refine their singing, dancing and acting chops at Studio B, a nonprofit community theater with classes and workshops for all ages throughout the year. Stay tuned for new script-writing and musical theater dance classes in the spring, and check the playbill for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Dear Edwina, Jr. and the Broadway version of Oliver.
Highland Village, 972/966-2787; studiobtheater.info
Best Place to Take Energetic Kids
Kids need to get out the wiggles? This will wear ’em out. Jumpstreet is safe, fun and full of trampolines to absorb all that energy. This springy paradise also has a special trampoline area for kids 7 and younger, a mechanical bull for kids 8 and older and a foam pit for all ages. Grab a spot on the dodgeball court for even more amped-up recreation. Watch Groupon for discounts.
Multiple locations; gotjump.com
Urban Air Trampoline Park
What’s not to love about wall-to-wall trampolines? Urban Air boasts 25,000 square feet of indoor recreation space including The Apex, which features more than 70 connected trampolines for endless jumping; The Bowl, a smaller version of the Apex reserved for kids 7 and younger; the Foam Pit; the Sports Ground for dodgeball and other springy sports; and the 56-foot-long Runway for expert jumpers to strut their stuff.
Southlake, 817/203-8686; urbanairtrampolinepark.com
Whether your kids are into bowling, laser tag or just racking up as many tickets as possible, Main Event is the perfect spot for your family to enjoy some time away and a little friendly competition. The Lewisville and Frisco locations also offer Glow Golf for the putt-putters in your family, and the Frisco location has a Gravity Ropes Course for those undaunted by heights. You can always stay on the ground and grab a bite to eat while the kids play.
Best Place to Snip Little Locks
Cool Cuts 4 Kids
Their first haircut has to happen at some point. Why not make it an enjoyable experience? The friendly folks at Cool Cuts 4 Kids are specially trained to make this sometimes-traumatic experience as painless as possible. They will introduce kids to toys, movies and video games sure to provide a much-needed distraction from the daunting task ahead. The Cool Cuts stylists are accustomed to snipping little locks with patience and care.
Flower Mound, 972/899-5200; coolcuts4kids.com
Best Place for Picking Up Grocery Staples
Kroger’s business model focuses on the in-store experience, but with coupons and promotions, a great rewards program and sweet deals on gas, Kroger keeps your family’s budget in mind, too. With recent remodeling, many Kroger stores are now even more customer-friendly; stop by a location near you for fresh produce, deli products, baked goods, meals to go and a friendly neighborhood experience.
Multiple locations; kroger.com
Best Bank that Caters to Kiddos
Bank of America
Teach your young ones financial responsibility by opening a Minor Savings account with Bank of America. For as little as $25, your kiddos can start saving their hard-earned cash and learning about deposits, withdrawals and interest. At 16, your teen can sign up for a checking account (with supervision, of course). And for convenience, try eBanking. Bank of America also provides resources online to help parents approach money management with kids and teens.
Multiple locations; bankofamerica.com
Chase Bank does more for kids than hand out lollipops at the drive-through. Chase is dedicated to helping parents teach kids about financial responsibility and the value of saving. Open up a savings account for your kiddo for only $25 and then encourage them to put away those birthday dollars and watch them grow.
Multiple locations; chase.com