12 Kid-Friendly Counter-Service Restaurants

Here’s the thing with restaurants when you have young kids. In theory, they are a dream come true. Getting to eat delicious food prepared by someone other than you? And then not having to do dishes afterwards? What’s not to love! But then you get to the restaurant and you are waiting for seating and then for menus and then for the waiter and then your kids start throwing crayons at the ceiling and you wish you’d just made spaghetti at home.

Well, counter-service restaurants are a big step toward making your dining-out dream a less stressful reality. By ordering at the counter, you speed up the whole process. And let’s face it, when you eat out, getting food to your children as fast as possible is key. Here are some great counter-service restaurants to check out with your kids. What you do with the extra time afterwards is up to you.

  1. Boke Bowl. Boke Bowl is known throughout Portland as one of the go-to spots for ramen. Its noodles are handmade, its house-brined pickles are crave-worthy, and for crying out loud they have miso butterscotch twinkies. 1200 NW 18th Ave and 1028 SE Water Ave.
  2. Por Que No. Even with the long lines you’re apt to see at either of the Por Que No locations, you’ll still find yourself seated and eating in half the time you would at a traditional restaurant. Por Que No has a super-affordable kid menu (nothing is more than $2.50), and a hearty menu of options for adults too. And also margaritas. Let’s not forget the margaritas. 3524 N. Mississippi Ave. and 4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
  3. Grassa. Grassa is the sister restaurant to Lardo, the uber-hip sandwich shop on Hawthorne. At Grassa, the specialty is pasta. Handmade, delicious and utterly unique pasta. While the kids may balk at some of the concoctions (the squid ink one for instance), there is a kids menu with traditional kid faves like spaghetti and meatballs and mac and cheese (plus an off-menu noodles with butter). Some gluten-free options are available as well. 1205 SW Washington St. and 1506 NW 23rd  Check out our full review here.
  4. Jade. This Vietnamese-inspired teahouse has delicious, healthy food that appeals to kids and grownups alike. Jade is also able to accommodate many dietary restrictions, including vegan and gluten-free. While this Sellwood hotspot often has lines reaching the door, the time between ordering and eating usually isn’t too long. And with its new added seating area upstairs, you’re usually able to find a seat without too much trouble. 7912 SE 13th
  5. Pollo Norte. There can be perfection in simplicity. Pollo Norte has a limited menu, but boy is it delicious. Your order of seasoned, free-range rotisserie chicken comes with homemade tortillas, roasted cabbage and salsas. Add a few sides for a few dollars more. Simple comfort food, fast. Perfect. 5427 NE 42nd
  6. Dick’s Primal Burger. Dicks Primal Burger focuses on sustainable ingredients that fit into the Paleo diet. The burgers come from 100-percent grass-fed beef. There are vegetables a-plenty on the menu. And there are many options for gluten-free and even vegetarian and vegan foods. While the majority of the items on the menu are burgers, you can also find some salads and soups if you’re not in the mood. Read our full review here. 4905 SE Woodstock Blvd. Looking for a veggie burger joint? Try Next Level Burger at 4121 SE Hawthorne.
  7. Laughing Planet. Affectionately known as “the dinosaur place” by kids around town due to their impressive collection of toy dinosaurs, this is a great spot to hit up for a healthy and quick meal. Even picky kids can find something they’ll like here (think smoothies, black beans, tortilla chips, quesadillas). And because of the legions of other families dining here, you never have to feel uncomfortable if your kid throws a tantrum. Various locations around town.
  8. Theory at OMSI. Step up and order a sandwich or pizza at Theory, OMSI’s new-ish restaurant. You’ll find options to satisfy everyone’s taste buds here – from curried chickpea salad to apples and peanut butter. And if you’re feeling really decadent, you can also order a scoop of Salt & Straw. Views of the Willamette and affordable pricing makes this a must-stop for OMSI-goers. 1945 SE Water St.
  9. Pine Street Market. If you feel like food carts, but don’t want to eat outside. Or if you’re a fan of the mall food courts, but you know, with better food, then check out Pine Street Market. You can order food from nine vendors, including hot dogs from Olympic Provisions, Pollo Bravo, and soft-serve Salt & Straw. Read more about it here126 SW 2nd Ave. 
  10. Teote. This gluten-free arepas joint also offers vegetarian options. And as an added bonus, they have rain-or-shine outdoor seating under a covered back seating area – with a fireplace for those gloomy winter months and . 1615 SE 12th and 2700 NE Alberta St.
  11. Waffle Window. This family-friendly establishment serves Belgium-style waffles with a variety of delicious and unique toppings. (Think berries… or spicy bacon cheddar jalapeno!). A casual and delicious celebration-worthy meal. Four locations across town, including NE Alberta and SE Hawthorne.
  12. XLB. The lines can be long at this soup dumpling destination in North Portland, but the food comes fast – and man, is it good. 4090 N. Williams Ave.
Ali Wilkinson
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