What makes a restaurant a “family restaurant”? You are looking for a separate kids’ menu somewhere in the clutter of the full raft of offerings. There ought to be something for kids to do during that period when you are simply waiting for your food to be cooked (which kids don’t understand at all). In most cases you are looking for comfort food, as a lot of kids seem to be picky eaters these days. Even ethnic restaurants have wised to this fact and you will now find, for example, Mexican restaurants that serve chicken fingers and French fries. Finally, you are looking for affordability, which is to say your kids should be able to eat for under $10 each.
The Glenwood Pines Restaurant at 1213 Taughannock Blvd. (Route 89) is actually in the town of Ulysses, but is only 10 minutes from downtown Ithaca. They serve lunch and dinner. They have a kids’ menu that includes hot dog, hamburger, chicken tenders and fried shrimp with fries, as well as spaghetti (with or without meatballs) and a tossed salad.
Not only that they have paper place mats (designed by Jim Houghton) that advertise a lot of local businesses, but also includes in the ads hidden items that they kids have to find. Some of them are pretty well hidden, so the kids will perhaps need help and it should keep them occupied until the food comes.
If your kids don’t have the patience to find hidden items, then there is also an old-fashioned bowling game in the corner of the dining room. Players send balls down the alley hit the pins, which jump upward on a spring-loaded hinge. For older kids there is an actual pinball machine and some video games.
The Falls Restaurant at 214 East Main Street in Trumansburg is 20 minutes up Route 96 from downtown Ithaca. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Falls’ menu doesn’t have an explicit kid’s section; they disguise under the title of “Lighter Fare” in the dinner menu. Here you will find the usual suspects found at the Glenwood, but instead of spaghetti they offer ham, corned beef, turkey, chicken, and fish sandwiches.
There is no entertainment aimed at kids, but it may be a cultural experience for urban and suburban children to be in a restaurant where everything is made of wood and everyone seems to know each other. This is small-town America, right down to the very large dessert menu that includes some delectable pies.
Back down in the city of Ithaca you have a lot to pick from, but let’s look at Hal’s Delicatessen at 215 North Aurora Street. They are open for breakfast and lunch and have sidewalk dining. Hal’s has neither a separate children’s menu nor anything to occupy children while they wait for the food (but the wait isn’t very long here). But their lunch menu is (1) inexpensive and (2) littered with comfort food items. The latter include a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, hamburger, hot dog (Hebrew National!), grilled cheese (many cheese to pick from), and a large variety of cold-cut sandwiches. The breakfast menu includes waffles and French toast, winners with most kids.
If you’ve just moved here from downstate or some coastal city, then Hal’s will provide a perhaps needed touchstone here in the wilds of upstate New York. If you and your kids need some Nova lox, a knish, or a nice pastrami on rye, Hal’s is your spot.
Viva Taqueria & Cantina, just up the street at 101 North Aurora, is, in contrast, vintage Ithaca in its look and feel. The taqueria is a California-style set-up: you get in line, order your food, and carry it out (nowhere near as quickly as a Cali taqueria though). There are picnic tables on the sidewalk during warm weather and the cantina is open for sit-down dining year round.
At the taqueria it is your basic burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, along with some salads and nachos. Nothing is explicitly for kids, but their “basic” burrito is just beans, rice and salsa, while “super basic” adds guacamole, cheese, and sour cream.
In the cantina—the sit-down area with table service—the menu is vast by comparison, bringing in enchiladas, tostadas, fajitas, and other stuff that is too hot, complicated, or unwieldy to take out. They make their own tortilla chips here and they come out warm and fresh, which is probably a welcome novelty for most kids. If you kids have only had micro-waved Mexican before, this will be a new horizon for them. §