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Food, Wine & Brews

Top Picks for S. FL Family Dining
Dining with Kids:

Best Spots in

South Florida                               

By Molly Arost Staub

So you're fed up with mac'n cheese and burgers? Relish eating with your kids someplace other than fried food joints?

Sounds simple, but how do you pick a dining spot so the kids won't get antsy? In many restaurants, servers drag out meals in a fancy dining room, definitely not conducive to family fun.

The good news is that you'll discover excellent family dining options in South Florida. We believe the following eateries will keep young ones entertained and the entire family happy at mealtime. 

We've also taste-tested them all for quality.

Lucille's Bad to the Bone BBQ (561-997-9557 or www.badtothebonebbq.com),  3011 Yamato Rd., Boca Raton; (561-330-6705), 710 Linton Blvd., Delray Beach, and (561-742-7449), 6691 W. Boynton Beach Blvd., Boynton Beach.

Named after BB King's guitar "Lucille," this dining venue -- with three locations -- is a great spot for southern cookery. Photo of child getting her face painted goes here.On Wednesdays, the place swarms with families because kids eat free (two free kids' meals with each adult entree). 

And while they're waiting for their eats to arrive, the little ones are entertained. A clown paints children's faces (see photo at right*) and creates animal balloons.

Teens who can't seem to fill up may keep families in the black on Tuesdays when Lucille's fields all-you-can-eat ribs for one price.

It seems as if customers are eating at a down-home barbecue in someone's southern backyard! Old license plates dot the walls. Buckets and funnels form light fixtures.

Barbecue means ribs (and their finger-licking sauce) -- both baby back and St. Louis cuts. 

Prices at Lucille's range from $13.99 per half rack or $19.99 for a full rack. Pulled pork is $13.99. Beef brisket is $13.99. Meals include two sides and a corn muffin. Hamburgers for $8.49 and salads at $10.99 are featured as well.

A kids' menu features BBQ beef or pork sandwiches, or the old stand-bys of chicken fingers and hot dogs, plus a beverage and sundae -- all for $5.99.

Do not skip the fried cheesecake dessert with ice cream and whipped cream on the side. Yes, it's a cholesterol overload, but you have to try it once.

Mai-Kai Restaurant (954-563-3272 or www.maikai.com), 3599 N. Federal Hgwy., Fort Lauderdale.

This vast 50-year-old eatery, holding 300 diners for a Polynesian show with dancers and cultural demonstrations, draws oceans of families to its early show every Sunday.

Photo of kids on stage at Mai Kai goes here.Why? After the exciting performance, youngsters are invited on stage to participate. (See photo at left.*)

The dining room, bursting with families celebrating special birthdays or just out for a unique day, is decorated with a South Seas atmosphere. Bamboo abounds along with carved poles and fish nets.

"It makes you feel like you're in Polynesia," said Anna Paige, 12, of Coral Springs, FL.

Photo of Mai Kai goes here.The food tends toward familiar Chinese offerings, such as an egg roll for $7.50 and stir fry chicken at $16.75.

But you might also order Javanesian beef at $13 or Hawaiian orange-papaya duck for $26.95. The kid's menu offers four entree choices, including Kon Tiki chicken -- basically chicken fingers -- for $12.95. 

Kids might also order Society Island shrimp, fried shrimp for $13.95; the price includes rice, a beverage and dessert (this offer is not valid on Saturdays).

Tariffs may seem pricey for the quality, but then there's the show. Exotic-looking ladies (see photo at right*) perform authentic South Seas dances, moving muscles more quickly than audience members can believe possible.

Costumes of grasses and leaves twirl around as musicians with ukuleles and drums play native songs. Photo of man twirling flaming torches goes here.

Male dancers leap through the air, displaying their strength and prowess.

Finally, two men do the fire dance, leaping over and through flaming batons. (one performer with his fiery torches is shown at left*)

Celebrating her birthday, Danielle Catlett, attending the performance with her sister and grandparents Donna and Henry Hahn, raves:  "I didn't just like it, I LOVED it."

And for the grand finale number, all the children race up on the stage as two dancers show them how to dance the hula. 

Photo of kids at Rainforest Cafe goes here.Rainforest Café (954-851-1015, www.rainforestcafe.com), 12801 W. Sunrise Blvd., Sunrise (West Fort Lauderdale). This jungle-like restaurant is located at the huge Sawgrass Mills mall.

When guests enter the Rainforest Café, young and old alike feel they're entered a tropical rainforest. Giant trees and vines climb the walls and drape the ceilings.

Jungle sounds surround diners. Life-like animatronic gorillas grunt and elephants trumpet. 

(At right, children are enchanted with the lifelike animatronic elephants at Rainforest Cafe.) 

It's a hoot, basically. Three-year-old Sophie Lin, from Skillman, NJ, loves eating in this artifical zoo, so realistic she continually asks the adults: "Are the animals real?"

No, families won't encounter live animals, but it sure sounds that way. The animals "come to life" at certain times during a meal.

Photo of Rainforest Cafe goes here.Thunderstorms crack. Rain falls (but not on diners). And you'll find the restrooms under the rainbow.

Cha Cha, the red-eyed frog. provides background croaks on Wednesdays when kids eat for $1.99; otherwise, most kids' menu entrees cost $5.99.

Adult entrees range from burgers at $8.99 and pizza for $11.99 to Caribbean coconut shrimp and Amazon fajitas for $17.99.

If you can't find time to dine at this cafe in South Florida, but are traveling elsewhere throughout the South, you might try the Rainforest Cafe's other southern branches.

You'll find two in Orlando, FL -- one at the entrance to Disney's Animal Kingdom and another at the Downtown Disney Marketplace.

Nashville, TN, is home to another. Texas boasts four -- one each in Galveston, Grapevine, Kay Mills and San Antonio. 

94th Aero Squadron Restaurant (305-261-4220, www.the94thaerosquadronrestaurant.com/miami), 1395 NW 57th Ave., Miami.

Photo of child dining at the 94th Aero Squadron goes here.Kids definitely won't be bored here. 

Diners almost believe they're in the middle of the action at Miami International Airport. One long wall of windows overlooks one of the airport's runways. 

The planes zoom off in rapid succession, one after another. (At right, a child dines at the 94th Aero Squadron restaurant with real airplane action at Miami International for entertainment.*)

When entering this restaurant -- the replica of a World War I French farmhouse -- families should bypass the bar area and  head for the warm and inviting dining room. It boasts a brick fireplace and lots of aeronautical memorabilia. 

As for the planes, Nathaniel Wallace, 4, Homestead, FL, jumps out of his seat each time a plane takes off. "You go boys, go!" he shouts.  It's the fourth time he has visited with his dad and granddad.

Older kids including Andrew Freudenberg, 12, of Boca Raton, FL, seem mesmerized as they listen through earphones to conversations of pilots and air controllers.

The outstanding American cuisine features vegetarian pesto pasta at $16.95, "aviation" salmon at $18.95, and a 14-ounce roast prime rib of beef at $25.95.

The "Flight Manifest & Menu" for little ones includes all the usual kids' options for $5.95 and $6.95, plus a six-ounce prime rib for $9.95.

Sunday Brunch proves very popular with families, at $25.95 for adults and $12.95 for children.

From airplanes taking off near the 94th Aero Squadron to hula dancers at Mai Tai, from face painting and animal balloons at Lucille's to clapping thunder and bellowing elephants at Rainforest Cafe, South Florida delivers many family friendly dining spots to entertain your children from toddlers to teens.

Molly Arost Staub is a former restaurant critic for The Miami Herald, a major contributor to GAYOT Miami Restaurants, contributor to The Unofficial Guide to South Florida, and author of numerous national travel and dining articles.

*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Molly Arost Staub or Mai Kai. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.

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