Dining out with small children can be an effort even for the most unflappable of parents, not to mention for fellow diners hoping for a quiet bite to eat. But it needn’t be all tears and tantrums. We’ve sought out a set of restaurants that truly welcome children, laying on all manner of treats (and tricks) from special menus to games, entertainments and even the odd magician.
The crème de la crème of child-friendly facilities is the play area, filled to the gunnels with toys and games kids can bite and bash, pull, prod and poke, depending on their ages. Most of them are supervised at weekends, and will take care of the littl’uns while parents sit down to eat in peace. OK, so that’s not exactly a family mealtime à la Brady Bunch; but the chance to dine quietly, on the one hand, and bounce off the walls on the other, is more often than not a hit with both parties.
The US franchise Applebee’s, while not necessarily a destination restaurant for fine dining, does a good job of keeping kids of all ages occupied, with supervised play rooms on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday (except in the Itaim branch) for smaller tykes and video games for the big ones. There are branches in Morumbi Shopping and Eldorado Shopping, too, making them a good pitstop in between bouts of shopping.
In Tatuapé, the Portuguese restaurant Bacalhoeiro ticks both the gastronome- and child-pleasing boxes. The only ones going round the bend here will be the children, as they whizz down and round the blue and red tube in the play area’s star attraction: a giant slide. Supervisors are on hand every day to keep a close eye on the fun.
Meat lovers should head to the Argentinian grill 348 Parilla Porteña for a bottle of Rioja and 348’s best cut of tender beef – ojo de bife – while the sprogs get busy in the play house, which is supervised throughout weekend lunchtimes.
Ratcheting things up in the entertainment stakes, Pizzaria Soggiorno goes a step beyond standard play areas, laying on a magic show for the little ones (8.30pm-10.30pm) on Sunday nights at both branches. Or for excellent pizza without the rabbit-in-a-hat-style entertainment, Bráz is a top choice. Expat mum Erica Winter, a member of São Paulo’s International Newcomers Club, approves: ‘Bráz is family friendly and gives our kids [Stella, 5, and Adrian, 3] pizza dough to play with.
For Kristin Dykema Barbieri’s twin boys, Lalo and Nico, aged 5, simple fun is best at Jacaré Grill: ‘The balloons are always a big hit with the boys, plus the waiters are child-friendly.’ It’s all about the staff attitude, too, for Flora Makan, who’s a fan of Fogo de Chão in Santo Amaro. ‘The waiters are excellent with kids,’ she says. ‘They’ll bring them to the kitchen and fill them up with little packages of chocolates.’ And while mum and dad slowly savour the succulent cuts of meat doing the rounds in the vast restaurant, kids can graze at the buffet, or try different cuts of meat for less (kids under 3 eat for free; R$33 for 4-7 year olds; R$66 for 8-11 year olds).
Ráscal is another all-you-can-eat favourite for parents, with crayons for creating mini-masterpieces on the tables and a delicious buffet of salads and Mediterranean-style dishes (R$55 for adults; half price for 6-10 year olds; free for under fives). Plus, as new mum Carrie Doyle points out, ‘it’s one of the few places in São Paulo where you can go at a child-friendly time, around 7pm, and still find a bustling place, rather than be the only diners in the restaurant.’
Parents looking to escape the hustle and bustle, on the other hand, can’t go wrong with family favourites Chácara Santa Cecília and Praça São Lourenço. The former is a 2,000-square-metre eco reserve-cum-restaurant in the middle of Pinheiros, with a garden that extends back for what can seem like miles when you’re only little. Settle into a sunny spot for the weekend buffet (R$38 Mon-Thu; R$47; R$59 Sat; R$74 Sun; under fives eat free; 6-12 year olds half price) while the kids get their faces painted, or roll up their sleeves for one of the educational play sessions, like the recycling workshop in which household waste is transformed into toys.
Further south in Vila Olímpia, it’s Swiss Family Robinson meets The Secret Garden at Praça São Lourenço – a spacious wood-decked restaurant where families can set up camp upstairs looking out over the treetops, or at a table outside in the shade by the large, shallow (20cm) carp pond, where children have been known to take the plunge. Weekend lunchtime monitors invite little ones to get involved in everything from origami, balloon sculpture, and temporary tattoos to a dive in the ball pool – or just hiding from their parents in the tree house. Because let’s face it: sometimes the need for a little time out is mutual.
Applebee’s is at Alameda dos Arapanés 508, Moema, 5051 1946, and other locations citywide, applebees.com.br.
Bacalhoeiro is at Rua Azevedo Soares 1580, Tatuapé, 2293 1010, bacalhoeiro.com.br.
Bráz is at Rua Graúna 125, Moema, 5561 0905, casabraz.com.br.
Chácara Santa Cecília is at Rua Ferreira de Araújo 601, Pinheiros, 3034 6251, chacarasantacecilia.com.br.
Fogo de Chão is at Avenida Santo Amaro 6824, Santo Amaro, 5524 0500, fogodechao.com.br.
Jacaré Grill is at Rua Harmonia 321, Anhangüera, 3816 5706, jacaregrill.com.br.
Pizzaria Soggiorno is at Rua Cerro Corá 1841, Alto de Pinheiros, 3022 8783, and Avenida Vênus 92, Alphaville, 4153 6453, soggiorno.com.br.
Praça São Lourenço is at Rua Casa do Ator 608, Vila Olímpia, 3053 9300, pracasaolourenco.com.br.
Ráscal is at Shopping Iguatemi, Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima 2232, Jardim Paulistano, 3816 3546, and other locations citywide, rascal.com.br.
348 Parilla Porteña is at Rua Bahia 364, Higienópolis, 4306 0348, restaurante348.com.br.
|Miniature meals come in every variety – including do-it-yourself. We round up a selection of menus especially designed for nippers.
America This chain of casual, American-style diners does classic combos for kids, in diminutive proportions, like the two mini cheeseburgers with fries and a shake (R$33.20). Avenida Paulista 2295, Jardim Paulista, 3067 4424, restauranteamerica.com.br.
Brasil a Gosto Give little’uns a taste of the best beef with the ‘picanha criança’ – top sirloin for kids (R$29), while parents enjoy some of the best Brazilian food in town. Rua Azevedo de Amaral 70, Jardim Paulista, 3086 3565, brasilagosto.com.br.
|Nakombi Get kids started with chopsticks at this fun sushi joint. Picky eaters can go for the kids’ yakisoba – fried noodles with beef, chicken or veggie (R$23). Rua Pequetita 170, Vila Olímpia 3845 9911, nakombi.com.br).
|Lanchonete da Cidade Burgers (R$13.50) and hotdogs (R$9) keep the young crowds happy here, rounded off with mini fruit salad (R$7.50) or spoonfuls of choccy brigadeiro (R$8). Alameda Tietê 110, Jardim Paulista (3086 3399, lanchonetedacidade.com.br).
|Santa Pizza Nippers do the cooking at this canny pizzeria. Kids can assemble their own pizzas in the kitchen, leaving someone else to clean up the mess (R$25). Rua Harmonia 117, Vila Madalena (3819 0301, santapizza.com.br).