Cue the drum roll. It’s here! The issue we look forward to all year long, our holiday gift to you. We asked, you answered and then we did the math. From your favorite place to grab brunch to the best place to take energetic kids, we’ve got it all. Keep reading to see if your favorite haunts made the list. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover something new.
Blue Mesa Grill
Don’t be fooled by the word “buffet.” Blue Mesa Grill’s award-winning brunch buffet is the best around. From eggs Benedict to Belgian waffles and migas, there’s a little something for every member of the family. Start at the omelet bar and then mosey over to the street taco station before satisfying your sweet tooth with a mini flan. Less than $20 a person gets you unlimited plates and bottomless beverages. Brunch is $19.95 for adults, $6.95 for kids 6–10 years old and free for children 5 and younger.
Best Restaurant for Healthy Dining
Where else can kids order chicken stir fry served over organic brown rice? A Dallas favorite for over 20 years, Dream Café serves healthy fare in a fun, eclectic atmosphere, complete with playscapes for on-the-go kids. Stop by for breakfast, lunch or dinner for your favorites from their diverse menu. We’re partial to the gluten-free-friendly Chicken Enchiladas with a salad on the side.
Best Burger Joint
Twisted Root Burger Company
With their kid-friendly atmosphere and adult-friendly milkshake menu (Bailey’s & Chocolate, hello!), it’s easy to see why Twisted Root is such a popular spot for Dallas families. But shakes aside, it all starts with the burgers: chef-made creations like Big Tex, Frito Bandito and The Kevin Bacon, topped with all sorts of saucy ingredients and available on beef, turkey or vegan patties. Picky kiddos are free to build their own, or chow down on mini corndogs instead.
Best Pizza Place
Campisi’s is a local legend, from their original 1950 “Egyptian Lounge” on Mockingbird with its retro décor and table-side mini juke boxes, to their eight other locations around the Dallas-Fort Worth area serving the same time-tested Italian fare. Pop in for a crispy, thin-crust pizza pie (gluten-free is an option at some locations) with toppings of your choice, or try one of their specialty pizzas to share; we favor the Cali and the Muffaletta.
Best Taco Joint
Visions of tacos dancing in his head, Torchy’s Tacos founder Michael Rypka left his job as an executive chef to found the first Torchy’s Tacos location in Austin. And boy, are we glad he did. Now, nearly 30 locations later, Torchy’s is the favorite taco joint of taco junkies statewide, and Dallas is no exception. Creative combinations, such as fried Portobello mushroom strips with black beans or Jamaican jerk chicken with mango, with imaginative names (we’re big fans of the Trailer Park) have made Torchy’s a hit with taco lovers big and small.
Best Mexican Restaurant
Though it's classy enough for your next date or girls night out — with a robust margarita lineup for the occasion — Dallas-born Mi Cocina is a primo family spot too. No frozen chicken tenders in sight: The littles get to try Tex-Mex favorites like a chalupa or enchilada made with only fresh ingredients, while you enjoy full-sized portions of some of the best Mexican food in town, including our personal weakness, the Tacos “De Brisket.”
Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q
Born in the Hill Country, Rudy’s has become a popular pit-stop (literally — each location is also a gas station) for North Texas families because of its no-fuss atmosphere, special sauce and truly Texan smoked meats. Fill up on brisket, pork, chicken, ribs, turkey or sausage served up on butcher paper, or pile your barbecue high on a jumbo smoked potato. The place is pretty kid-proof, with picnic tables for seating and plenty of paper towels to wipe messy mouths and fingers.
Best Doughnut Shop
Hypnotic gleefully toes the line on “too much of a good thing” with its decadent doughnut creations like the peanut butter-, banana- and bacon-topped Evil Elvis or the extra-fluffy Sin’namon Roll. This month, spend a lazy Sunday morning at the unassuming Lakewood shop taste-testing the seasonal Gingerbread Man and Peppermint flavors — though you really can’t go wrong with a traditional glazed.
Best Place for an After-School Treat
In addition to their ground- and diet-breaking Cupcake ATM, the much-loved gourmet cupcake store has now installed an ice cream shop next door. So when your kids tire (temporarily) of Sprinkles’ cakey creations like Chocolate Marshmallow and Triple Cinnamon, they can sample homemade ice cream flavors such as Cap’n Crunch and Red Velvet. Tip from the experts: Follow Sprinkles on social media for daily deals and special flavors.
Best Kids’ Play Area
We love places to eat that double as places to play. And we especially love that Monster Yogurt offers an alternative to fast food to accompany its colorful climbing area. Kids can slurp nonfat or low-fat frozen yogurt from a new fresh-rolled waffle cone before crawling through the shop’s multi-story Monster Cave. Meanwhile, you’re free to take advantage of the Wi-Fi lounge while sipping a complimentary coffee. Wins all around.
Best Themed Restaurant
Not only do monkeys and alligators and tigers growl at you while you eat, but the menu items at Rainforest Café also tend towards the wild side — and wild doesn’t have to mean wildly unhealthy. Kids can choose from Python Pasta, Rainforest Rascals (AKA sliders) or a whole menagerie of other animal-themed entrees, with healthy sides like applesauce, fresh fruit and steamed veggies.
Best Place to Grab a Family Dinner on the Go
They prepare. You grab, go and eat. What’s not to love? From quick family-friendly meals in the Grab & Go case to chef-prepared entrees, salads and sides available by the pound in the Chef’s Case, Central Market makes it easy to feed your family healthy, tasty food on the go. Pair the honey garlic flank steak with a side of hand-whipped sweet potatoes or give the crab cakes and kale salad a try. Whatever you do, don’t skip dessert.
Best City or Suburb for Raising Children
Plano has several major park projects underway, including updated pool areas, renovated sports facilities and a skate park. But we’re particularly looking forward to the new outdoor play space at Windhaven and Spring Creek, where construction will begin this spring on a natural-style playground, trails and native areas. It’s this commitment to recreation, plus good schools and cool community events (like the annual balloon festival), that make Plano a gem for families looking for room to grow away — but not too far away — from the big city.
Best Place for a Family Staycation
Great Wolf Lodge
If you’ve ever driven past Great Wolf Lodge, you understand a thing or two about first impressions. What we love even more is that the amenities match the grand appearance (there aren’t many places you can find a mini ropes course for toddlers). New additions include the Lodge Wood Fired Grill, a full-service a la carte restaurant open for lunch and dinner, and the Buckets Incredible Craveables, which offers families a variety of snack-bar foods right inside the waterpark.
Best Art Museum
Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art is a cultural hot spot for both local downtowners and out-of-towners. The museum reaches out to the community through its classes, camps and craft workshops for kids of all ages and plus interactive exhibits and installations for parents to enjoy as well. Their newest class, Art Babies, is specifically designed to introduce art to children 0–24 months. General admission to the museum is always free.
Best Children’s Theater
Dallas Children’s Theater
The Dallas Children’s Theater (DCT) provides nonstop access to kid-friendly performing arts through nine annual main stage productions, a national touring company, and an arts-in-education program. It also offers a variety of hands-on theater and video classes throughout the year at the Rosewood Center. Catch the DCT’s two holiday productions, Miracle on 34thStreet and Frosty & Friends, through December 21.
Best Place to Explore Science and History
Perot Museum of Nature and Science
A proven family favorite, the Perot Museum keeps kids (and parents) entertained with their 11 permanent exhibition halls filled with galaxies, dinosaurs, robots, sports and more. The newest traveling exhibit, 2theXtreme: MathAlive!, introduces math to children through things they love, such as extreme sports, space, fashion and video games. Check out the exhibit through January 4. If you need a break, pop in to the 3-D theater for one of the current movies on humanlike robots, exotic iguana species or adorable pandas.
Best Place for an Animal Encounter
At the Dallas Zoo’s newest exhibit, Cheetah Encounter, you can watch Winspear the cheetah race his Labrador retriever best friend, Amani. Together they chase a lure through the 75-yard-long exhibit while radar guns capture their high speeds. If you’re looking for a more up-close experience, the Dallas Zoo recently debuted its Backstage Safari Experience. The 90-minute behind-the-scenes program allows guests to feed apples to an African elephant and hold an endangered penguin. Don’t forget to say hello to the newest member of the Dallas Zoo family, Kopano the baby giraffe!
Best Place to Get Outdoors
Last year the Dallas Arboretum outdid itself by opening the eight-acre Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden, and this year it’s surprised us again by introducing a new $1.6 million outdoor holiday exhibit, The 12 Days of Christmas. From the 65,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash in the fall to the 500,000 tulips in spring, the Dallas Arboretum is a vision in any season.
Best Water Park
Hawaiian Falls Water Parks
From character-building camps to philanthropic community events, Hawaiian Falls Water Parks stand out from the competition because of their continuing efforts to keep kids of all abilities cool and active. Don’t forget about the luxurious cabana rentals and chair-side attendants that make your day in the sun truly feel like a vacation.
The Colony, 972/370-4327
Best Jump Center
Kids don’t need any sugar to get hyped up over the 20,000 square feet of trampolines, foam pits and mechanical bulls at JumpStreet locations. With a separate inflatable play area for younger kids, everyone will jump happy. Thanks to the trampolines, kids can jump their way to the perfect slam-dunk or spice up an average game of dodgeball.
Best New Thrill-Seeking Experience
iFly Indoor Skydiving
Your adventurous littles don’t need a cape to fly like a superhero at iFly Indoor Skydiving. Guests ages 3–103 have braved the weightless experience, and with few restrictions for those with physical disabilities, almost anyone can take flight. The all-inclusive activity has brought a new kind of excitement to Dallas-Fort Worth that has everyone talking; grab some goggles and check it out for yourself.
Best Place to Take Energetic Kids
LEGOLAND Discovery Center
LEGOLAND Discover Center stole the show this summer with the debut of its Pirate Beach, an interactive water playground featuring more than 30 gadgets pumping and spraying thousands of gallons of water. While you wait for the splash pad season to start back up, check out Holiday Bricktacular (milk and cookies and Santa scavenger hunt included) during the first three weeks of December.
Best Kid-friendly Shopping Center
Stonebriar Centre Mall
With its Wild West theme and old-fashioned railroad complete with cattle, bridges and cabins, the 1,000-square-foot play area at Stonebriar Centre is a favorite hangout for active kids needing to burn some energy and tired parents yearning for a moment of reprieve. When (er … if!) the kids tire of the play area, head next door to the food court, chock full of kid-friendly eateries, or gather your quarters and pay a visit to Dave & Busters on the second floor.
Best Bank for Kids
Only $25 is required to open a Way2Save account at Wells Fargo, so your child can take his piggy bank to the next level and start learning how to be responsible with his money. Account options include joint ownership (in case you want to keep an eye on things) and an ATM card when you think your child can handle it. Sign up for the Junior Agent Saver Club for kid-focused tips, ideas and printables to help him keep track of his riches.
Best Grocery Store
Last year Kroger donated 50 million pounds of perishable foods to food banks nationwide — just one of the reasons it’s the favorite grocery store of parents across Dallas-Fort Worth. A wide selection of natural foods and gluten-free products, along with quick checkouts and shopper reward programs (such as fuel discounts earned with every grocery purchase) are also high on the list of reasons local parents love Kroger.