The tiny lights are sparkling bright, the lovely tunes of carolers carry across the gardens and the miniature train whistle sounds in the distance. It’s another picturesque night at Celebration in the Oaks, the city’s largest and most popular holiday light display. But then the stomachs start grumbling, and your clan of Christmas revelers need dinner fast.
Although the sprawling festival in City Park serves its own on-site food options, nearby family-style restaurants provide parents with a break from the teeming crowds and a chance to discover a new eatery with a kid-friendly menu. From Vietnamese noodle bowls and Mediterranean pita wraps, to hamburgers and hefty po-boys, the offerings at the following restaurants will satisfy the pickiest eater of the clan.
Café Navarre (800 Navarre Ave., (504) 483-8828; cafenavarre.com) is close to the Oaks action but far enough to make an available table a realistic score. The spacious, casual restaurant can usually accommodate a crowd on short notice and also contains outdoor seating, equipped with heating lamps that blaze with warmth on chilly nights.
“We’re very kid friendly,” said owner Heather Riccobono, whose family owns Panola Street Café and Riccobono’s Peppermill. She can often be found at the Lakeview locale with her two boys in tow (one is 2 years old; the other is 4months). “Kids can run around, scream and throw things, and nobody is bothered a bit.”
Café Navarre has a kids’ menu, listing crispy chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks, but other items — like the roast beef po-boy and the turkey and avocado panini — can easily be shared. Customizable gourmet pizzas allow parents to pick an assortment of toppings for one half of the pie, while their children decorate the other half, sans prosciutto and mushrooms, of course. Beverage options include hot chocolate, soft drinks, bloody marys and other libations.
On City Park Avenue, Bud’s Broiler (500 City Park Ave., (504) 486-2559; budsbroiler.com) — a longtime local favorite — serves charbroiled hamburgers, chili dogs, chicken nuggets and creamy milkshakes.
Steps away, MoPho (514 City Park Ave., (504) 482-6845; mophonola.com) offers Vietnamese cuisine with a Louisiana twist, a concept that is already a hit with adults but one that may also appeal to budding “foodies” who are not afraid to try something new. Reservations at this popular destination are preferred.
“All of our food is very warming, soulful and meant for sharing,” said chef Michael Gulotta, adding that he can create no-frills noodle and rice bowls, topped with grilled chicken or pork, for children.
A hearty bowl of hot pho will defrost cold revelers to the core. Crispy Asian-inspired chicken wings and fresh spring rolls, dipped in peanut sauce, are perfect for sharing. Harried parents can relax with a flavorful cocktail, such as the Tamarind Hot Toddy, while the kiddos sip fruity boba teas.
The Faubourg St. John neighborhood is full of dining options for hungry families. Lola’s (3312 Esplanade Ave., (504) 488-6946; lolasneworleans.com), which is more appropriate for small groups, prepares Spanish tapas that can be passed around the table, large paella dishes, juices and house-made sangria.
Across the street, Santa Fe restaurant (3201 Esplanade Ave., (504) 948-0077; santafenola.com) aims to please with tacos, fajitas, burritos and other Tex-Mex favorites.
1000 Figs (3141 Ponce De Leon St. #1, (504) 301-0848; 1000figs.com) is also geared toward intimate gatherings, and it does not accept reservations. The menu features sophisticated and simple variations of Mediterranean delights, like hummus with flatbread and falafels, along with chicken salad sandwiches.
“I don’t know if the dishes are things that would be on a kids’ menu, but kids do enjoy eating them,” owner Theresa Galli said.
For a Mediterranean feast set in an airy, family-style restaurant, look no further than Fellini’s Café (900 N. Carrollton Ave., (504) 488-2155). Guests can sit either inside or outside on the charming patio, illuminated by party lights.
The extensive menu includes a kid-friendly section and offers pastas, topped with the patron’s preferred sauce, roasted eggplant sandwiches, pizzas and chicken portabella calzones. Fellini’s manager Azita Clark is hoping that folks leaving City Park will stop by for dinner, acknowledging that the competition in this restaurant-heavy area is high.
“Don’t forget about us,” said Clark, noting that Fellini’s Café opened in 2000 and served workers in the neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina. “We’ve been here for a long time.”