Seven-year-old Zephyr drinking a soda
Silver Spring resident Zephyr in a restaurant Credit: Courtesy of his dad

Area youth aren’t shy about wanting a break from home cooking and the occasional takeout meal. “I miss being able to go out and eat food that’s not cooked by us,” Aden says. The 12-year-old, who lives in 16th Street Heights, can’t get enough of Katsuya Fukushima‘s cooking at his various restaurants, including Daikaya and Bantam King. “I always love being able to choose from different meals instead of having one choice for a meal at night,” she says.

City Paper asked kids of all ages living in the D.C. area to share what they love about dining out and what they miss most about spending time in restaurants. They also gave shout outs to their favorite eateries, many of which could use a morale boost nearly six months into a pandemic that has devastated the hospitality industry.

Most participated in phone interviews in between virtual learning sessions, while a few felt more comfortable recording interviews with their parents or guardians, who stood in as the interviewers. The adults in the room then submitted the tapes to City Paper, complete with a few precious gaffes.

“You just whacked my food out of my hand, and now there are sardines all over my phone,” a mom tells her 5-year-old son Stefan. “I did it because there was a mosquito on you and I was trying to kill it,” he says, defending himself through a full mouth of green beans. The Atlas District resident loves “all the delicious foods at restaurants,” including quesadillas, pizza, and hamburgers. “I take the meat out and put vegetables in it. I’m an herbivore,” he says.

A handful of other kids echoed Aden’s sentiment that variety is the biggest draw of dining out because they rarely get to weigh in on what they eat at home.

“What I like about being in a restaurant is getting to order whatever I want and having my own food,” 7-year-old Talia, of Bethesda, says. She loves going to Lilit Cafe where, she says, the pizza crust tastes like a croissant. “At home, my mom and dad often give me stuff I hate,” she says. “A professional cook makes really good food, except when it’s horrible like broccoli.” 

When Maggie and her brother go to Little Coco’s, one of their favorite restaurants, she gets a pasta dish and he gets a pizza. “There’s all of these different options and it’s just really fun to go out to eat with your family,” says the 8-year-old Petworth resident.

Restaurants also make meals home cooks can’t seem to replicate. Zephyr, a 7-year-old living in Silver Spring, loves the northern Chinese food at A&J in Rockville. (His father is a City Paper contributor.) “They make the best noodles I’ve ever tasted,” he says. “That’s true. I want to know the secret to their noodles. They have some type of thing that makes them good.”

Zephyr and others also appreciate the little touches of hospitality they encounter at restaurants. Sometimes A&J will give out lollipops at the end of a meal. James, who is 6 and lives in NoMa, likes “getting mints and stuff when you leave.” He also likes sitting on high-top chairs where your legs dangle down. His favorite restaurant is Ted’s Bulletin because of their milkshakes. 

Talia, on the other hand, is intrigued by the restrooms. “What I like about restaurants is they have bathrooms with stalls so more than one person can go to the bathroom at once. Sometimes there’s one for girls and one for boys, but it doesn’t really matter much these days.” 

Few kids who spoke with City Paper had been to a restaurant for a meal since the public health emergency began in March. Dining rooms were forced to close for months and though they’ve reopened in limited capacities, many families are still sticking to takeout.

Marcus at his favorite hibachi restaurant, Sakura. Courtesy of his dad.

According to these young diners, carryout doesn’t always cut it. There’s no way you can box up the hibachi steakhouse experience, for example. The flaming onion volcano wouldn’t make it through the car ride. Marcus, who is 8 and lives in Tysons Corner, misses dinner and a show at his favorite restaurant, Sakura. “They cook in front of you,” he explains. “The chefs are really nice and they do some funny stuff that’s very entertaining,” he says. “I like to order filet, shrimp, and scallops.” 

Good service matters to Marcus. “I like meeting the servers,” he says. “They have a hard job to do. They’re just really nice. You should tip them good.” Though it’s unclear if he’s ever done so, Marcus is a fan of dining out solo. “It’s relaxing if you’re by yourself. You can just eat in peace.” 

Ben, a 13-year-old who lives in Mount Pleasant, longs to try new restaurants. “D.C. seems to be really good at opening new restaurants so there’s lots of places to go,” he says. “I miss going to new ones.” He’s a regular at Tail Up Goat. “The atmosphere is great, the service is awesome, and it doesn’t seem too fancy. You can wear shorts and a polo and no one seems to mind. They treat kids really well. They can make you custom mocktails.” 

The Wharf is Gabriel‘s preferred stomping ground. The 6-year-old Southwest resident specifically misses exploring new restaurants there because most have seats that come with a view of the water. His favorite restaurant is Kirwan’s At The Wharf, but he once visited 12 Stories. “I had a chicken sandwich,” he says. “I really like the water and the view. I go to a lot of rooftops.” He says he has no problem paying more for food if there’s something special to gaze at. 

Then there’s the social aspect of dining out. “I like all the people running around and the people sitting and eating,” says 13-year-old Arjun, of Tysons Corner. His favorite restaurant is Coastal Flats because of their juicy steak, but he’s also partial to Five Guys. “Sometimes in my head I make up stories about people who are sitting, like where they came from and how they got to Coastal Flats,” he says. 

Paul, a 17-year-old living on Capitol Hill, concurs. “There’s nothing quite like a crowded atmosphere, which I discovered I really miss,” he says. “For me, it’s socializing with the other people you’re dining with,” he says. “You can talk and have an excuse to spend three hours chatting away over good food.” He likes Ambar on Barracks Row, but his favorite restaurant is Tony’s Place on H Street NE because of their bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. 

Paul and Arjun also agree that takeout falls short of the real deal of eating out. “When you get takeout it has to go in the car and sometimes they’re not air conditioned,” Arjun says. “The quality isn’t as good as when you dine in.” Paul sympathizes with restaurants right now and won’t complain when his takeout doesn’t earn a five-star review.

“I’ve noticed it’s become a lot less socially acceptable to point out if something is screwed up,” he says. “We got Italian food the other day. There were only four or five pieces of calamari. But no one has the stomach to complain about anything that isn’t someone dying. It was really good calamari.”

The plight of restaurants during the pandemic is apparent, even to kids who wonder whether their favorite eateries will pull through. “Right now they’re doing OK, but in winter months they’ll have a harder time because they can’t seat people outside,” Arjun says. Winterizing outdoor spaces is front-of-mind for restaurateurs right now. 

“I don’t think they’re going to be OK after the pandemic, especially if it lasts into the winter,” says 9-year-old Myer of Arlington Heights. “Outdoor seating—they won’t be able to do it. My mom wants us to go to places like Takohachi, not Subway or McDonald’s. The local places aren’t getting as much financial support.”

“Some will survive, some won’t,” Paul predicts. “I think there will be a lot of turnover. If you’ve seen H Street [NE], there was already a lot of turnover even before this whole mess. You go into a place once and when you want to go back a month later, it’s already something else. There are high property values and the restaurant business is tough.”

Others are more optimistic. “I think a lot of them will pull through,” says Ian. The Derwood resident recently celebrated his 15th birthday with a special meal at Bresca. “Takeout, especially for a lot of local restaurants near me in Maryland, has been incredibly successful. A lot of them are pushing through, but for high-end restaurants it’s hard to do takeout. It’s going to be a while, at least another four or five months until we can dine in.”

Alastair, a 12-year-old living in Manor Park, has some advice for the local government. “The city should give restaurants more space,” he says. “Expand them into the street for a couple days.” Words like “streateries” and “parklets” aren’t in his vocabulary yet.

“Sorry to tell you this, but this is my first pandemic,” he says. “I don’t have all of the answers.”