Huron Avenue, Cambridge This is the shopping street of a classic New England neighborhood, where the president of Harvard lives in a pale yellow Georgian house among others that are similarly grand yet understated. The irony is that this subtle, buttoned-up area is titillating for kids.
Next to the Full Moon restaurant is Susi's Gallery for Children (348 Huron Ave.; 617/876-7874). It's stuffed with crafts to buy, such as sparkling beaded jewelry and mobiles of painted clay animals. Reversible dress-up clothing includes an outfit that's a princess on one side and a pauper on the other. But the reason the gallery is one of Ella's favorites is that she can make or paint her own masks, vases, and picture frames at the weekly art classes (Tuesday-Friday; call to reserve). Then there's Huron Drug (356 Huron Ave.; 617/547-6400), with the best Halloween costumes in the city—last year's scariest was Nail Head. For an Italian edge, there are real Venetian masks. This year's millennium-inspired collection features a futuristic netted tutu.
Across the street is Boston's finest toy store, Henry Bear's Park (361 Huron Ave.; 617/547-8424), recently expanded to include a large books section with beanbag chairs. This place is as much a play area as a store: kids try on costumes, draw at easels, and put on puppet shows while parents pick out wonderful playthings, such as woven mice from Ecuador or a push-toy from the German company Selecta.
These are not the restaurants tourists flock to for a bowl of New England clam chowder. We haven't mentioned Durgin-Park, Legal Sea Foods, or Faneuil Hall's food court—all excellent kid choices; rather, the spots listed here are favorites the locals keep to themselves.
Boston and Chestnut Hill Red Clay Atrium Mall, 300 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill; 617/965-7000; dinner for four $100. Michela Larson and Jody Adams—the team behind one of Boston's greatest restaurants, Rialto—have a new place, in the city's most upscale shopping mall. This time they're cooking for families, serving dinners in clay pots. Kids get an education as well as a meal: dishes represent a variety of cuisines, including French-Italian, Spanish, and Moroccan. The place resembles a Mediterranean café, with an open kitchen and beehive ovens. It's out of the way, but well worth the drive.
Oak Room Fairmont Copley Plaza, 138 St. James Ave., Boston; 617/267-5300; dinner for four $100. This famous hotel steak restaurant isn't the sort of place you'd expect to bring children, but the dining room's dark, old-world elegance is something they'll remember forever. Susannah was skeptical about the kids' menu, despite alluring dishes such as "Pirate Adventure Fish Swords"; her intelligent assessment was that this is a place where you have either the steak or the lobster. Aidan tested the service by dropping napkins on the floor. In every instance a waiter whisked the discarded linen away and presented the baby with a crisply folded replacement.
Vinny Testa's 867 Boylston St., Boston; 617/262-6699; dinner for four $50. Families in the know used to travel out to Brookline to eat at Vinny's—it was worth the hunt for a parking space, which is saying a lot. Now that Vinny's has opened in Back Bay, everyone can join in the fun. Portions are enormous, the food is hearty but not too heavy, and the dining rooms are classic Boston, with a glossy oak bar, booths, and red-and-white checked tablecloths.
Buzzy's Fabulous Roast Beef 327 Cambridge St., Boston; 617/242-7722; lunch for four $25. An insider's landmark, this street-side stand at the foot of Beacon Hill serves up the ultimate kid's lunch—a roast beef sandwich, fat fries, and a thick shake. Take it down to the Charles River Esplanade for a picnic lunch.
Cambridge and Somerville Full Moon 344 Huron Ave., Cambridge; 617/354-6699; dinner for four $50. Try the salt-cod-and-green-olive potato cakes with tossed watercress and aioli. As for the kids' side of the menu, the crisply grilled chicken, served with french fries, is always a hit.
Bertucci's 197 Elm St., Somerville; 617/776-9241; dinner for four $30. The flagship of the Bertucci's chain, in Davis Square near Tufts University, is the best for kids. The specialty is surprisingly good brick-oven pizza, but the real reason to go is the indoor bocce court, where kids can play while parents keep an eye out from the balcony. Other outposts (there are more than a dozen in the city) also have diversions for kids, such as extra-large chalkboards, and pizza dough that children can mold and have baked on request.
East Coast Grill & Raw Bar 1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge; 617/491-6568; dinner for four $100. For a look at a Cambridge neighborhood that's less touristy than most, head to Inman Square. It's not easy to reach by public transportation, but the food at the East Coast Grill certainly merits the cab fare. Owner Chris Schlesinger won a James Beard award in 1996. Chef Owen Tilley cooks big portions of Asian- and Southern-style food with subtle and unusual spice combinations. Best choice: white-pepper grilled tuna with wasabi and pickled ginger.
S&S Restaurant & Deli 1334 Cambridge St., Cambridge; 617/354-0777; brunch for four $30. Also in Inman Square, this large, old-style restaurant is renowned for its lovingly crabby service, perfect burgers, and thick fries. It's a sprawling space, and somewhat loud—a good thing for families who normally have trouble blending in. The weekend brunch, whether a simple bagel and lox or eggs Benedict, is flawless.
Fire + Ice 50 Church St., Cambridge; 617/547-9007; dinner for four $50. Harvard Square is of course inundated with students, so the large and busy restaurants that would be ideal for kids anywhere else have here become collegiate pickup scenes. One that hasn't yet is this fun barbecue spot. Children love to choose their own ingredients (pineapple, sliced beef, bamboo shoots) and have the cooks stir-fry them before their eyes.