Family dining on the road doesn't have to be a disaster if you pick the right places. Namely, restaurants that have speedy service, kid-friendly foods and a mildly raucous atmosphere. An affordable menu and well-stocked bar only add to the appeal. Here's a sampling of spots that fit the family-friendly bill in Chattanooga and Huntsville:
La Altena, 314 W. Main St. This blink-and-you'll-miss-it authentic Mexican restaurant is a parent's dream: tasty, fast and friendly. The chips come right away, the salsa is fresh, and margaritas and beer are cold and plentiful. Plus, it's cheap.
Mellow Mushroom, 205 Broad St. Located across from the Tennessee Aquarium, this regional pizza chain is hard to miss with its massive Coca-Cola bottle-cap awning fronting the entrance. Inside it gets better. An extensive menu with something to please even the finickiest eater; a fully stocked bar with more than 50 kinds of beer; and flat screens as far as the eye can see.
212 Market Restaurant, 212 Market St. If you're brave enough to attempt a finer (ish) dining experience with toddlers in tow, consider yourself a wabi-sabi warrior and go to 212 Market for lunch. The menu features a seasonal selection of bistro-inspired fare, often sourced from local farmers, but the atmosphere is family friendly and welcoming -- there's even a kids' menu.
Ol' Heidelberg, 6125 University Drive. Maybe the food at Ol' Heidelberg isn't exactly like your oma's, but it's a decent facsimile in a friendly setting with cheerful service. (Ask for Darlene, you won't be sorry.) The menu's standouts are wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten and any of the wurst platters. There's also a kids' menu and a wide selection of German beer and wine. It's the definition of gemütlichkeit.
Po Boy Factory, 815 Andrew Jackson Way. If you prefer more French-inspired fare, head to the Po Boy Factory and explore a wider-ranging menu than the name implies. Of course, there are po boys of every kind (shrimp, crawfish and grouper to name a few) but there's also Arcadian catfish, grilled mahi-mahi, fresh oysters and corndogs for the unadventurous. Everything comes in generous portions on down-home plastic platters and the average entrée is just $8.
Big Ed's Pizza. 903 Memorial Parkway. With a name like Big Ed's how can you go wrong? It's the triple-threat of perfect family dining: pizza, beer and good music. Even better, it's locally owned and delicious.