A monthly roundup of ethnic eats, counter service chow and other tasty bargains. This month, with the end of the school year just around the corner, we treat the kids (and the kids in ourselves) to cheap eats at area parks and museums.
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St., Raleigh
All that interactive education – running up and down the piano-key stairs of Steptunes, painting and sculpting at the Art Loft, plunging into the watery world of Splash! – works up an appetite. Good thing you can slay the hunger dragon at the Cafe (marbleskidsmuseum.org/cafe), where the menu is as playful as the exhibits, with choices including Henny Penny (house-made chicken salad sandwich), Hail Caesar Salad, Hippity Hot Dog and Presto Pesto (turkey, bacon and provolone with nut-free pesto on grilled sourdough).
Museum of Life and Science
433 W. Murray Ave., Durham
You’ll need a lot of energy to explore this indoor-outdoor mashup of museum and park, and Sprout Cafe (lifeandscience.org/sprout) has got you covered. Get there in time for breakfast and start your adventure with an omelet or oatmeal with fresh fruit. A few hours later, you’ll be back for, say, a burger or rosemary turkey panini. Then again, since Sprout Cafe is run by the same folks who brought us The Q Shack in Raleigh, that N.C. barbecue plate (pork or chicken) sure sounds tempting.
North Carolina Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh
With options ranging from pastrami Reuben on house-baked rye to strawberry salad with maple pecan praline bacon, the menu at Iris (ncartmuseum.org/visit/dining/) is as colorful and varied as the art on the gallery walls. It’s surprisingly affordable, too, given the chic contemporary setting. Same goes for the popular Sunday brunch, where options include lemon poppy-seed waffle, design-your-own omelet and the Oak City Benedict, featuring rosemary-cured ham on a sweet potato-scallion biscuit. Friday night dinners at Iris don’t qualify as Cheap Eats, but they’re worth the splurge.
North Carolina Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St., Raleigh
Okay, ancient Egypt is not, technically speaking, a milestone of North Carolina history. Don’t let that stop you from exploring the menu at Pharaoh’s (ncmuseumofhistory.org/pharaohs-museum), a locally owned sandwich shop (there’s another location at North Hills) whose diverse destinations span the globe from the Ramses burger to San Antonio chicken sandwich to Philly cheesesteak.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St., Raleigh
The scientific method has evidently proven that two choices are better than one. Fuel your deep-sea exploration on the first floor with a Cheerwine chicken panini in the Daily Planet Cafe (thedailyplanetcafe.com/), or tuck into a quinoa and avocado salad at the Acro Cafe (naturalsciences.org/visit/dining) while watching the butterflies in the neighboring Living Conservatory on the fourth floor. Either way, you’ll find a varied menu that includes a kid’s menu and a solid vegetarian offering.
408 Ashe Ave., Raleigh (restaurant is at 520 Ashe Ave.)
Those pedal boats work up an appetite, so you’ll want to stop by the order window at Pullen Place (pullenplace.com) before moving on to the miniature train and historic carousel. There you can recharge your batteries with a locally focused menu designed by chefs Sarig Agasi (formerly of Zely & Ritz) and Holly Taylor. There’s something for kids of all ages, from hot dog and kid’s pizza to hummus and a seasonally changing veggie sandwich. Naturally, you’ll also want to spring for a house-baked cookie or Locopops naturally flavored ice on a stick.