Restaurant Review: Rainforest Café

I love to eat out. Back in the day, I would get all fancy and go someplace swell with my hubby. We’d go to the coolest, hippest new restaurants in town and hailed ourselves as experienced diners, experts in fine fare…then we had kids. Quickly, we realized that “fine dining” was now a matter of “fine juggling”. We’d eat in shifts and on the rare occasion of dining out, it was usually accompanied by a character on the wall and us leaving half way through the meal with a crabby little one in tow. So, when we heard about the Rainforest Café, we figured we’d give it a shot. A place where we could eat, relax and keep the kid’s entertained? I’m game!

The Vibe
We arrive around 11:15am on a Sunday afternoon and immediately see that a line has formed. The kids are instantly mesmerized by a wishing pond containing an animated crocodile. The ropes that guide us along our “tour” keep the line formed in an organized fashion. We hear from our guide that they are opening at 11:30am today because of a large party (usually they open at noon on Sundays for lunch).  We wait patiently as we are guided through a Rainforest Café gift shop full of t-shirts, glittering drink cups, necklaces and other rainforest inspired memorabilia. The giant, colorful fish tanks keep our 18 month old and five year old entertained until we meet another upbeat tour guide who brings us to our table.

The restaurant is busy but the tables are spaced comfortably and we are seated at a table for four people. The kids are immediately given coloring books and crayons, a must at any kid-friendly restaurant and we are seated between a fish tank and the monkeys. The restaurant is pretty dark but lit by the various animals around the perimeter of the room.  We hear them intermittently including the sounds of the elephants, lions, birds and of course, the monkeys that inspire little ones to run through the restaurant when a rainstorm is looming. Crowds of parents and children gather around to watch the show. I actually spot a mother prop her child up onto the monkey habitat for a photo op, which was quite entertaining and albeit a bit nerve racking (don’t fall in!).

On The Menu
Our waitress arrives quickly and offers to give us an overview of the menu. She mentions their awesome appetizer starter which includes the usual fare, cheese sticks, onion rings and spinach & artichoke dip. We decline and place our drink orders. The kids can’t focus on anything but the animals that surround them and are anything but concerned about what they’ll be eating.

The menu has a good variety including pastas, burgers, salads, sandwiches, steaks and chicken. Most sandwiches and salads are priced starting at $10.99 and entrees go up from there. The pasta, steak and ribs were priced between $21.99 – $26.99. In addition to the prices, there are up charges for extras like cheese, mushrooms on burgers and french fries! Kids’ meals were priced between $6.99-$8.99 and included the usual chicken fingers, pizza, pasta, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. Unlike many other chain restaurants, the meal did not include a drink or dessert. Drinks are an additional $1.99, served in a plastic Rainforest Café souvenir cup and kids’ desserts started at $2.99.

When the food arrived, we were a bit disappointed. My quesadilla was a served on a thick pita bread and was soggy, filled with a chicken and cheesy gravy mixture that resembled a stew. It was served alongside a teaspoon sized cup of salsa that unfortunately didn’t compliment the entree. The burger my spouse ordered was bland and served with some undercooked shoestring french fries that he stated were not worth the extra cost. Our children ordered macaroni and cheese and another kids’ meal of mini hot dogs with carrots. The macaroni and cheese was thick and gluey but that didn’t matter—my little one was so mesmerized with the fish tank that she ate quietly and didn’t complain. My other daughter gobbled up her hot dog and ate a few of the carrots but mentioned she would have liked some dip to go along with them. We declined dessert but took a few extra minutes to take in the entertainment around us. The kids loved seeing all the other children and we loved being able to have them entertained for a few extra minutes. 

What’s The Damage
The bill arrives and I can hear my wallet groan…almost $50 before tip! Well, it was a special outing, right? Overall, we felt the food needed some improvement. You don’t necessarily go to this establishment for the cuisine, but with the prices, we would have expected a little more effort. (On a side note, the Rainforest Café does offer kids’ meals for $1.99 on Wednesdays from 5pm to close—makes it slightly more affordable). That being said, our children had an amazing experience and were satisfied with their meals. We told them that the next time we head to that mall, we’d try out the Cheesecake Factory but were quickly vetoed and told that we would be heading back to the Rainforest Café to hang out with the animals. 

The Bottom Line (based on a five-star rating):
Distraction Offering: ?????
Atmosphere: ????
Food: ??
Affordability: ??
Service: ???½

 alligator     wishing_pond

kids_eat     hotdogs

Rainforest Café
75 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington Mall, Burlington, MA
(781) 272-7555

About the author: Jessica Lane is a penny pinching mama of two living on the Seacoast. She runs a blog, where she discusses the trials of motherhood.

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