Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Kid Friendly Eats in San Diego

I don't have kids myself, but I'm often asked for recommendations for family friendly dining here in town, and spending some time with our six and nine year old nieces this past weekend really got me thinking about options for dining with kids that aren't abysmal for adults (or the kids either, for that matter!)
Emma enjoying a Rubios churro
Kid friendly dining falls into a couple of different categories, as far as I can tell. Most quick service places are fine for kids - and I can't think of a single one of the places on my original list in that category that wouldn't work, as long as they like the food. Then there are the places that serve adult food, but are unpretentious enough to be family friendly. Finally, there are the nicer places that seem to tolerate kids better than most - as long as they're well behaved. I've divided the list below into three sections roughly along these lines, and I've also included a category for kid AND adult friendly treats - because the grownups shouldn't be left out either.

Caelan and Emma
If you think I've missed something - or you have local (i.e. non-chain) places you like to take your kids that I haven't mentioned - feel free to chime in in the comments!

Quick Service and Takeout
  • Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill - Seafood on India Street - walk up and order, they deliver to the table.
  • Bread & Cie - lots of kid friendly options, nice sidewalk cafe seating. Peets is right next door if you need a caffeine fix.
  • The Cheese Shop - get sandwiches at the LJ Shores branch and take them to the beach for a fun picnic.
  • El Pescador - seafood shop with fish sandwiches in LJ. And hot counter-guys.
  • Hodads - the kids can eat their burger and fries n a VW bus - and there are lots of fun shops around there to explore too.
  • Girard Gourmet - kids love the giant cookies in the window. Decent sandwiches and specials in LJ at an affordable price.
  • K Sandwiches - serves ordinary deli sandwiches as well as bahn mi - kids would also like the coconut waffles and enjoy looking at all the jello based desserts.
  • The Kebab Shop - chicken kebabs downtown - lots of garlic, but otherwise fine for kids.
  • Mama's Lebanese - great homestyle Lebanese with patio dining in N. Park close to Hillcrest - the falafel are especially good.
  • Saladstyle - just a walk up and take away, but the salads are to die for. My friend's 3 year old eats the Couscous one all by himself.
  • Tender Greens - great fresh soups, salads and entree specials in Liberty Station, and to die for homestyle desserts. Cafeteria style - like Nordstrom Cafe. Lots of seating inside and out.
  • Zinc Cafe - lovely cafe in Solana Beach with fountain and fresh vegetarian offerings, like a black bean and cheese quesadilla, pizzas, etc. Great homestyle desserts - check out Mabels - just behind the restaurant for great kids clothes.
  • Con Pane Rustic Breads - bakery in an old bank building on Rosecrans in Point Loma - past Shelter Island. The food is excellent but service can be slow, so get something to munch on while you wait. A good spot to pick up picnic sandwiches.
  • Mona Lisa Market and Deli - fun Italian market and deli in Little Italy - great sandwiches and good for a little grocery shopping. Feels like you're in a different city.
  • Opera Patisserie - great spot in Sorrento Valley for lunch - excellent French cafe style food and pastries. Try the macarons.
  • Saffron Thai Chicken - takeout or sit down for Thai style grilled chicken and noodle dishes - Kid friendly options include Pad Thai and Satay, as well as the chicken itself.
  • Lefty's Chicago Style Pizza - The new branch in Mission Hills has a children's play area. Also in S. Park.
  • Blind Lady Ale House - new option in Normal Heights - serving gourmet pizzas and craft beers in a Portland-esque hip but comfortable atmosphere.
  • Sammy's Woodfired Pizza - A little more sophisticated than your average chain, Sammy's does pretty good pizzas and salads as well as interesting appetizers and starters, like duck tacos and pita with labne. Convenient locations all over - Downtown, E. County, Mission Valley, La Jolla, UTC and North County.
  • Basic Urban Kitchen - another somewhat sophisticated pizza joint in the Gaslamp - a little bar-like, but should be fine for kids during the day or early evening.

  • Not for kids, per se, but neighborhood places that are fine for well behaved kids:
  • Antica Trattoria - La Mesa family Italian restaurant. Not inexpensive, but they really are from Italy. Good pastas and entrees. No pizza.
  • Arrivederci Ristorante - Hillcrest spot with excellent pastas - there is also a branch in E. County in Rancho San Diego, and a pizzeria just a little further down the street.
  • Urban Solace - Upscale comfort food in North Park. Kid friendly food and lively atmosphere.
  • Cucina Urbana - new family friendly but sophisticated Italian eatery in the old Laurel location. Pizzas and salads and healthy kids options.
  • Tony's Jacal - traditional Mexican in Solana Beach - one of a trifecta on the block with Fidels and Don Chuy.
  • Barbarella - nice family friendly spot near the Shores in La Jolla
  • George's Ocean Terrace - the food is fine, but the view is amazing at this La Jolla spot perched over the Pacific Ocean. One of the few places I can think of with both a kid friendly menu and good cocktails. Especially good for lunch.

  • Fancier Places that Might Tolerate Kids Better than Most:
  • 1500 Ocean at the Hotel Del - high end dining room at the Hotel Del
  • A.R. Valentien at the Torrey Pines Lodge - lunch on the patio would work well - try the Drugstore Burger
  • JSix Restaurant at Solamar - Sophisticated but not stuffy spot in the Gaslamp
  • Arterra at the Del Mar Marriott - located in a Marriott in Carmel Valley - if any fine dining is kid friendly, this ought to be it.

  • Treats:
  • Influx - fantastic cupcakes and pastries in a coffee house in Golden Hill.
  • Zinc Cafe & Market - great homestyle desserts - near Mabels, a fun boutique for women and kids in Solana Beach.
  • Pannikin Del Mar - lots of sandwiches and options for kids - and a bookstore to browse to your heart's content.
  • Rebecca's Coffeehouse - great scones and lots of space. Across from Scoop - an ice cream store serving Niederfrank's ice cream.
  • Twiggs - good pastries and cookies in University Heights.
  • Extraordinary Desserts - fancy pants, but fun for kids - they can ogle the case while you sip an espresso.
  • Eclipse Chocolat - Will does fun cupcakes and chocolates with interesting flavors on El Cajon in North Park/University Heights.
  • Gelato Vero - SD's classic gelato, at the foot of Washington Street, near the 5 fwy.
  • Pappalecco Gelato - Italian Gelato and some light sandwiches and salads in Little Italy. Great espresso. (Fun shops to explore around there as well)
  • Cafe de l'Opera - North County spot in Sorrento Valley with nice French cafe lunches and excellent pastries. Be sure to get some macarons.
  • Michele Coulon Dessertier - sweet spot for lunch in La Jolla with good desserts.
  • Sage French Cake - Cafe on Convoy, near Nijiya - great for a mid-shopping or after meal pick me up.
  • Cafe Zucchero - Italian bakery with beautiful pastries and gelato on India Street in Little Italy. Love their Cannoli.
  • Mariposa Ice Cream - homemade ice cream in Normal Heights, right on Adams - if you can catch them open - they do tend to close early and keep erratic hours during the off season.
  • Oasis Ice Cream - unassuming Mexican-style ice cream parlor and paleteria in a strip mall in Imperial Beach - I especially liked their peanut butter flavor.
  • And yes, as you will note in the photos - I took the girls to the mall and got them kids meals from Rubios and Hot Dog on a Stick. We can't all be perfect all the time. ;-)


    1. Awesome timing! I have my brother, sister in law and niece coming into town at the beginning of september! We have a slightly different set of requirements since poppy is just 1 year old. I'm definitely interested in tender greens, I think that will work.

      I was also considering the linkery, which always seems to have tons of kiddies around.

    2. Great list Alice. A couple of other places that we take our son to - Crest Cafe in Hillcrest. Kid friendly menu and staff. Cucina Urbana was so wonderful to our son last night, he loved the place and the food. It will definitely become a regular for our family dinners out.

      Also, Chinese restaurants like Emerald are really family friendly. My kid doesn't love the food but I know many who do.

    3. Love the list! We are trying to raise restaurant-friendly boys, so this is very helpful. We frequently take our boys (16month twins) to Kensington Grill, have done brunch and dinner there. There is enough ambient noise that other diners don't even notice us. I suspect their new Cucina Urbana will have the same noise factor and the staff has asked a few times when we'll be bringing them in. Only problem there w/ little ones is the stairs if you're schlepping a stroller.

    4. Hi Alice,

      Thank you for the list. We have taken our children to most of those places with great success. I would add that we have also take our daughter to many, many fine dining experiences and since she has learned to be restaurant friendly, it has been fine. Pamplemousse, Tapenade, and Oceanaire were all wonderful to our daughter.

    5. Um, where's The Tilted Kilt on this list??? But seriously, we love Espresso Mio for treats in Mission Hills (kids' table and books), Zanzibar in the East Village, Panera's pretty hard to beat as chains go, and we've had luck at every Japanese place we've been to for some reason. I'll let you know if I think of any more! Thanks a million for this post!

    6. As for "Treats" - don't forget Powell's in the Village of La Jolla. Ethan refers to it as "the best candy store in the world" - with Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) on a continuous loop at the back of the store and movie theater seats to hang-out in and munch on your sweets!

    7. love this post. great suggestions..some I'd never heard of..and I am a big SD eater! Thanks!

    8. Nice list, Alice. Don't forget VivaPops. They have a storefront now on Adams Ave. Siena loves their chocolate banana pop.

    9. Great idea Alice. I'm linking to this post from now on when someone asks about Kid Friendly Eats on Chowhound.

      What about adding Corvette Diner to the list? I know it's not fine cuisine or anything, but the gimmick is fun for kids and the shakes and burgers aren't bad. I have a strong nostalgia for that place from when I was a kid.

    10. Thanks so much for this list. We are transplanted Southern Californians living in Boston. We are coming home for vacation in August. I'm going to use your suggestions from this post and another (I have to dig it out)to plan a meal in San Diego. I wish there was someone like you for Orange County!!! You definitely have made me want to visit San Diego! Thanks so much again!

    11. Great list! Would you be able to list it by neighborhood?

    12. Viva Pops is a no brainer - awesome for kids. A new place in South Park - The Station is also fantastic for kids. Great burgers, great beer, and lots of space for kids to run and play. Don't forget a shovel and pail!

    13. Truly, the kid friendly dining falls into a couple of different categories, especially in San Diego, where there are numerous dining facilities available. But I would recommend Crest Cafe in Hillcrest, in San Diego, where I have been twice, which I think is really good for children.

    14. Market in del Mar is much more accommodating to kids than one might imagine. We took 5 of them once, and they put us in the seating ghetto, but treated us very well.

    15. Leaving tomorrow for a trip to SD with our 3yo and so thankful I've rediscovered your blog!

    16. Wow, this is exactly what I was looking for! We are moving to San Diego from Portland with a 4-year-old in March. We have been so spoiled by the food here, but it looks like San Diego has progressed a lot since we left in 2005. Our friends own Tiger!Tiger! and BLAH, so we're familiar with them, but were clueless otherwise. Thank you again, and I love your blog!