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Foodies with young kids.. favorites?

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It seemed like yesterday - long casual dinners beginning late at night, driving hours for a place you heard from "a guy" had good Carne Asada or eating Dosa at 4 different places, in one night, looking for perfection.

Times have changed - we now have kids. For most of us the date night out is rare, and when we cant arrange for a sitter there is always the opportunity to go out and take the kids along. For those of us with high energy kids, the options are really limited.

Great food and atmosphere that can occupy kids?

Zubies Dry Dock - HB - Nautical motif and huge fish tank is a good start. Order at the counter, also good - kids lose it after about 40 min at the table. Salad bar is a hit - pile it up with veggies they might actually eat. Solid seafood menu, full booze for mom and dad, video games nearby (but not too many). Calamari, fish filets and fish and chips are all good.

Corn dog cart - Disneyland. You know the one I mean...right in front of the locker room at the end of main street - right hand side. Is there a better corn dog anywhere????

San Pedro Fish Market (main building) - This place is wild. Fish counter as you walk in... pick your seafood and have it prepared right there. They will take your fish, clams, shrimp..etc and prepare them by fried or grilled and serve with potatoes and garlic bread...another counter will make fried favorites (not from fish counter) for kitties - mine like the clams and chips. Sit outside and watch the massive tanker trucks flow by. Mariachi bands, telescopes to watch the ships, or just chasing crabs keeps the kids busy while you finish your chow.

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  1. One of our favorites was the Malibu Country Mart -- food available from the natural foods sandwich place or several other choices, and they can play in the playground while you sit and eat.

    1. Border Grill in Santa Monica occupies our two-year-old pretty well. Nice and noisy, good food, good drinks, and giant drawings on the ceiling.

      1 Reply
      1. re: BethLee

        My kids are older now, but I completely echo these sentiments.

        Nice and loud so the kids don't bother anyone. Colorful. Kid friendly staff. Good food.

      2. Alegria is one of those places that everyone seems to either love or hate... they have a kids menu, and usually there are a lot of families with small children there earlier in the evening.

        1. I've been dragging my pups around to different chow spots for the last few years, but I mostly favor dives, so noisy kids aren't usually an issue.

          I found that dim sum with carts can be good with kids. It's noisy and bustling, the kids love to play with the chopsticks and watch the carts, and you can usually find one or two things for them to gnaw on. Best if you can get a table near fishtanks, then you're set. However, they may decide that they're gonna use the chopsticks on the dim sum...then it can get tricky. I had one pup finally spear a dumpling with his stick, and hold it up proudly. I quickly reached for it because I could see that the filling was threatening to gush out. The pup instinctively and quickly jerked the dumpling away, sending it arcing gracefully across the dining hall. My heart stopped. Fortunately, it landed in an aisle rather than raining shrimpy shrapnel on someone's table, but still... (Note: if you have energetic kids who like to wander, a cart-place may not be good.)

          The Thai Temple is great on weekends. My pups love the satays and sausages and sticky rice with the spicy dipping sauce. Also has room to roam for energetic kids, plus they like to purchase and hold the tokens themselves.

          Krua Thai is also good. The pups love the smoothies and will happily suck on them while I get the good stuff.

          Any place with a conveyor-belt tortilla machine is magic for kids (e.g., Grand Central Market, Vallarta, etc.).

          Banh mi shops are also good. Kids love baguettes and soy milk/boba/smoothie drinks. Plus, the kids like the TV screens with the numbered orders called out. Regular Vietnamese places can also good if your pups like fresh veg. Get something with a salad platter and they'll munch on carrots and herbs and whatnot.

          Northern Chinese breakfast shops are great. My pups love the soy milk, steamed plain buns (mantou), and other things there.

          'Course, sometimes dining out with kids can be a challenge. Like the time at a taqueria when I noticed that my pups had been diligently picking each lime from the condiment cart, licking 'em and putting 'em back. Grrr...bad parenting to blame, no doubt.

          Good luck.

          1 Reply
          1. re: yclops

            Thanks for the ideas.

            Don't worry, I just got back from picking up a pizza and a coffee to go from next door. As were driving home I notice my 4 y/o counting out his new $6 in singes - yup, raided the tip jar again.

            Despite my misgivings due to the inflated price of my coffee, we had to take it back.

          2. We took our kids regularly to Asahi Ramen, Hide Sushi, some dim sum places in SGV, Taqueria Sanchez. Good food, enjoyed by all present, kids flirted with the staff and vice versa, and everyone left happy and full.

            1. Most Asian restaurants aren't a problem with kids - chinese, thai, vietnamese, etc. Neither are the Mexican ones.

              The type I had a tough time with are the more expensive/upscale non-ethic restaurants. For a while my usual standard one that I feel comfortable taking my 8 year old to was Campanile, but the July 4 experience was way lacking, so I am less inclined to try that again.

              Taps in Brea had a good Jazz Bunch that my son actually liked (and asked for). The food is good for adults too - especially for guys who like home brews - 2 glasses of beer are included.

              1. A basic mostly-to-go sushi place might also be good. I was spending some quality time w/ a 2 yr old niece in tow when a sushi craving hit. I decided it wasn't too early to see how she'd do in a sushi joint... I ordered what I liked, and ordered a basic udon for her. After requesting a spare small soup bowl, I spooned out an udon noodle with a few spoonfuls of broth. Then I gave her the disposable chopsticks and the soup spoon to see what she would do. I was expecting her to start a rendition of drumming, but she put all the utensils on the side and picked out the noodle with fingers -- she finished off the whole order quietly like that. Nothing beats "finger food" as entertainment. Especially for the elderly folks at the next table who were amazed that toddlers can actually be peaceful.

                1. I find Gueleguetza to be very kid friendly and delicous. Kids often enjoy all the colorful traditional clothing on the walls and the interesting things they sell at that little mini-market at the front. Plus, some of the food is pretty tame, like beans and rice or a cheese empanada (unless of course, they want the grasshopper)

                  1. Kate Mantilini is pretty kid-friendly. I've taken my son there twice as an infant. The hostess said they pride themselves in being a kid-friendly restaurant.

                    Kids also like Korean BBQ, cooking their own food (carefully and supervised, of course!) can be fun. I like Wharo on Lincoln. A new place called Giggle Giggle opened in the Weller Court next to the New Otani in Little Tokyo, it's really good, reasonably-priced with generous portions of beef.

                    The Counter would be fun for everyone to design their own burger, if you go when it's not insanely busy.

                    Paco's on Centinela and Washington is great Mexican... kids can watch their tortillas be made.

                    Conveyor belt sushi is fun for kids and they tend to be relatively inexpensive for sushi. There's a pretty good one in the 3rd St. Promenade and Broadway, and a new one in Westwood (between the Westwood Brewery and Expo... I think where a movie theater used to be.)

                    The Fish Co. off Main in Santa Monica has nice fishtanks to preoccupy the kids.

                    1. I don't know how adventurous an eater your are, but I would highly recommend any of the Eithiopian restaurants on Fairfax just south of Olympic.

                      Here are some of the reasons why:

                      1. The food is brought on a communal platter, so the kids get a feeling that they are sharing with the parents.

                      2. The food is eaten with fingers. Do I need to say anything else.

                      3. It can be very reasonable. At Merkado, where I usually go, we can have enough food for my wife, daughter and me for about $20.

                      4. The staff love to see children.

                      Much of the food is not spicy. Just keep away from the red stuff. Other than that, we've brought our daughters there many times and she loves it, she has even brought leftovers to daycare to share with her class and friends.

                      If you wind up with conveyor belt sushi, might I suggest A Float Sushi in Pasadena. The conveyor belt is a series of boats that float on a little moat.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: czaplin

                        I doubt mine would touch the injera. I don't.

                        Afloat is a good idea. Even my son likes it, but he only gets one thing - salmon sashimi, but at least he's entertained while we chow down.

                      2. My kids love going to Dim Sum - - it's fast, noisy, and they can get stuff they like to eat (steamed buns, noodles and jello). The Chinese often bring their kids to Dim Sum places, so there is a lot of tolerance for children in these restaurants.

                        They also love Philippe's. They call the french-dips "soggy sandwiches" but the chocolate cream pie is really what has them hooked.

                        Teppanyaki isn't something that I ate in my pre-mommy days (when I was a snobbier foodie), but I do enjoy it and so do my kids. They love the show, and you can ask for the chicken or steak to be prepared with the minimum of flavorings that kids prefer.

                        My kids also love going to delis. Again, not necessarily a foodie excursion, but better than your local burger joint.

                        In Calabasas, there is a shopping center called the Commons with several decent restaurants (King's, Marmalade). There is also "creek" with real live turtles. When we eat out here, we always order, then visit the turtles. Eat our meal, then visit the turtles. It's a hit with the kids every time.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: purplescout

                          My kids are slowly getting old enough to enjoy other dining experiences, but they always did enjoy Dim Sum.


                        2. My kids have always loved Farmer's Market, although they usually stick to the pizza followed by ice cream or Bob's Donuts, while I can pick up something at the Singapore Banana Leaf or Loteria. They love shopping for fake tattoos or other kitschy souvenirs afterwards, of course.

                          1. We have four boys. We made the mistake of taking them (ages 6 thru 16) to Mr. Chows in BH. It was such a disaster that In and Out and Pizza Hut are the order of the day. Great food and kids do not mix. I guess it goes back to that scene in the movie BIG with Tom Hanks. He takes a swig of caviar and does back flips and spits it out. Pizza and hamburgers for me for the next few years. I learned my very expensive lesson.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: mjalz

                              I can sympathize. Nothing hurts more than to shell out tons of dough and have a less than satisfactory experience if the kid complains about the food.

                              One place that you and your kids may like is Mozza. It is pizza afterall, and it's better than Pizza Hut.

                              1. re: notmartha

                                Thanks; I HATE PIZZA HUT. I'll try Mozza. Where is it?

                                1. re: mjalz

                                  641 N. Highland, check out their website, the press kit has the sample menu. http://www.mozza-la.com/

                                  Also search chowhound - surprised you missed it, there's about a thread on it every week since it opened!

                                  It's still pricey upscale pizza by normal standards, but it's not Mr. Chow price. ;)

                            2. We've had good luck at Islands... alot of the food is the same for kids and adults - just different- sized portions... The wait staff always places crayons and placemats for coloring and puzzle-solving that keeps them busy... and the big screen TVs are usually playing lots of videos of surfing, skiing, and other pretty exciting sports stuff. And since most of the seating is in boothes, it's a little easier to keep them wrangled in with the adults sitting at the ends. Pretty descent selection of beers and little umbrella-type drinks for the adults too.

                              Also like taking them to Cheesecake Factory. Huge menu selection and pretty descent items for the kids, like their mini-burgers... It's rare if someone doesn't find something on the menu that sounds good to them... You can also use the desserts displayed in the cases as a "carrot" for the kids... "okay you little wisecrackers - if you behave yourself through din-din, you can have your choice of anything in the case..."

                              Both places are pretty active and on the loud side, so the kids blend in pretty well.

                              1. Well, if we're talking about Islands and the Cheesecake Factory I'm not too ashamed to admit I like taking my toddler to CPK once in a while. Some of their dishes are quite good for a chain (e.g., the pear-gargonzola pizza, the chopped or BBQ salads or their alfredo), and their kids meal deals are great (complete kids' meal for $5, with a few different choices) and they give the kids a coloring book and crayons and such. Granted, my son did eat the red crayon while I wasn't looking, but at least the thought was there. The service is usually good and friendly. They are accommodating too. For instance, when my waiter saw I was drinking my son's drink that was included in his meal, he brought an adult-sized drink at no charge. They'll also give you a free "refill" on the bruchetta since the portion is so small. I always leave feeling satisfied and that I got good value.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: chowmominLA

                                  We haven't been to CPK since before we had our first child - we'll have to give it a try...thanks

                                  1. re: chowmominLA

                                    LOL! I thought we were trying to list restaurants that both the kids like and the adults like (wasn't dragged into going).

                                    If that wasn't a requirement, these are the restaurants my kid keep dragging us to (and we won't go there if given a choice):
                                    - CPK (barely tolerable)
                                    - Chuck E Cheese (just eat salad and buffalo wings there)
                                    - Hometown Buffet (yuck)

                                    The only one that we all like and not technically a restaurant is In-N-Out.

                                    Lastly Island is decent, but their prices are kind of high ($30 for 3 people for just burgers, drinks, and cheese fries), not to mention the portion is too big. I split a burger with my son the last time we went.

                                    1. re: notmartha

                                      That's just the thing: I happen to like CPK and will go there voluntarily with my son because it's good food and great value. But I know the average Chowhound wouldn't be caught dead there, which is why my first list of suggestions was more "chowhound-friendly". I personally wouldn't group CPK with Chuck E Cheese of Hometown Buffet. I wouldn't group it with Souplantation either, although I think Souplantation is better overall than Chuck E Cheese or Hometown Buffet. Island's is more on par with CPK, but as you said, the value isn't quite as good.

                                      1. re: chowmominLA

                                        I guess CPK isn't someplace I will keep going back to if I have a choice, although there are enough edible items.

                                        Actually like Souplanation as their clam chowder is better than most restaurant's versions. But my son's not a big fan of veggies and so he doesn't ask for it as much as Hometown Buffet (with the Thursday Bee costumed person).

                                        Did anyone mentioned Rainforest Cafe? We went several years back - thought the food's OK, but it's mainly the aquarium and animatronics that's the focus.

                                        1. re: notmartha

                                          At Souplantation I strain out a ladle-full of some fat noodles from the chicken soup and then add the clam chowder to it. Yum.

                                          Oh, I completely retract my endorsement of CPK. I was home sick with my son yesterday and didn't feel like cooking, so I had CPK delivered through LA Bites, a delivery service. I ordered the pasta without chicken but I noticed (too late) that it came with chicken. I checked my receipt and LA Bites got my order right, it clearly said "NO MEAT". But I called them just to mention CPK had screwed up the order. They offered to deliver a new one but it was too late. They called CPK to see if I could get a credit but after arguing with them for ten minutes while I was on hold, CPK refused to do anything about it. Which I thought sucked, I mean, what if I were a vegetarian and bit into a lump of chicken? Anyway, LA Bites credited me for the delivery charge at least, which was almost as much as the pasta in any event.

                                          So, long story, but, I'm no longer a CPK supporter!

                                          1. re: chowmominLA

                                            CPK had gotten kind of inconsistent for me too. Usually my problem is more like they omitted something, or give me white flour crust when I asked for whole wheat. Oh well - it's hard to say no all the time when there's a kid campaign going on.

                                            Souplanation - actually get multiple bowls of soup so I can sample! Doable now that the soup bowls are mini-sized.

                                      2. re: notmartha

                                        My kids and I barely need a nudge to go to Islands or Cheesecake... Sure - they're not Michelin-rated, but we've tried too many times to have a meal at even a half-respectable restaurant and we end up chasing our kids who are chasing/being chased by other kids. Ends up being a wasted effort, not to mention the time and money...

                                        Pass your leftovers to me - I'm a glutton at Islands... especially their fries that wash down
                                        well with beer(s) in their nice cold mugs... Something about their boothes I like too... I want one in our home...

                                      3. re: chowmominLA

                                        We don't have kids, but go to CPK for the thin crust pizza. Best thing there.

                                      4. My kids (4 and 2) love Sushi, teppan, dim sum, Chinese restaurants, and Korean Restaurants especially cause they can watch the cooking as well as the all buzz around them. Another plus is that the noise levels are extremely high in most of those types of restaurants so no one really notices them, except at the sushi bars which believe it or not my 4 year loves.

                                        However they have also sat through long dinners at Opus, Providence, and Water Grill. They had to go for the occational walk but we were told my some employees at the afore mentioned places that my kids behaved better than some of the adults there :0). But the best was at Providence where Chef MC made them pasta and had lots of desserts for them while we enjoyed our dinner. Plus being at the Chef's table was also an advantage as to not bothering others.

                                        But the all time favorites for kid friendly restaurants that we frequent are CPK and BJs, we can get in and out pretty quickly.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: jkao1817

                                          So your kids actually like the food at Providence? That's good to note. My kid behaved just fine in terms of being quiet and not making a nuisance, but he's so picky that he complains bitterly about all but Italian food, burgers, chicken fingers and fish. It kind of ruin my enjoyment of food when I have to listen to negative commentaries while I am eating.

                                          1. re: notmartha

                                            Yeah my almost 4 year loved the food and all the "special" treatment he got. But just so you know he loves Froi Gras, all kinds of seafood (especially Crab and clams), and all kinds of noodles (pastas and the Chinese kinds as well). We have never had to leave a restaurant because of them.

                                            1. re: jkao1817

                                              Thanks! Sounds like I have to give it a shot then. My son likes pate also, and fish. Just seems to have an adversion to asian food (at least complains when we go to too many asian restaurants in a row). He wasn't as vocal about his dislikes when he was 4.

                                        2. My S.O.'s 7 yr. old granddaughter really likes "The Elephant Bar." We have been taking her here since she was 3. When she was younger I would take her on Safari. We would walk around and look at and talk about the animals. Yes, it's a chain but excellent.

                                          They have a nice child's menu with a small dessert for a very reasonable price. Also a place mat with colors and puzzles. A punch out mask, actually more like glasses that come in Tiger and Elephant.

                                          For us grown up kids they have a large selection of tasty and reasonable priced items. My S.O. gets the ribs. her favorite anywhere. Not true BBQ but really good. I get the pork chops. OMG are they good.

                                          We have always had very good service.

                                          For you fellow geezers they have a very generous senior discount. Over 60 I think. With the card you get 20% off the food. Full size portions.

                                          Coca Cola and free refills top of the experience.

                                          1. FWIW - The Hard Rock Cafe is a good, reliable kid place.

                                            I'm not sure it qualifies as great chow. It's good enough, but it's sort of chainish ...

                                            But it's definitely kid friendly, mostly because they crank the rock music in there.

                                            You can drink, they have hamburgers and other bar food and your kid can be as noisy as they like. No one will notice.

                                            And they have cool guitars on the walls.

                                            1. I am second on the Elephant Bar. Even we have to wait, the kids are fasinated with all the "animals" around. Between my husband and I, we always get one lamb dish. It is so good and not very pricy. The meat just falls off and melts in your mouth.

                                              I also find that if a place has multiple TVs playing various sports is a good hit. It drowns out the kids' noises and most of the time they just sit there and watch TV. Eg: BJ's

                                              1. I am in agreement with all the choices of sashi1 -- in particular Hide Sushi which I think we've been to as a family many dozens of times. As a generality, family-run restaurants may well have a good "family" attitude among the wait staff, and that can really make all the difference in the world.

                                                We've had good luck at Shamshiri on Westwood Blvd north of SM. The broiling takes place behind a large window that the kids love to gaze through. And the staff there has always been adoring of our kids. It warms my heart to the point where I imagine my judgement of the food is entirely softened, though I note many others on this board seem to like it there as well.

                                                Another mexican restaurant where there are ladies slapping out tortillas in bulk is Tia Maria (I think) just east of Bed Bath & Beyond on Olympic. The lady there has given our kids some dough to play with and they're in 7th heaven.

                                                I will never forget an angel-waitress at Roberto's on Jefferson down near Ballona's east end -- it must be Culver City technically? It's basically a northern italian sports bar I think; I have no memory of the food but while our first was less than a year, this waitress took the baby in her arms and jiggled her around the restaurant while I sat and ate my first meal in peace with my dh in a year. Brings tears to my eyes just remembering it. Again, I don't recall the food as especially distinguished, but it was certainly kid-friendly.

                                                C&O in the marina serves teeny garlic bread twists that my kids love. I don't know the opinon of the real hounds on this board, but personally I found the food excessively fat-indulgent and not particularly discerning. I won't go back but my kids wish we would. Alejo's, IMO, is far more carefully crafted, better value and more enjoyable. The older crowded shared-table joint can be a little tough on little ones, especially if there's a wait, but the boushier one up the hill in Westchester gets you the same great garlic bread and crayons and an indulgent staff. Less adventurous but worth it sometimes.

                                                Also in the marina my kids really like Sakura House where they grill up teeny weeny little skewers of often pork-wrapped tidbits. I think it's delicious, exotic and exciting. I'm not sure my kids like it quite as much as I, but they do think the grilled quail's eggs are better than bees knees. Or something.

                                                This will definitely get me dismissed on this board but I think Costco's vegetarian pizza (you have to order it by phone) is pretty OK. Kristina's pizza on Overland north of Palms is downright delicious, IMHO. Not gourmet (despite their sign's claims) but really actively good, not just good-enough. IME this is better taken out as sometimes the staff isn't really wild about the kids' presence and the restaurant is pretty empty and cold and uninviting.

                                                Thai House in Westwood village across from Whole Foods is extremely inviting. I often call ahead and walk into the restaurant to a table covered with steaming food waiting for us. When it's late and kids are about to lose it, this is almost like having a chef at home. It's unspeakably wonderful. I could eat several gallons of their duck curry at a sitting. Their lad na (thick rice noodles) are quite good too. Otherwise in the years and year we've been going there, I've yet to figure what other dishes are as spectacular. The mint squid is good-enough, but that duck curry is spectacular enough to keep me coming back and back and back -- and also the full-arms-wide-spread of welcome too. With kids that means everything. The owner of this restaurant has been kind to me and my children, including mealtime babysitting since they've been in utero. The owner's own toddler now graces the restaurant most afternoons. I still miss Chicago's Thai food though!

                                                1. The babysitting while you eat can really make a difference. One waitress used to do this for us at Torung on Hollywood Blvd. and it was a godsend. My son is nearly 16 and amazingly, she still works there! Before the 1994 earthquake, they had a great aquarium too. When my son was a toddler, he would push white rice around on his high chair try for quite a while, making it easy to take him out for Chinese or Thai.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Chowpatty

                                                    Your post reminded me of the time in my childhood when my family dragged me to some Chinese restaurant in Arcadia. A waiter came over when he noticed I was dreadfully bored. He put a large spoonful of steamed rice into a ceramic tea cup, covered it with another tea cup, vigorously shook it like a martini and rolled a perfectly round rice snowball onto my plate. At that precise moment in time, that waiter was no less than a God in my eyes.

                                                    I must remember to do that trick with my son sometime.