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*You* eat the Uncrustables, Wolfgang Puck, or some thoughts on the substandard dining options at LA's cultural institutions

Small kids + big city = enjoyment of the city's many museums and cultural attractions

We'd do it more often but lunch becomes a hassle because of late opening times and mid-day naps. It works best if I get a good lunch packed but sometimes we wing it and try and buy lunch there. This is always a horrible experience because the food is SO BAD.

Kidspace with a "Nestle Cafe"

(I know, I know that alone should have warned me off) The menu online from Wolfgang Puck looked basic but credible. It is HORRIBLE. Shriveled and desiccated Sysco burgers, pathetic little Uncrustables stacked up in the window, horrid quality milk and juice, depressing, anemic, and just gross quesadilla. Seriously, I know this isn't the business that put the swill in Swill Hut but it is almost worst.

I LIKE peanut butter and jelly. How hard is to make a decent pb&J? No, god forbid a very famous chef's catering actually will MAKE A SANDWICH. No, we get a frozen processed puck. Now I for one try to avoid violent metaphors when writing. My first thought was that I would like to bat him about the face with that frozen monstrosity but, no, that isn't right. I just want him to EAT ONE.

Peterson with Johnny Rockets

I hadn't been to a Johnny Rockets in ten years and hopefully it will be at least another ten years before I go back. They make a godawful burger.

La Brea Tar Pits & Page

Nothing really in walking distance on the weekends unless someone has suggestions?

Natural History Museum

Their full service cafe has been closed for almost a year but they've had a small cafe with packaged food downstairs for awhile. Much better than the alternatives, perfectly fine pre-packed sandwiches in solid kid-friendly combos like ham + cheese. They usually have a hot soup that the kids will like after we reduce the salt content with some water. Some decent quality snack food. Conventional milk.

But a note of caution: you might want to enjoy this place unless like you enjoy spectacles with clueless parents and sugar sensitive children. Why parents think as 3 year old should drink 16 oz of Nesquik (56 grams of sugar) before their lunch arrives. The children go nuts, the parents go nuts, and everyone leaves in tears. I witness this once or twice every time we go. Always with the Nesquik. I am now fascinated by the power of Nesquik.

Zimmer Children’s Museum

No food. Vending machine with particularly unhealthy snacks. Might be particularly unhealthy kosher snacks if anyone cares.


The best of the bunch. They have snacks, fruit, cookies, kosher hot dogs, and some pre-packed kosher meals outside of a café. The café food is decent although it can be slow. For a place that attracts a lot of children and families, it really isn’t set up for them. I don’t mean kids menus or anything but it would be nice if they had enough high chairs, room for strollers, or lidded cups.

Patina Group services a number of other instituions but after Swill Hut, I swore off all related venues forever.

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  1. Food at LA museums runs the gamut from mediocre to poor. Kidspace is the worst (which is too bad because this could be an opportunity to get kids to think outside the burger box). But The Getty does have a nice cafeteria and a good restaurant. It feels more like you're in a European museum in that regard.

    1. About an 8 minute walk from the La Brea Tar Pits (might be a bit more with toddlers?) is Yuko Kitchen on Wilshire and Dunsmuir, my favorite casual eating spot on the Miracle Mile. Good rice bowls, salads, "Japanese burrito" rolls, cupcakes, smoothies, tea drinks, etc.

      Yuko Kitchen
      5484 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036

      1. There's a Counter right across the street from the Page Museum--the blandly seasoned burgers are not the greatest but not terrible either, and there's always that Apple Pie milkshake. India's Tandoori is further up the street, not too bad, and Luna Park is not too far away, also open for weekend lunch. Or it's a quick drive to the Farmers Market

        I am certainly aware of the historical basis of your antipathy for Patina Group, but I do have to admit that PayOrPlay Jr. has, for all of his 9 years, loved going to Pentimento for a cheese plate and fancy non-alcoholic drink as part of a weekend museum visit. It's closed right now, we haven't tried the replacement Ray's/Stark Bar yet.

        It is absolutely true that L.A. museums currently offer nothing like the excellent dining opportunities at places like the Met in NYC, the National Gallery and the Museum of the American Indian in DC (although most of the other Smithsonians have only McDonald's. so we're ahead of them, anyway!), or the Moss Room at the California Academy of Sciences. The restaurant at the Bowers in Santa Ana is not bad, although we almost always decide to skip it and head over to Little Saigon (insert plug for Xanh Bistro here) instead.

        Luna Park
        672 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036

        Patina Group
        291 W Cerritos Ave, Anaheim, CA 92805

        1. I took my niece to the Living Desert last week (in Palm Desert) and, experienced the same scenario. I knew I was in trouble going early and staying through the lunch window (11:30A-3P). I only brought cuties and some c.c. cookies. She said to me: "Auntie, I want a real lunch!"....So, we ended up in the Meerkat cafe...The 6 yr old chose the PB&J. It was SO bad she refused to eat it. Us two adults shared a sub-par salad. TTL bill: 16$ for 1 PB&J kids lunch and 1 chicken salad!! OMG!! I asked for my $$ back on the PB&J. We ate the salad. I received a partial refund of 4.50$ because she drank the juice and ate the chips and animal cookies. I learned that no matter what, even it's premade from Trader Joes, bring lunch on such outings! Suggestions: make something the day before! Even for Disneyland, I prepack meals!

          1. Generally speaking, food at museums all over the world is substandard because many museums were build at a time when they were not expected to have even a café on the premises, let alone bathrooms.
            Add to it that for conservation reasons you need to get the food and drinks as away from the collections/exhibitions as possible, and you get super small/non professional kitchens squeezed in what amounts to non-essential space for the museum, with food brought in from some subcontractor's commissary. In LA usually it's Patina.
            So, yes, they serve horrible previously frozen stuff that is assembly-lined on the premises because they can't do much more. And it's overpriced because the contractors pay a concession to the museum.
            The Getty having been built more recently than the others, it does have better food, and it better be that way because once you're on that hill there aren't that many other options!

            If you're near LACMA/the Page I'd think you'd better go eat at the Farmers Market if you have children, rather than the horrid LACMA cafeteria. For MOCA at Grand avenue I'd say take Angel Flight's down the hill and have pupusas at the Grand Central Market, if it's the Geffen there are many options in Little Tokyo.

            This being said, I've been going to museums and working at museums all over the world for over 3 decades and I don't think I've ever been at one that had memorably good food offerings. I think whatever the museum you're better off eating somewhere else before your visit.

            Grand Central Market
            317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013

            3 Replies
            1. re: bad nono

              Well, I have to respectfully disagree, bad nono. Unless I've been leading a charmed life, I can't think of one bad meal I've had at museums in the USA or Canada. When I'm in Europe, I don't usually dine in the museums. Nor in Washington, DC. I have found so many places to eat nearby, that we opt for that. In fact, the way I lured my family into museums in the US, was by bribing them with an offer of a great lunch!

              1. re: bad nono

                > you get super small/non professional kitchens
                > squeezed in what amounts to non-essential space

                The sad thing is that you can still do a lot with _no_kitchen_at_all_ on the premises. Pret A Manger in the UK is a good example:


                I'd rather eat at a Pret than nearly any museum cafeteria in LA. NB: I've only been to Pret locations in Britain; I've never tried the US or HK locations. These could be worse than the UK ones.

                1. re: bad nono

                  I have to disagree. The Restaurant Grand Louvre has a Michelin star and is an excellent stop for lunch. Even the gruesome little caffè in the forgotten butt end basement of the Doge's Palace in Venice had food that was decent.

                2. I very much enjoyed my meal at Ray's at LACMA - review here:

                  Some museums (mostly the newer ones) have really great food - both the restaurant and the cafe at MOMA in New York and the cafes at SFMOMA and the DeYoung in San Francisco spring to mind for me. And our own MOCA has Lemonade, which is quite decent. Funnily enough, I am always disappointed by the offerings at the Getty (in the cafes, not the restaurant) - with such fabulous facilities I always expect it to be better.

                  But I totally agree with Bad Nono about older museums - people just didn't used to eat that much at museums.

                  1. I like how your post linked to the Tar Pit bar! That is absolutely not where you want to take the kids. :)
                    Anyway, have you been to the Gene Autry? I seem to remember their cafeteria as being somewhat better, as is the Getty, which someone else noted. In addition to the Counter at LACMA/Tar Pits/Page, there's Baja Fresh and Mixt Greens and on weekdays, numerous food trucks. The cafeteria at LACMA is a little pricey but the food isn't bad at all.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Chowpatty

                      Isn't the Baja Fresh just a block east of the Page?

                      1. re: mlgb

                        As well as a Johnnie's NY Pizza and something else... Marie C's, maybe? I mean, none of those are at all chowish but they're better than Uncrustables.

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          It's The Counter, Marie Callenders, Johnnie's Pizza, Baja Fresh, Starbucks, and some expensive organic salad place.

                          Of this sad bunch, The Counter is probably my reluctant suggestion. I'd much rather (and often do) take the 15 minute walk to Umami Burger (expensive, but spectacular), or Farmer's Market. I can't seem to resist the chicken kebab plate with taboulleh and baba ghanouj at Moishe's, though the $14 price tag is outrageous.

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            Mr. Taster, Have you ever had the half chicken plate at Moishe's? I think it is $9,75 and quite a tasty chicken. My kids love there bulgar pilaf as well (not the regular one).

                            Moishe's Restaurant
                            6333 W 3rd St Ste 336, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                            1. re: JudiAU

                              I have not.... really, 1/2 chicken is cheaper than kebabs? I just might have to switch up on my regular order.

                              Mr Taster

                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                Yep. $9.75 and try the bulgar pilaf

                    2. What do you consider "walking distance"?

                      To my mind, it's an extremely easy walk to either Farmers Market or Umami Burger (about 10-15 minutes to either).

                      Mr Taster

                      Umami Burger
                      850 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        30 minutes of round trip walking is too much for a hungry 3.5 and an 18m in tow. We only use a stroller once a year or so. But I had forgotten about Umami burgers proximity and that might work on some occasions by car.

                        I don't think the Counter is very good and their child size burgers are awful carbonized patties the kids won't eat.

                        Hell will freeze over before I willingly eat at Marie Callendar's in Los Angeles. There is one near my mom's house in OC and I have sufferred enough.

                        But I might be able to make Baja Fresh work. Beans and rice are always a hit.

                      2. My family and I had an absolutely wonderful lunch at the Getty Villa. Restaurant-quality and then some! Creme brulee! Delish and interesting salads! Nice things to drink! And a lovely view.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: creamydeluxe

                          I'm convinced the food is the next-best feature of the Getty Monster, after the garden; haven't been to the Villa yet. The only good food I've ever had at the Petersen was either catered or I brought it; I haven't tried their Johnny Rockets but the one in Pasadena is a poor imitation of Ed Debevic's. And as for LACMA, after a couple of tries we just get something at the Farmer's Market before or after.

                          The only museum food I've tried overseas was at the d'Orsay, and that was utilitarian but satisfying, typical French airport food - saucisson sec on baguette and stuff. However, Mrs. O had a delightful meal at an art museum in Dallas a few years back; this was a proper café, with an actual chef on the premises, and she still talks about it.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            The food at the Getty Villa in Malibu is good. They have a nice menu at link below:

                            1. re: Will Owen

                              I think the food at the Villa is fine, nothing earth shattering, but I think they do pretty well with with what they have.