Like many Bay Area families, we love to eat out. With no immediate family or regular babysitter to watch our kids, almost all of our dining experiences outside the home have included the kids. So when local radio talk show host Joel Riddell invited me on his program Dining Around, I was happy to share my thoughts on what makes a restaurant kid-friendly. In my opinion, a restaurant doesn’t need a separate kids’ menu in order to be a big hit with kids and families (truth be told, I’m not a big fan of kiddie menus because they so often feature junk food like chicken fingers and hotdogs). Here are five things to consider when looking for a restaurant to take the kids:
A kid-friendly restaurant will have high chairs or booster seats, wider aisles for strollers, and changing tables in restrooms (both male and female!). Another important indicator of a kid-friendly restaurant is the attitude of the staff. When you have servers who offer to take your stroller or place an extra pile of paper napkins on your table without asking, you know they’re used to kids and take it all in stride.
Kid-friendly food doesn’t necessarily mean a separate kids’ menu consisting entirely of hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers and PBJ sandwiches. Many kid-friendly restaurants feature smaller versions of adult entrees (for example, Pacific Catch in the Marina district has coconut shrimp and salmon teriyaki bowls in their kids’ menu!), or adult entrees prepared in a creative way (like the Mickey Mouse pancakes served at Stacks).
I love restaurants that offer some kind of activity to keep kids occupied while they wait for their food. Many offer activity worksheets and crayons to their youngest guests (Tacolicious!), or a basket of toys (Hobees!). American Girl Cafe at the Stanford Shopping Center has a box of fun conversation starters at every table, and Bumble in Los Altos actually has a separate playroom so kids can play while their parents linger over coffee and dessert.
Some restaurants don’t need activities to keep kids’ occupied; when a restaurant has cool decor, kids can entertain themselves just by looking around. Prime examples include the fish tanks at Chinese restaurants, the foliage and wildlife inside the Rainforest Cafe in San Francisco, the toys scattered around Buck’s Diner in Woodside, and the colorful furniture hanging from the ceiling of El Toreador in San Francisco.
There’s a reason why kids love restaurants like the Rainforest Cafe: it’s place that offers fun experiences along with the food. Simulated rainstorms and animal calls are just two ways to gain kids’ attention (and parents’ loyalty). Look for a restaurant that lets kids try new things, like making your own spring rolls (Yummy Yummy in San Francisco), assembling your own burger (The Counter, multiple locations), or eating with your hands (New Eritrea or The Rockin Crawfish in San Francisco). My kids love choosing their own dishes from sushi boats at Yo Yo Sushi in Santa Clara, or dim sum plates at Hong Kong Saigon in Sunnyvale.
Looking for more concrete examples? I knew in advance that host Joel Riddell was going to ask me for recommendations for kid-friendly places to eat. We have our own favorites, of course (Bucca di Beppo is our current favorite, and I’m almost afraid to mention Barbara’s Fish Trap in Princeton as our all time favorite because I don’t want the crowds to get any larger than they already are), but for a more comprehensive list, I decided to ask the real experts: my friends. Here are their top suggestions for kid-friendly restaurants around the Bay Area:
Multiple Bay Area locations
- Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers
- Bucca di Beppo
- Gordon Biersch
- Jeffrey’s Hamburgers
- Left Bank
- Pasta Pomodoro
- Pizza Antica
- Pizzeria Delfina
- Sam’s Chowder House
- The Counter
- Blue Mermaid Chowder House
- El Toreador
- Goat Hill Pizza
- Rainforest Cafe
- Rigolo Cafe
- Barbara’s Fish Trap, Princeton
- Alpine Inn, Portola Valley
- Milagros Cantina, Redwood City
- Cafe Borrone, Menlo Park
- LYFFE Kitchen, Palo Alto
- Nola, Palo Alto
- Sumo Sushi, Los Altos
- Forrest on First, Los Altos
- Los Charros, Mountain View
- Bier Haus, Mountain View
- Saravanaa Bhavan, Sunnyvale
- Hong Kong Saigon, Sunnyvale
- Yo Yo Sushi, Santa Clara
This is by no means a complete list! Here’s a handy-dandy compilation of articles about places to eat with your kids:
- Kid-friendly restaurants (Dining Around)
- 15 kid-friendly restaurants in San Francisco (SF Gate)
- Food Adventures around the Bay Area (A Little Yumminess)
- 5 kid-friendly, healthy restaurants around the Bay Area (SavvySource)
- Weekend brunch options (Savvy Source)
What are your favorite places to eat with kids? Share your recommendations in the comments below!
Listen to Bonggamom’s interview on Dining Around, Live910 KKSF AM (fast forward to 19:00!). Bonggamom writes about places to eat, things to see and things to do for Bay Area families at The Savvy Source. She write product reviews on Bonggamom Finds and chronicles her adventures (parenting, culinary and otherwise) on Finding Bonggamom.