When I became a parent last summer, the dining universe effectively split into two general categories: places where I could take my child, and everywhere else.
In the first category, there are restaurants with amenities like booster seats, high chairs, kids’ menus and (knock on wood) a diaper-changing table in the restroom. These accommodations are not always necessary for an enjoyable visit, but at the very least, they signal to parents that they are in friendly territory.
The 11 restaurants on this list don’t cater explicitly to families. They are excellent in their own right, attracting diners of every stripe. They just happen to be adept at making parents feel welcome, strollers and all.
Family is at the heart of Jeremy Fox’s latest project — the restaurant’s name is a tribute to the chef’s young daughter Birdie and grandmother Gladys. The nostalgia-laden menu conjures Fox’s Midwest childhood and the Eastern European Jewish dishes his grandmother cooked for him as a young boy. These disparate culinary threads are woven into the playful children’s menu, which includes the “sloppy Jeremy,” thick toast paved with beef-strawberry Bolognese; a colorful blend of farmers market greens called the Healthy Yucky Green Salad; and a pizza Margherita made on matzo with Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. The 5,000-square-foot restaurant in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station is a clamorous, industrial space, swallowing up the noise of young ones. A doting staff hands out menu activity sheets to kids, and helps make the space feel cozier than it is.
2421 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 310-3616,birdiegsla.com
Eagle Rock doesn’t suffer from a shortage of family-friendly restaurants, but Piencone has hit on a near-perfect formula: a pizzeria with an adjacent craft beer bar and in-house creamery. Situated in a historic, carefully renovated Art Deco space with high ceilings and multiple rooms, the restaurant is spacious enough to host multiple family reunions at once. Adults will appreciate the wood-fired pizzas and large selection of wines by the glass. For kids, there’s a build-your-own pizza option and a farm-themed play area in the restaurant’s roomy, closed-in patio. Everyone will love the creamery, where you can get organic ice cream in flavors that are surprising (potato chips) and comforting (Mexican hot chocolate).
1958 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 274-4728,piencone.com
Botanica Restaurant and Market
My colleague Ben Mims clued me in to the kid-friendly dining room at Botanica, the popular all-day cafe and market on Silver Lake Boulevard known for Mediterranean-inspired dishes. There’s no designated children’s menu but small plates make it easy to share, and kids are naturally drawn to the impressive pastry counter. Round bowls brimming with artfully disheveled vegetables, ancient grains and fresh herbs are not obvious kid bait, but the flavors are bright and easy to love. Owners Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer are a constant and affable presence, and their team is notably hospitable to young children. During a recent dinner, I counted three different servers who stopped to coo at my infant daughter — a small but meaningful act of grace for any nervous parent learning the ways of dining out with a young one.
1620 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 522-6106,botanicarestaurant.com
This family-run Oaxacan restaurant has been feeding South-Central L.A. for more than a decade. On the weekends, what you see on almost every table are kerchief-thin tlayudas layered with dried beef and fistfuls of shredded quesillo cheese; sweltering plates of lamb barbacoa; and steaming molcajetes of grilled meats, nopales and blistered chiles. The kids’ menu is particularly good: fresh, crisp taquitos dorados and the bean-smeared corn cakes called memelitas, both served with homemade chicken soup. Freshly whipped fruit licuados go well with everything. Service in the spacious, stroller-friendly dining room is unfailingly courteous.
322 E. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 749-8723
Dim sum restaurants are family-friendly by design, offering the comforts of a sit-down restaurant with the expediency of food that’s ready to be eaten. The lines at Lunasia are formidable on the weekends (parties of eight or more can call ahead and make a reservation), but outside the height of weekend daytime service, it’s rare you’ll have to wait more than a few minutes for a table. The large dining room at the flagship Alhambra location is easy to maneuver with children in tow, and the staff provides kid-size plates and silverware for its youngest guests. Order the har gow, the oversize shrimp dumplings bulging from their dewy wrappers. Barbecue pork buns are tender and fluffy, and cheong fun, rice noodle rolls filled with seasoned beef, provide good practice for kids learning to eat with chopsticks.
500 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 308-3222; also at 239 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 793-8822; 11510 South St., C822, Cerritos, (562) 265-9588,lunasiadimsum.com
Myungrang Hot Dog
Imagine if corn dogs were somehow more playful, more delicious, more fun. Myungrang, a fast-growing Korean “rice dog” chain that specializes in skewered hot dogs dipped in rice flour batter and fried to order, has made this a reality. I’ve watched jaded adults giggle with abandon after one bite of the mozzarella and sausage hot dog, an impaled, panko-encrusted frank that produces the mightiest cheese pull in Los Angeles. Dogs can be configured with various fillings, toppings and sauces. (I like the squid ink variation, the rice flour batter stained a dark blue-black from the cephalopod pigment.) New locations seem to pop up every week across Southern California, but the Myungrang on the third floor of Koreatown’s open-air California Market is located in a food court with plenty of seating options and public restrooms with changing tables.
450 S. Western Ave., Suite 313, Los Angeles, (in the California Market), (213) 375-7518; also at 6970 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 752-6390; 18180 Colima Road, Rowland Heights, (in the Yes Plaza), (626) 269-0870, myungranghotdogus.com
It’s hard not to fall a little in love with Kitchen Mouse, a Highland Park café that is the living embodiment of the Shabby Chic aesthetic. The vintage, teal-accented storefront is conspicuously kid-friendly: The main restroom is equipped with a changing table and stocked with complimentary diapers, and a corner of the restaurant is a dedicated children’s play area. The vegetable-laden menu of rice bowls, salads and sandwiches is healthful but delicious, and there’s a coffee and pastry menu for snacking.
5904 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (323) 259-9555,kitchenmousela.com
HaiDiLao Hot Pot
This mega-popular Chinese chain is the Disneyland of hot pot restaurants, a splurgy, family-friendly destination famous for its long lines, extremely attentive service and “noodle dancers” — youthful employees whose flashy, rhythmic movements transform a lump of dough into long, slender noodles. Costumed opera performers hand out prizes, restrooms are stocked with complimentary baby wipes and diapers, and if you happen to arrive at the height of weekend dinner service without a reservation, there are free snacks and tea for the taking while you wait in line. The group-friendly dining format is infinitely customizable: Broth options range from mild to super-spicy, and kids (under supervision, of course) will love swishing the meats and veggies in the hot broth. Don’t leave without taking a trip to the sauce bar, where the dizzying variety of sauces, appetizers, fruits and desserts will inevitably bring out the kid in you.
400 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia (in the Westfield Santa Anita mall), (626) 445-7232; also at 2710 Alton Parkway, #215, Irvine (in the Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center), (949) 566-1766; 1600 S. Azusa Ave., Unit 178, City of Industry (in the Puente Hills Mall),haidilao.com
Aqui Es Texcoco
Mexico City-style lamb barbacoa at this popular Commerce restaurant makes for an excellent family supper, a welter of chewy, pleasantly gelatinous shredded meat accompanied by seemingly endless hot stacks of tortillas, bowls of beans and Styrofoam cups of consommé to wash it all down. The large and relaxed dining room is well-suited to family gatherings, and the kids meal is a three-course feast: They can choose from an entrée (lamb taco, cheese quesadilla or lamb consommé), a side (fresh seasonal fruit, guacamole, a nopales salad, beans or yogurt) and a drink. Not bad for $7.
5850 S. Eastern Ave., Commerce, (323) 725-1429,aquiestexcoco.com
At their new cheerful storefront in Los Feliz, chefs Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer are making a straightforward appeal to comfort with a menu anchored by slow-cooked rotisserie chicken. The bird is beautifully browned and mottled with char, and brightened with chile oil and garlic sauce. Pair it with sides like cucumbers and hummus. The “kidsmet” menu reads like an outright rejection of conventional kiddie fare in favor of nutritionally dense options like pita sandwiches and a chicken plate with hummus and veggies. The restaurant’s fast-casual format offers versatility of choice: You can hang out on the tiny sidewalk patio or grab a meal to-go.
4648 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 409-0404, kismet.family
Petit Trois Valley
The Sherman Oaks outpost of Ludo Lefebvre’s French bistro is a bigger and slightly more domesticated version of the Hollywood original. Lefebvre, father of twins, devised an “enfant” menu for the Valley location that includes handmade pasta tossed in beurre blanc; a smaller version of the chef’s famous rolled omelet; and a cheeseburger served with crispy frites. Adorned with black and white checkered floors and tables draped in white tablecloth, the restaurant is chic but unstuffy, and it’s lively enough at all hours that the sounds of fussing young children are usually dampened by the acoustics.
13705 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 989-2600, valley.petittrois.com