Taking your little ones out to eat can range from a relatively mellow, Cheerio-strewn affair to a hellish nightmare of screams and the judgmental stink eye from fellow diners. But listen: You have a right to leave your house, and your kids have to learn how to become civilized citizens. Station Tavern in South Park and Waypoint Public in North Park have already become popular havens for cool parents, and rare is the San Diego restaurant that doesn't have a high chair and a positive attitude towards kids. But we've found a few more options that are some of the best kid-friendly places in town:
Café Panini: This is a colorful little patio, tucked in an out-of-the-way corner of Carlsbad Village. A burbling fountain, whimsical metal sculptures, bins of toys and a doggy statue will keep wiggly people engaged before your food arrives. The menu is ample and healthy (the black-bean and sweet-potato burrito is outstanding), with easy kids options if you don't have the energy to talk them into one of the joint's tasty signature panini. Toss back a cold local beer while listening to live music on Sunday afternoons (and everyone's home by bedtime). Those with choo-choo-obsessed family members will enjoy seeing the train zoom by every few minutes.
Panama 66: The latest from the also-kid-welcoming cool cats at Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger!Tiger!, Panama 66 is the slickest new spot in Balboa Park, sandwiched between the San Diego Museum of Art and the sculpture garden. Keep your littles clear of the fountain, but, otherwise, let them frolic amid the culture on the enormous lawn. You get a craft cocktail and points for sort-of taking them to a museum. Everybody wins.
Halcyon: This East Village newbie has plenty of caffeinated beverages for the sleepiest of parents, as well as creative cocktails for the crankiest. An outdoor fire pit, big Adirondack chairs and s'mores you can roast right at your table make this a hip and fun hangout no matter what your age.
Mamma Mia: Lime-green walls and an open, airy dining room mean your kid's noise will just add extra music to the family-friendly atmosphere at this Pacific Beach eatery (but let's still practice our inside voices—Mama has a headache). Delicious pizza and pasta is a cut above your standard cheese-and-sauce joint, but will still please even the pickiest little palates. Bonus: It's nowhere near the P.B. bar scene, but it is a quick drive to Mr. Frostie for a cone if everyone behaves. And everyone is going to behave, right?!
Bo-beau Kitchen & Garden: A big ol' school bus means "families welcome" at the Cohns' La Mesa outpost. Kids are encouraged to climb all over the bus and work up an appetite. Even veggie-phobes might be lured to the dark (green) side by Bo-beau's famous crispy Brussels sprouts with pancetta and Parmesan. This is a perfect place to start teaching your little one about the wonderful world of food. Flatbreads and creative mocktails (rose petals in your Sprite?) will delight the more enthusiastic kiddos.
Tony's Jacal: Rare is the wee one who won't eat something if it's at least covered in cheese, and at this family-owned Solana Beach legend, you've got plenty of delicious Mexican dishes to choose from. Quiet the noisiest of little chatterboxes with the Queso Fundido, and if that doesn't delight them enough, park your tot in front of the big aviary filled with twittering canaries.
Bull Taco: If you have a water baby, then this beachside taco spot in Cardiff-by-the-Sea is for you. Bull Taco has multiple North County locations, but this original snack shack serves the San Elijo State Beach campgrounds. Don't fret if you don't have a coveted camping spot; park across the street and stroll back over, taking a moment to show your kids The Kook and whatever goofy get-up he's suffering that day. Grab a taco or five and head down the staircase to the sand for the ultimate San Diego picnic.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens: The brassy leader of the pack (just ask them) in the local beer scene, Stone is also a prime dad hangout (yes, I know, us moms like beer, too). Both locations—Escondido and Liberty Station—boast plenty of garden space to run around, plus summertime film screenings and an all-around welcoming vibe. Having kids may drive you to drink, so you should drink well.
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