Little ones on a garden tour at The Plot in Oceanside. Image courtesy of The Plot.

Going out to eat with little kids can introduce them to new foods and flavors as well as give you a break from cooking. It can also be terrifying. Instead of clinging to the security blanket of heavily processed, salted, and fried foods that make up the bulk of kids' menus, look to local restaurants that are raising the bar with fresh and flavorful options for tiny humans and their parents. 

If more than half of your meals in the past week have consisted of food your kid has thrown on the kitchen floor, grab your diaper bag. These family-friendly dining establishments will provide you with a delicious alternative to discarded Cheerios while also whipping up thoughtful kid-friendly meals that will have you both drooling. Here are San Diego’s best restaurants for toddling food critics—and their parents—who deserve a refreshment and an evening off from doing the dishes. 


Seasonal, chef-driven specials on the kid’s menu? AVANT at the Rancho Bernardo Inn wows their smallest diners with an exceptional children’s menu and kid-specific specials created by chef de cuisine Sergio Jimenez. The kid’s menu revolves around specials like seared local whitefish with corn and squash blossom harvested from the chef's garden at the Inn. Families can take a self-guided tour of the garden and possibly catch sight of the chefs collecting produce for that night’s dinner in the late afternoon. 

Del’s Hideout

While many restaurants have games and activities for older kids, Del’s Hideout in Del Cerro has San Diego’s best play area for toddlers and little ones. The spacious play space in the shaded outdoor area is beloved by families. In addition to offering high chairs in two heights (bar and table heights), they also provide booster seats and seat slings for car carriers. The Texas-style barbeque offerings are cooked low and slow, making the meat tender enough for little ones to eat. 

Pro tip: I’m not sure if it's a coincidence or genius that Kids Eat Free Wednesdays and Wine Wednesdays happen to fall on the same day, but no one is complaining. For Kids Eat Free Wednesdays, get a free kids meal (like the kids pulled pork sandwich) with the purchase of a full-price adult entrée valued at $14 or more. 

The Plot's co-owner, Jessica Waite and kiddos checking fresh strawberries. Image courtesy of The Plot.
The Plot

You don’t have to be raising your kids vegan to introduce them to plant-based food at The Plot. The kids' menu even has sushi on offer, though little ones will also love items off the adult menu, like the sweet potato gnocchi and taköyaki. Even better, children can tour The Plot Garden behind the restaurant to see how their food is grown and make the connection from farm to fork—or fingers, in their case.

Brine Box

The newest concept by Jessica and Davin Waite has recently opened on the iconic Oceanside Pier. Brine Box’s seaside snacks are creative versions of kid-friendly classics like fish and chips. Little ones can munch on sustainable seafood while surrounded by the ocean, with options changing seasonally and sourced from local purveyors like fishmonger Tommy Gomes of Tunaville Market

Wear the kiddos out with a walk down the Oceanside Pier and fill them up with Brine Box fish and chips. Image by Hannah Guthman courtesy of Brine Box.
Herb & Wood

Pull a high chair up to a lush booth in the outdoor dining area for an upscale family dining experience at Herb & Wood. While there is no dedicated kids menu, little ones can explore new flavors in dishes like the strawberry and beet salad or the oxtail gnocchi with fresh herbs from Stehly Farms. Executive chef Carlos Anthony is passionate about sharing his love for food with the next generation and puts it into practice with Herb & Wood’s partnership with Berry Good Food. They support the nonprofit’s focus on programs around food security and food education through a series of interactive culinary workshops at schools around San Diego.

Pro tip: Make a 5:30pm reservation to join other families in the dining room and take advantage of the nearby row of 30-minute parking (where the time restriction ends at 6pm) to beat the challenge of parking in busy Little Italy. 

If there's one thing kiddos enjoy, it's eating finger foods that will make an absolute mess—like bites of this delicious and healthy beet salad from Herb & Wood. Image by Michelle Stansbury.
Fish Shop

At the Fish Shop, point your little ones to the nutritious rice bowl topped with fish and veggies on the kid’s menu. The red snapper option is sourced from local seafood wholesalers like Pacific Shellfish and San Diego Seafood. At the Pacific Beach and Encinitas locations, Your tots will enjoy seeing the fish case where they can help pick out fresh catch to take home and cook. 

Crack Shack

What do you get when you take fine dining ingredients and put them on a casual patio with counter service and cornhole? Crack Shack’s original location leveraged the genius happening next door at Juniper & Ivy to create a completely different concept focused on fried chicken, sourcing top-notch ingredients like juicy Jidori chicken from their sister restaurant. If you have older kids, they can play lawn games while you sip a local beer in the San Diego sunshine. 

Pro tip: If you don’t mind your kids getting a little messy check out the sauce bar—all made in-house from scratch.

Tiny food critic's discerning opinion: 10/10 would eat at all of these places again. Image by Michelle Stansbury.

Additional spots of note

  • City Tacos recently opened a seventh location, dubbed the OB Playground, a 10,000-square-foot concept in Ocean Beach that offers plenty of space for kids to get their wiggles out. A gated dog park means your fur babies can come and play, too.
  • Liberty Station’s Officine Buona Forchetta has an adjacent playground so your school-aged kids can go wild while you sit on the back patio. 
  • Next door to Balboa Park’s Panama 66 is the Sculpture Garden, a grassy nook where younger diners can toddle and tumble. Be cautious though—some rambunctious kiddos will be inclined to try to climb the sculpture or take a dip in the water feature. Beverages purchased from the Panama 66 restaurant can be consumed in the Sculpture Garden but no food is allowed. If you opt to dine in, the food at Panama 66 is thoughtful and well-executed.
  • The Lullabar isn’t exactly a restaurant, though the on-site Wellness Cafe does serve up nutritious options in partnership with Fresh Creations San Diego. What sets Lullabar apart is the on-site childcare so you can have me time—either at their nail salon, in one of their scheduled workshops, or just to read a book. If your idea of the perfect meal with your little one involves a couple of hours of alone time afterward, you can book a two-hour slot at their play gym for your child 16 months to 6 years old for a $30 childcare fee.
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About the Contributor
Michelle Stansbury
Michelle Stansbury is a food enthusiast and the founder of Eat, Drink, Be SD, sharing the best restaurants, bars, and happenings in San Diego. Misuse of the word "literally" drives her figuratively insane.