As determined by the tiniest food critics
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.