If it’s been more than a year since you set foot in a restaurant that doesn’t offer crayons maybe it’s time to treat yourself, and your kids, to dinner at a more upscale restaurant. The children can observe polite behavior, and show off being polite in return. And fortunately, there are several places in the Bay Area that serve world-class food while welcoming families, graciously incorporating children into the mix.
Many kids will rise to the occasion, but you can make it a more relaxed experience for everyone by following a few tips. Try to get there early; waiters will have more flexibility, and there will be fewer patrons, so your child’s fidgeting, or chatter, will be less likely to bother another guest. Try to get your child to clean up—no holes in pants, shirt with collar, hair brushed—and don’t go when they are likely to have a meltdown. It’s best not to take a child in on a completely empty stomach. Finally, try to get in and out in less than an hour. Keep in mind that even the most well-behaved 4 year old will end up under the table at some point, and remember to keep a sense of humor about it.
These restaurants below, while not catering to children per se, all have a tolerant attitude toward them and are willing to work with you and your kids. The list is composed of many well-established, “classic” Bay Area restaurants—partly because a trendy hotspot isn’t as likely to welcome a wee one. The list also leans heavily toward restaurants with a Mediterranean flair, because that culture tends to be fairly inclusive of children at the dinner table, and offers food that is not too spicy for younger palates.
Lulu San Francisco
Beautifully high-ceilinged and warmed by a brick oven, Lulu broke all the rules when it first opened, and has settled into a comfortable restaurant that produces well roasted and wood-fired Mediterranean-style food. It’s noisy and pleasantly chaotic, so children fit right in. Order a thin-crust cheese pizza as soon as you sit down, and your kids will be happily munching away long before they get cranky. Grown-ups will find treats on the cocktail menu, as well as ones to share with the kiddos on the dessert menu. Bonus: it is a block away from the playground at Moscone Center, so your littles can run around like banshees afterwards.
Zuni San Francisco
Long considered one of the “must-visit” restaurants in San Francisco, Zuni Café serves relaxed California cuisine from a brick oven, and excellent desserts. The vibe is hip and sleek, but laid-back enough for a child. Their current pastry chef is dynamite and you can’t go wrong with their classic Caesar or their burgers. Don’t order the roasted chicken if you are in a rush, though, it takes 40 minutes. There is a great art supply store, Flax, across the street where you both can wander happily when you are done.
Chez Panisse Cafe Berkeley
The Grande Dame of Bay Area restaurants and birthplace of the current, local-sourced, slow-food movement, Chez Panisse retains its scrupulously high standards for consistently delicious, exquisitely seasoned food. The upstairs café is warm and friendly and the staff are open to children. This is a place that encourages you to linger, so don’t plan to be out in an hour. Lunch is quicker and may be a better option for littles.
This fusion restaurant keeps winning awards, and for good reason. The food is local, the space is warmly modern and the menu is creative, offering both vegetarian and meat dishes with interesting flavor combinations. Your best bet is to go for brunch, so you can order a plain egg, bacon and toast for your monkey—but go early before the crowds descend. The dinner menu probably won’t appeal to most kids, especially those who turn their noses up at vegetables, but it’s nearly worth the hassle for a chance to savor the vegetarian charcuterie platter.
Pampas Palo Alto
Pampas’ waitstaff delivers skewered meats, Brazilian-style, to your table where they slice long strips of sirloin, lamb, pork or bacon-wrapped chicken onto your plate as you sip a sweet-and-sour Caipirhina. The salad bar has fresh fruit and crisp salads to offset the meats, and the children’s menu includes a junior version of the rodizio—as the traveling meat skewers are called—as well as the more traditional buttered noodles. Get there early, and take advantage of their half-price lounge menu and $5 cocktails.
Order the oven-baked cheese pizza for your child before you sit down, and then sink back into the plush leather banquettes, revel in the warm, sophisticated atmosphere, and peruse the lovely, long wine menu. You’ll probably get all of 3 minutes of intense pleasure before your kiddo needs something, but that’s three minutes more than you’d have had if you’d stayed home, right? If you’re a fan of Northern Italian cuisine with a seafood emphasis, Poggio’s a great choice.
The Left Bank Larkspur
Do yourself a favor, and take your kids here. The atmosphere is lively and upscale and the staff welcomes entire families. They do have a children’s menu, and the adult food can be hit or miss, but the Nicoise salad is always reliably delish. Order a bright-red pomegranate lemonade for your child, and watch her eyes grow round with delight.
Looking for more great options around the Bay Area? Check out some of our other suggestions for dining around town with kids!
Murray Circle in Sausalito
Axis in Potrero Hill
Social Kitchen in the Inner Sunset
The Little Gourmet in Napa
Where do you get your fine dining fix with little ones in tow? Let us know in the comments below!