Setting a healthy example for your children is important, but every once in a while, you just might crave something deliciously bad for you. As long as you explain the maxim “all things in moderation  to your kids, they will understand the joys of the occasional treat. Below are a few recommendations for some local soul food joints sure to make your health-nut friends shudder, but you can tell them to kiss your grits!

Before you go: Fair warning: on weekends or early mornings, there is often a wait to dine at these popular diners. You should bring sippy cups, snacks, and books to entertain and distract while you wait or have a friend/partner wait in line while you walk around the neighborhood with the kids.

Brenda’s French Soul Food
Miss Brenda sure knows how to fry it up in a pan. This spot is all the rage and patrons wait in line around the block on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It’s probably better to take your children on a weekday. On Wednesday afternoons, they offer a shorter list of menu options, but it’s the big easy gettin’ a table. The cornmeal-fried shrimp, oyster, or catfish po’boy with chipotle remoulade on a toasted French roll crunches with salty satisfying goodness. Chase it with free refills of the sweet watermelon house tea. The beignets reign supreme as the house specialty here (choose from savory: crawfish, or sweet: chocolate or granny smith apple). For a sampling of each kind, order a Beignet Flight. More sophisticated palates will not want to miss the smoked pork rillettes with watermelon pickles, creole mustard, and croutons. It’s still fun to try for kids who crave more than fluffy buttermilk pancakes. Plentiful affordable side dishes abound on both the lunch and dinner menus. Open Sunday through Tuesday from 8:00 am – 3:00 pm and Wednesday through Saturday from 8:00 am – 10:00 pm. Dinner service begins at 5:00 pm, afternoon menu from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm, and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.

652 Polk Street
San Francisco, Ca
415-345-8100
Online: frenchsoulfood.com

Home of Chicken and Waffles
An offshoot of the famous Roscoe’s in Los Angeles, HOCAW offers an enormous menu and very friendly and accommodating service. Welcome to a diner with the entire menu (named after the owner’s family members) displayed on a mural of portraits holding their namesake dishes above the bar. You’ll tap your toes and snap your fingers to Sixties Motown and soul classics playing in the background. Daily lunch specials and a slew of fried chicken and waffle combinations (with grits, sausage patties, fries or potato salad or yams) may make it hard to choose. With two bay area locations in Oakland’s Jack London Square (children will squeal with delight while watching the trains chug by) and a new restaurant in Walnut Creek, their tagline “soul food at its best” promises not to disappoint. Open Monday through Wednesday from 10:00 am – 12:00 am, Thursday 10:00 am – 1:00 am, Friday through Saturday from 10:00 am – 4:00 am, and Sunday from 9:00 am – 12:00 am.

444 Embarcadero West
Oakland, Ca
510-836-4446
Online: homeofchickenandwaffles.com

The Front Porch
A hipster hang-out in southern Mission, the Front Porch seems dark at first, but the friendly staff is bright and helpful. If your children are named Scout or Tallulah, you’ll feel right at home drinking beer on their front patio. The kids menu features items like fried shrimp and hush puppies, grilled cheese, “happy cow” cheeseburger, and baked mac and cheese—all reasonably priced. Crayons and a maze with Mr. T trying to find the chickens on the menu will amuse kids. We pity the foolish chickens when he makes his way to the finish. Adults will savor the spicy shrimp and grits with bacon, mushrooms, and garlic and light, tasty appetizers like blue crab fritters with creole remoulade. Only the very brave will attempt the fried pickles with tabasco aioli. Will you be so bold? Open Monday through Tuesday from 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm, Wednesday through Friday from 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm and 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm, Saturday from 10:00 am – 2:30 pm and 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm, and Sunday from 10:00 am – 2:30 pm and 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm.

65a 29th Street
San Francisco, Ca
415-695-7800
Online: homeofchickenandwaffles.com

Brown Sugar Kitchen
Located in an industrial neighborhood in west Oakland, you might have overlooked Brown Sugar Kitchen, but once you walk into the cheerful dining room, you’ll feel welcome and hungry. Celeb chef Tanya Holland explains her soul food philosophy and her parents’ influence on her cooking in this short video. Kids can safely perch on a counter stool to enjoy watching the cooks hard at work in the kitchen. Breakfast rules here. The buttermilk fried chicken and fluffy cornmeal waffles served with apple cider syrup and brown sugar butter is comfort food at its very best. Pulled BBQ pork sandwiches are mammoth served with spicy cabbage slaw. If you arrive after 11:30 am breakfast is out, but side items for children like mac and cheese with breadcrumbs, smoked mashed yams, and cast iron skillet cornbread served with the famous brown sugar butter are sure to please. Don’t forget to check out the scrumptious baked goods, too. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 7:00 am – 3:00 pm and Sunday from 8:00 am – 3:00 pm.

2534 Mandela Parkway
Oakland, Ca
510-839-7685
Online: brownsugarkitchen.com

Souley Vegan
Who knew that vegan soul food could stand up to the others on our list? Well, the plates are piled high at Souley Vegan, and they come back to the kitchen without a trace of food left on them. The mac n’ cheese is absolutely delicious and rich, as is the toasty crispy burger. The overwhelming flavors almost make you forget that the food is all 100% vegan. With sides like mashed potatoes, BBQ tofu, and biscuits n’ gravy, you’ll arrive hungry and leave happy. Open Tuesday – Saturday 11:00 am – 9:00 pm.

301 Broadway
Oakland, Ca
510-922-1615
Online: souleyvegan.com

Other local soul food restaurants worthy of honorable mention: Bakesale Betty, Nellie’s Soul Food, and Farmer Brown.

Where do you take your kids for a little soul food indulgence? Which dish is your little ones’ favorite?

— Nicki Richesin

photo credit: Brenda’s French Soul Food facebook page, Home of Chicken and Waffles facebook page, Christine L., Brown Sugar Kitchen facebook page, Souley Vegan facebook page