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Kid-Friendly Dining: The Dilemma

Here’s my dilemma: As a parent, I want my kids to experience all sorts of food at all sorts of restaurants—taquerias to ramen joints to the likes of Zuni. Sure, it would be easier to stay at home and eat Annie’s, but what’s the point of living in SF if they don’t get a taste of it? (Admittedly, I have visions of them growing up worldly and cool, telling tales of their groovy, urban mom who took them out on the town and now they appreciate everything from kim chee to menudo to croquettes because of it. Thanks, Mom. We’re forever indebted to you.)

My vision is somewhat ambitious. Although I hear stories of Parisian children sitting still, patiently sipping their chocolat chaud while the adults drink wine, smoke and chat amongst themselves, my boys are not French and neither am I. They are ages 3 and 6, American, and they think it’s great fun to run, scream, throw paper airplanes, sit on the floor, lick things off the table and blow bubbles in their milk. I like to think they have a joie de vivre.

But unless you’re dining at Cable Car Joe’s—or the zoo—this behavior, understandably, isn’t considered socially acceptable. So, we have rules—rules they have to repeat back to me when we enter a restaurant: No running, no screaming, no crawling on the floor, no pig impressions. I’m not saying these rules are always followed without some serious threats, but they’re getting better the more we practice. We also go as early as possible: Say, the family-hour of 5:30 when the restaurant is just opening.


Moss and Silas get a taste of the East Coast at Anchor & Hope.

And when a restaurateur or host greets us as if they’re actually happy to see us coming, it makes me want to embrace them. This happened the other night when I took them to Anchor & Hope, the latest from the Town Hall guys. Admittedly it was a restaurant opening, but co-owner and front-of-the-house man Doug Washington, has three kids himself, so he was beyond accommodating. It was apple juice all around, Moss got tours of the kitchen and Silas, my six-year-old, wolfed down a bunch of fried clams, which was adventurous for him. My boys were so thrilled by it all too. They felt very grown-up.

Emboldened, last night I took them to Sebo (517 Hayes St., 415-864-2122) for their Sunday “family night” (a fantastic izakaya menu, with rustic Japanese dishes versus their usual sushi). Co-owner Michael Black has kids too, so beginner chopsticks were offered, the food came quickly and no one seemed to mind that the boys played in the entryway while I finished up my delicious dinner with my neighbor George who had graciously accompanied me. (As a single parent, I only bring my kids out by myself to taquerias where the food is served immediately. I’m only so bold.)

This made me realize that it takes a parent to know a parent and it might be best to attempt fine(er) dining with children at places where the owners and chefs have little kids themselves. For this, I recommend Luella, Dosa, Bocadillos, Jardinière, Delfina, Kokkari, Slanted Door and Laiola. As long as you’re respectful of the fact that the diners around you might not love your kids as much as you do—maybe help sweep up some of the inevitable rubble on the floor—I think you can trust that you’ll be welcome there. And hopefully, you’ll be on your way to raising little gourmands who’ll thank you when they’re all grown up.