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Where to Take the Kids

The other night, I found myself, as I often do, headed home from work, having just picked up my boys from summer camp and preschool—paralyzed at the thought of cooking dinner (and more so, cleaning up after), and grateful that so many great places to dine with kids are located so close to my house in Bernal Heights.

The downsides of being a parent in the city include things like lack of big yards to send your boys that are beating each other with plastic baseball bats out to play in (telling them to “Get lost!” in a 750 square foot apartment is easier said than done). The upsides include the fact that kid-friendly, but cool, restaurants abound. You never have to even think about caving into fast food, or the equivalent of an Applebee’s.

One of my favorite spots for this cool/kid combo is Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack, which is where the boys and I found ourselves ordering spaghetti and meatballs, plus a Caesar salad (which they prefer to eat with their fingers—I say let kids eat vegetables with their hands if it’s going to be more tempting for them) and a side of green beans tossed with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes (call me crazy, but I really think sun-dried tomatoes are on their way back in vogue).


Pesto green beans with a side of
kid-friendly spag and meatballs.

The cool factor at Emmy’s comes from the music (Pet Shop Boys, Rolling Stones); the vibe (a little retro, a lot hipster, with its corrugated metal ceiling and wonky booths with tables covered in sparkly green plastic); a decent wine selection (with generous pours) and—more than anything—the service. Nice ambiance and food is all good, but it’s a kid-friendly server that will make your night. She got it: Crayons? Check. Paper? Check. Extra napkins? Check. Food delivered all at once and fast? Check. Bill? Coming right up. The food at Emmy’s is solid too. I really liked my green beans and the kids demolished the salad. Of course, Emmy’s has nailed their spaghetti. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s cheap and it’s tasty. (Plus, $5.50 gets you a heaping kid’s portion, including a meatball the size of my three year old’s head.)

Other spots near my house that offer the same fine services: Liberty Café (Thursday through Saturday they open their back wine bar and serve a limited menu of pizza, salad and the like—and it’s always almost empty so kids can move around); Joe's Cable Car (not quite as urban cool, but for old-fashioned burgers you can't beat it—and they hand out balloons), Pauline’s Pizza (crayons are already on the table when you arrive) and St. Francis Fountain (2801 24th St., 415-826-4200) for Americana meets the Mission.

The other day, I went through a drive-through with my kids in the car—and my six year old was like, “Mama, what is this?” I realized for the first time that he didn’t even know what a drive-through was. Sure, I sometimes secretly yearn for some of the convenience of surburbia, but right then, I felt a smug little surge of civic pride.