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10 Hip and Kid-Friendly Restaurants in San Diego

Savor the fresh flavors of San Diego cuisine, from chic restaurants to 1950s diners.

 

Fresh, high-quality ingredients are a passion with San Diego chefs, which makes finding superior dining in the city a cinch. And for those of us who travel with our families, the city offers hundreds of kid-friendly dining experiences that will keep children happy and satisfy discerning parents. Below is a list of my family’s top 10 favorites; I’ve indicated the minimum age for each restaurant, but note that all restaurants mentioned are also appropriate for older kids and for adults.

Price Guide:
$    Inexpensive (entrees under $10)
$$    Moderate (entrees under $15)
$$$    Expensive (entrees $15 or more)

Babies and Older

1.    Café 222 ($): Chandeliers fashioned from teacups and paintings of sunny-side-up eggs on the concrete floor let kids and their parents know this downtown breakfast diner is going to be fun and relaxed. Try the Green Eggs and Spam (a scramble with spinach and the mysterious canned meat) or my daughter’s favorite: oversized peanut butter-and-banana-stuffed French toast, a sticky mix of sweet and salty. Be forewarned: Portions are huge. Tel. 619-236-9902; 222 Island Ave. www.cafe222.com

2.    Corvette Diner ($$): If the rocking 1950s music and miles of neon in this Hillcrest establishment (just north of downtown) don’t grab your attention, the vintage Corvette parked smack in the middle of the dining room will. Sassy waitresses dressed in poodle skirts will entertain kids by sticking straws in their hair and throwing bubblegum at their parents. The well-priced comfort food is secondary to the entertainment, but the fried pickle appetizer and blue-plate specials like meatloaf are tasty. Tel. 619-542-1476; 3946 Fifth Ave. www.cohnrestaurants.com

3.    Filippi’s Pizza Grotto ($): This family-owned restaurant has been an institution in the Little Italy section of downtown since the 1950s. Walk through the picturesque Italian deli to reach the traditional dining room, adorned with red-and-white checked tablecloths and dim lighting. The amazing aromas of garlic and fresh sauce coming from the kitchen are nearly impossible to bear on an empty stomach. My dad brought me to Filippi’s for spicy pepperoni pizza when I was a very young girl; these days my own daughter prefers the vegetarian pie, which is piled high with cheese, mushrooms, peppers and onions. Tel. 619-232-5094; 1747 India St.

4.    Rubios ($): To truly understand the Baja-Mex influence on San Diego cuisine, you have to try a fish taco. Rubios—the local chain that brought the delicacy to SoCal—serves up the very best of this inexpensive signature food: a piece of mild fried fish wrapped in a corn tortilla and smothered in tangy white sauce and shredded cabbage. Add chipotle sauce and a squeeze of lime and you’re good to go. The atmosphere is fast-food casual and the service is speedy, so hungry little ones won’t grow impatient. Kids’ meals offer a churro (Mexican donut) for dessert and fun toys like surfboard-shaped key rings. Locations throughout San Diego. www.rubios.com

8 Years and Older

5.    El Indio ($$): This unfussy Mexican café near Old Town has been attracting locals since 1940, and the kid-friendly atmosphere and low prices make it a favorite with families. Children in my family are addicted to the house-made chips and guacamole as well as the hand-crafted pork tamales, served in a corn husk. Try the peach burrito for a sweet treat. Tel. 619-299-0333; 3695 India St. www.el-indio.com

6.    Maryjane’s Coffeeshop ($$): Part of the newly opened Hard Rock Hotel, just across from the downtown convention center, Maryjane’s is a retro-hip diner open from breakfast through the wee hours. Booths have individual TV sets that show streaming videos of classic sit-coms and vintage rock videos. When I visited the restaurant last month with my daughter’s dance class, a half dozen teenage ballerinas made short order of the enormous Angus burgers—all the while asking, “Who is David Cassidy?” as reruns of The Partridge Family played in the background. Tel. 866-751-7625; 207 Fifth Ave.

7.    Rama ($$$): This one-time firehouse has been transformed into an upscale, tranquil Thai dining establishment, with floating flowers on each table and a golden mesh curtain providing privacy for each booth. A stone weeping wall works together with world music to drown out the noise from fellow diners. Soup lovers should not miss the Tom Kha, a coconut lemon grass broth prepared with tofu, chicken or shrimp and brought to the table steaming hot in a family-sized tureen. My daughter also adores the fried rice, served in a hollowed-out pineapple. Tel. 619-501-8424; 327 Fourth Ave. www.ramarestaurant.com

Teenagers and Older

8.    Monsoon ($$$): Indian food is a healthy choice for children of all ages because so much of the food is vegetarian; my daughter eats spinach only in the form of sag, a curried version of the vegetable. Most teenagers will appreciate the complex spices of the dishes at this restaurant (although the chef will prepare most recipes as mild—or as hot—as you want them). Ask for a table near the wall of rain that runs through the middle of the dining room, a clever allegory that drowns out the noisy street beyond. Tel. 619-234-5555; 729 Fourth Ave. www.monsoonrestaurant.com

9.    The Oceanaire Seafood Room ($$$): This extremely popular seafood restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter has a cool east coast vibe that teenagers will appreciate (and be welcomed into). Portions are gargantuan and overwhelm even adolescent appetites; the small side of hash browns can easily feed a family of six, and the Oysters Rockefeller appetizer (the best I’ve ever had) could easily be a complete meal. For a real treat, order the baked Alaska, theatrically flamed at tableside. Fans of TV’s Top Chef might get a chance to say hello to handsome celebrity chef Brian Malarkey. Tel. 619-858-2277; 400 J St. www.theoceanaire.com

10.    Red Pearl ($$$): Pulsing music, dim lighting and the clublike atmosphere of this chic Chinese restaurant will trick teenagers into believing they are entering a club (and, in fact, the bar up front does a brisk business on weekends). Impeccably prepared Pan-Asian food like chicken-ginger pot stickers and Meyer lemon and honey chicken are served oversized—perfect for sharing family style. Don’t expect fortune cookies for dessert at this upscale establishment: A sweet tooth of any age will fall for the chocolate soufflé served with passion fruit sorbet. Tel. 619-231-1100; 440 J St.www.redpearlkitchen.com


Destinations: San Diego

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Eat


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