By Andy Hinds | SDUN Guest Columnist
As I mentioned in my last column here, and as goes without saying for most Uptownians, one of the great assets of our area is the wonderful variety of neighborhood restaurants. From massive fish burritos for five bucks to white tablecloths and bay views, you can get pretty much whatever you crave around here, including traditional cooking from different countries.
Before having kids, my wife and I loved trying new restaurants in the area when they opened, and frequenting our handful of go-to eateries. When our twin girls were born in 2009, it became a little tough to stay abreast of the food scene. We were limited to places that had sufficient floor space for car seats or strollers, and were noisy enough that a screaming infant wouldn’t attract much attention. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to enjoy eating out again before the kids were in high school.
Once the girls got old enough to feed themselves without causing too much environmental damage, however, we eventually resumed visiting restaurants with about the same frequency as before.
We just do it differently now. In the old days, we would rarely eat before 8:30. Now, we’re competing for tables with the early-bird special crowd.
Lunches have become a very popular option for us. While we haven’t abandoned the hip spots that feature ingredients you only pretend to be familiar with, one key feature we look for nowadays is a casual atmosphere. Thankfully, it’s pretty hard to find a restaurant in these parts that is not casual.
What follows is a short list of some of our favorite kid-friendly restaurants in Uptown. It is by no means meant to be exhaustive, and there are other places we go just as often which are fine for children even if they’re not especially kid-centric. What the restaurants below have in common is the right combination of food that keeps kids and parents happy; an environment that occupies the kids in ways that doesn’t annoy other patrons or staff; and in ideally a good beer or wine list.
Blind Lady Ale House – 3416 Adams Ave., Normal Heights
The specifics on the menu change frequently, but regularly consist of pizza, with some salads and appetizers. The food is mostly organic, locally sourced and reasonably priced. I usually get my kids whatever is closest to a classic pepperoni pizza, since that’s their passion; and I feel good about putting high quality food in their bellies. My kids might be a little unusual in this respect, but they also help me eat the great seasonal salads that often feature fresh fruit and always a variety of greens (“leaves,” my kids call them.)
The food at Blind Lady is always tasty, but the real draws for my stay-at-home dad meet-up group, other parent-friends and myself, is the large space that allows for free-ranging your kids, the indestructible décor and the great beer selection. Their ever-changing beer list and their seriousness about the malted beverage can be intimidating, but it’s the kind of challenge that’s worth undertaking.
Aside from late at night, there are almost always kids in here, running around or playing with the games and crayons the servers provide, so you need never worry that another patron is focusing their resentment on you alone.
Paesano Italian Food – 3647 30th St., North Park
My wife and I didn’t eat here very often before we had kids, probably because we didn’t find anything very exciting about it. Now I love it for just that reason. In the heart of the hipster corridor, it stands out as being an old-fashioned family-owned (since 1967) restaurant with absolutely no pretension.
The food is rock solid. I’ve never had a meal here that I didn’t enjoy, and some of the specials have far exceeded my expectations. Their chicken piccata is as good as any I’ve had for twice the price in restaurants with snooty waiters. The menu is standard Italian fare, the portions are generous, there are a couple good beers on tap and the wine list offers plenty of bottles whose price tag won’t taint their contents.
A lot of families come here, and there are often parties going on in the back half of the restaurant. The staff takes the shenanigans and spillage in stride, and the childless patrons seem to find our kids’ antics cute—so far, anyway.
Bronx Pizza – 111 Washington St., Hillcrest
I don’t need to tell you about Bronx Pizza. You already know it’s the best pizza place in town, unless you’re one of those Philistines who don’t appreciate New York-style pizza.
Bronx Pizza is an outlier on this list because it doesn’t offer adult beverages in a kid-friendly setting, but my kids and I are in agreement that the pizza is just so good that it makes up for the absence of daddy juice. This is a bare bones operation with a tiny kitchen, Spartan menu, and friendly (if a bit gruff, for that genuine New York feel) service.
There’s nothing about this place designed to attract kids, except for the presence of pizza; but somehow, it has enchanted my children. They love the glass case from which they can select their slices, the ramp between the two levels, which they find great for stomping up and down on, and the hundreds of pictures of boxers on the walls. They ask me, “Who’s that guy, Daddy?” “What’s he doing?” “Is he boxing?” “What’s he saying?” Most of all, they love to eat all the pepperoni off of their gigantic slices and then spend the next half hour nibbling away at the crust until the last crumb is gone.
Station Tavern & Burgers – 2204 Fern St., South Park
I’m constantly amazed that every neighborhood doesn’t have something that at least tries to be like Station Tavern, a kid-and-pet-friendly burger joint with a full bar, ample beer selection and an outdoor play structure. How are there not thirty of these in San Diego?
Although I think Station Tavern could thrive anywhere, it’s perhaps uniquely suited to South Park, with its large contingent of hip parents. The site itself has won design awards for its use of space, aesthetics and sustainability. The food is consistently good, with some standout items like tater tots and sweet potato fries; and the menu reflects that even kids and vegetarians are considered customers worth pleasing.
Station Tavern has hit upon a magical combination of elements that attracts parents and non-parents alike, and draws not only locals, but also people from all over the county as well. Every parent I know loves this place. And why wouldn’t they? Kids can socialize with their peers while their parents do the same. It’s like an old-timey church picnic or something, except with more tattoos and beer.
What are some other kid-friendly uptown restaurants you like? Come join the conversation on our Facebook page ( facebook.com/pages/San-Diego-Uptown-News/242049585857165 and give us a “like” while you’re there). I’m not just asking to be polite. I need some more places to eat.