For every super hip, slightly snobby, incredibly expensive restaurant in Los Angeles (and let's face it, there are a lot of them in this town), there is happily the counterpart in even larger numbers. By that we mean family-friendly restaurants, casual places that welcome kids, places with menus that won't break the bank, but that still know how to make top-notch fare. Many, like the recently opened Holy Cow BBQ in Santa Monica, as well as Canter's Deli, Islands, Dave & Buster's, El Segundo Fish Company, and Slater's 50/50, offer special menus just for the kids. And it isn't just the menus that draw families to our favorite places around the city, for the staff at these family-friendly restaurants genuinely seem to like children and don't mind that occasionally things might turn a bit loud and boisterous. Some of our picks are old favorites (Du-par's and Canter's Deli, for example), tried and true places that have been popular with families for what seems like forever, while others are newcomers who have proven from the very start that they are perfectly happy to hear the pitter patter of little feet heading in for a favorite bite to eat, be it a taco, a burger, a pancake or even a big plate of free-range chicken shawarma (you'll find that one at Urban Garden Lebanese Kitchen).
Holy Cow BBQ
Holy Cow BBQ opened in September 2014 and the stampede to Santa Monica began. From the same team that created Messhall Kitchen in Los Feliz, this time out Rob Serritella and his talented chefs are all about slow-smoked goodness. They start with prime cuts of meat and then smoke the daylights out of them, resulting in pulled pork, baby-back ribs, tri-tip and brisket that simply melts in your mouth. Add on the delicious sauces (we particularly love the tangy "yellow" sauce that goes with the pulled pork) they create in house and you've got a terrific taste sensation. They'll serve up traditional sides like mac and cheese or collard greens; and if there's a vegetarian in the crowd, quinoa, kale or other crunchy good salads. Save room for the dessert and pick the Peach Crumb, a not-too-sweet version of a cobbler. It's wonderful, as is the whole easygoing, casual vibe at Holy Cow BBQ. (310-883-6COW)
With ten outposts in the Los Angeles area, Islands is a staple of Southern California's casual dining scene. The surfer vibe is a part of all the eateries, especially in Marina del Rey, where the Islands is just a few short steps to the ocean. Families love the easy atmosphere that welcomes kids of all ages; they're known as "Gremmies," which is surfer slang for a young, inexperienced wave rider. With a reasonably priced menu that focuses on burgers, tacos and salads, Islands has something for everyone in the family; and it isn't a bad place to watch the ballgame, either, in its convivial bar. Don't miss their famous French fries! (310-822-3939)
El Segundo Fish Company
El Segundo Fish Company is a cool little fish joint that makes it easy for the family to all find something to love. From the fried platters of fish and chips, popcorn shrimp or calamari to their justifiably famous tacos made from blackened Ahi tuna, chicken, mahi mahi, etc., this place really knows how to keep everyone coming back for more. Plus, their daily specials are a real steal, especially on Wednesdays, when one child eats for free with every adult entree purchased. And, proving that the folks at El Segundo Fish Company really want the whole family to come on in, they also offer a "Senior Special Combo for 2" every day from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., when those 60 and over can get two fish n' chips specials plus drinks for $9.95. (310-441-2483)
It doesn't matter what time of day or night you are hungry, Du-par's is open and ready to feed you. Since 1938, this homey diner has been satisfying just about any craving you could have, be it a hearty breakfast of fresh eggs, pancakes, French toast or one of their famous blue-plate specials. For lunch or dinner, Du-par's offers a wide range of sandwiches (BLT, Monte Cristo, French dip, Reuben, to name a few), salads, appetizers and entrees. Be sure to save room for a piece of their famous homemade pie, with more than 10 choices baked daily right at the restaurant. (323-933-8446)
Urban Garden Lebanese Kitchen
Serving up locally sourced and sustainable produce whenever possible, Urban Garden Lebanese Kitchen is a flavorful place that knows how to cook up authentic Middle Eastern food that even the kids will love. There's plenty of hummus dishes, as well as babaganoush (fire-roasted eggplant), lamb and feta meatballs and even a free-range chicken shawarma. Chef George Abou-Daoud makes sure that vegans and gluten-sensitive diners have plenty of choices here, too; and his famous rosewater lemonade is sure to please everyone. Add a bit of a kick to your favorites with George's Original Aleppo Pepper Sauce; you might just decide to take some of that home, too. (323-951-0990)
There are plenty of Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles, but the three Mercado eateries are something special. The newest is in North Hollywood and it continues the traditions of the other two (in Santa Monica and on West Third Street), as Chef Jose Acevedo whips up modern Mexican food that keeps everyone coming back for more. His slow-cooked carnitas are wonderful, especially paired with Elote Callejero, grilled sweet corn mixed up with caramelized onions and chile piquin butter. Everything is served in the "small plates, large plates" style, so sharing is easy. Although it is likely you'll want to keep all the Tacos de Camaron (grilled shrimp, jicama, Mexican slaw and tangy spices) to yourself. It's not surprising that everyone from trendy hipsters to families of five are found here; there's definitely something for everyone on Mercado's innovative Mexican menu. (323-512-2500)
Dave & Buster's
There's a reason the Dave & Buster's chain has over 60 locations, including this one in the heart of Hollywood. For where else can you take the family for a reasonably priced dinner and then spend the rest of the evening playing arcade games and even winning cool prizes like iPads, X-Boxes and more? The menu boasts everything from burgers and fries to steaks, grilled chicken and artichoke pasta, a special kids' menu and even selections that are all under 600 calories. Choose the "Eat and Play" combo starting at $16.99 and you'll score a $10 game card to use once your meal is finished. Of course, you can buy more games if you want to stay out until the wee hours; this location is open until 2:00 a.m. just about every night. (323-603-2400)
If you love hamburgers, then Slater's 50/50 in Pasadena (and in six other locations in Southern California) is the place for you. Their burger patty drives meat lovers wild, with its special mix of 50 percent ground beef and 50 percent bacon. That's usually cooked up and placed on a brioche roll, but you can "Design It" yourself, too. Choose the size and kind of patty (which could also be chicken, beef only, a Portobello mushroom or turkey instead of the 50/50), the bread, cheese, toppings and sauces, making your own signature sandwich. There are endless craft beers on tap to pair with it, plenty of decadent appetizers and even a kids' menu, that brings those big burgers down to a manageable sliders size for the smaller set. And Slater's 50/50 is a sports bar, too, so if the game is on, gather up the gang and go. Open for lunch and dinner every day. (626-765-9700)
Canter's Deli has been a staple of the Fairfax district since it opened way back in 1931. This classic New York Jewish delicatessen hasn't changed much in all those years (although it did move into a bigger space more than 50 years ago). They are always open, 24 hours a day, serving up deli favorites like pastrami sandwiches, Matzo ball soup, cheese blintzes, gefilte fish and much more. Breakfast is served all day and for those kids of any age with a huge appetite, Canter's Deli piles up meats so high on their signature 3-Decker Sandwiches that they are almost impossible to eat. (323-651-2030)
About Jenny Peters
Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good things in life. She is a founding/voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, who present the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards every January. Her favorite places to be are on the beach in Southern California playing volleyball, scuba diving with the sharks in warm tropical waters or strolling the streets and soaking in the atmosphere of one of the world's great cities (New Orleans and Florence are her favorites).
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