A meal out with kids can be a wonderful experience or a nightmare, or both in turns, the outcome influenced by everything from the menu, what happened at school that day, how many hours of sleep everyone got the night before, or the color of a tablecloth. But while it’s impossible to guarantee everything will go swimmingly, picking a restaurant where children don’t have to behave too perfectly—and have delicious options to choose from—is the best way to set everyone up for success.
And that’s where a great dining city like Los Angeles excels. In the City of Angels, food is revered, but pomp and circumstance are not. It’s a town where some of the most celebrated spots are strip mall joints, where dozens of cultures find their expression in food served from trucks, street carts, and farmer’s markets. Eating here with kids is a joy—thanks to those famously sunny skies, outdoor seating is plentiful, and kids are largely welcomed all over. The only problem is narrowing down your options.
1. Grand Central Market
The 100-year-old food hall in Downtown LA has become a restaurant destination over the past couple of years as a host of new, upscale vendors have opened up alongside classic stalls like China Cafe and Roast to Go. While kids might not be all that interested in vegan ramen from former Top Chef contestant Ilan Hall, or Wexler’s contemporary Jewish deli sandwiches (and if they are, please tell me your secrets), but with an embarrassment of options to choose from, and a fun, energetic vibe, it’s an ideal place to go with kids too. Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market makes a wonderful plate of fresh pasta with tomato sauce, Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria serves appropriately chewy and blistered Neapolitan pies, and you can even get fries and a grass-fed beef burger from the counter at Belcampo Meat Co. More adventurous palettes—whether they belong to a parent or a child—will find plenty to get excited about too, with cuisines from around the world represented in the market’s various stalls. 317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
2. Park’s BBQ
Everything that makes Korean barbecue thrilling for adults is a draw for kids too: the in-table grill, the endless plates of banchan, the DIY thrill of helping to cook your own meal at a restaurant. There are lots of big flavors in Korean cooking—chiles, fermented fish, etc.—that can be challenging to unfamiliar diners of any age. But sweet-marinated short ribs or cubes of ribeye eaten with rice appeal to most picky eaters. And the wonderful thing about the parade of banchan dishes is that they’re free and fun-looking, and might entice your kids to try a bite or two of something new. 955 S Vermont Ave G, Los Angeles, CA 90006
3. The Taco Truck
Which taco truck? That all depends on which taco truck is closest to you. It could be a destination taco truck like Tacos Leo, famed for its al pastor tacos, or it could be the one down the street from your house. Truthfully, it’s hard to find a bad taco in Los Angeles—they’re an essential part of the city’s food scene, and poor versions are judged harshly. Order plain chicken or asada tacos for picky eaters, and let more adventurous kids explore the wonders of the salsa bar, where you can usually also fill a plate with radishes, pickled carrots, and sliced cucumbers for a side of vegetables. Vegetarian? A cheese quesadilla on a fluffy flour tortilla will do the trick. Eating on a bench, in the car, or on the sidewalk, there are no other diners to disturb—and you get to eat tacos too, so everyone wins.
Turns out, spaces designed to entertain beer lovers can be great for kids too. Just look at Golden Road’s cavernous indoor-outdoor beer garden alongside the LA River: The music is loud, people are loud, and there are oversized kids games like Connect Four that can be readily enjoyed by actual kid-aged patrons as well as their adult counterparts. Back at the table, the beer- and vegan-friendly menu features a number of kid favorites, like burgers, buffalo-fried cauliflower, and extra-crunchy skinny fries. 5410 W San Fernando Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90039
With a replica redwood tree towering through the center of the three-floor restaurant, there’s no denying that Clifton’s Cafeteria is a place of wonder. Reopened in 2015 after being shuttered for a number of years, the Depression-era restaurant is full of fascinating decor, including a taxidermied bear and other wildlife that together provide a very fun, very fake escape to the California mountains. There are a number of different dining areas (and bars) located throughout the cavernous space, but the cafeteria—which serves unfussy Americana like pot pie, spaghetti and meatballs, and mashed potatoes and gravy—is where you want to take the kids. 648 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
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