Great Sacramento Restaurants for Kids
As someone who worked in restaurants for years and loved going to them for decades, I’ve missed them lately. With a three-year-old in tow, it’s not always easy to eat out. But I long ago swore off fast food hamburgers, and it’s not what I crave anyway. When I don’t want to cook for myself, I want complex Indian curries, aromatic pho broth, big, juicy (preferably grass-fed) hamburgers with grilled onions. Or even a nice glass of wine after a long day of supervising a child who lives life in perpetual high gear.
Recently, we’ve been discovering some Sacramento restaurants that have great adult food and amenities for kids as well. I joined a discussion on Facebook not long ago with the Bee restaurant critic, Blair Anthony Robertson. Regarding his review of Tower Cafe, I pointed out that not everyone is looking for the same things to make a “good” restaurant. For me, these days, I need interesting food for both adults and children, a good way to distract said children while waiting, and employee patience with small people who tend to be loud and messy. Not every “family” restaurant fits that bill (especially on the food) and many other places may hit the food mark but look askance at your kid wanting to get out of her chair every two minutes. The reality of dining out with children is that it’s not particularly relaxing, but you do it for the benefit of trying new things, not cooking that night, and seeing other adults.
So here are some local places that work great for discerning parents and their rambunctious offspring:
Star Ginger (3101 Folsom Blvd.) is the new Mai Pham Asian grill and noodle bar at the corner of Folsom and Alhambra. Chef Pham opened a few of these concepts in colleges and has now licensed them to a company that will open many more across the U.S. It’s a well-tested menu and the restaurant been packed from Day 1. When I went for dinner, I noticed a “Kid’s Bowl” of grilled chicken, vegetables, brown or white rice, and a drink for $5.95. Returning later in the week for lunch with Eva, I couldn’t find it on the menu, but the cashier graciously offered to have it made and found us a 100% juice CapriSun to go with it. (It’s supposed to be on the lunch menu soon.) The bowl is photographed above, and was incredibly generous. Eva loves peas, so those were the first to go, followed immediately by the chicken, which was flavorful but not too spicy. The noise level at lunch is pretty high, so no one noticed a three-year-old singing through lunch and dropping her chopsticks on the floor (except me). The banh mi sliders, also only available at dinner, would be another good kid choice, or the chicken salad rolls that I ordered. They were perfect rice paper-wrapped salad bites that I dipped into a peanut sauce. You can also order everything to go.
Evan’s Kitchen (855 57th St.) is headed by Evan Elsberry in the 57th St. Antique Mall. It’s a bit out of the way in our usual dining choices, but I had heard that the chef had a kids’ grazing plate on the menu. So when my parents were recently visiting and we wanted a nice dinner with daughter in tow, we tried Evan’s. The adult food was mixed–some quite good, like the lamb lollipops; some a bit too heavy, like the butternut squash ravioli. However, the grazing plate was perfect. It had a variety of sliced meat, cheese, raw vegetables, fruit chunks, crackers, and even olives I think. Obviously the chef has children and wants to encourage parents to eat there. The grazing plate was a great hit with Eva and I appreciated the variety of healthy foods. On the entertainment front, the waiter was quite attentive to Eva, brought her some crayons, and didn’t blink when we took her outside to run laps in the parking lot while we waited for our order.
Masullo (2711 Riverside Blvd.) pizzeria has been one of our favorites since it opened a couple of years ago. It helps that we can walk there, but even if we had to drive, it would be a great place to take children for dinner. The two main seating areas are communal tables, and the staff is quick to supply high chairs and crayons. Milk–surprisingly not always available at restaurants–comes in a cup with a lid and straw, which is an enormous relief to spill-fearing parents. We’ve even had the waiter bring Eva a blob of pizza dough to play with while we waited, and the parking lot is ideal for running around. Even better, the food rocks. Eva has been happy to eat every soup she’s had there and the cheese and fruit plate appetizer is exactly the right size to share with her. It even comes with wedges of pizza dough to gnaw on. We’re always thrilled to eat any of the crisp Neopolitan-style pizzas and have loved the Fall Chop Salad with endive, pistachios, and apples. Bonus points to them for having changing tables in the women’s and men’s restrooms!
Spin Burger Bar (1020 16th St.) was not initially high on my list of places to try. It seemed too much of a hipster place with a self-esteem problem. But since my husband works in a bike shop, he got some discount coupons for Spin, so we tried it out for lunch. This turned out to be the right time to eat there with a child–not too loud. We were seated in a booth just behind the bar, surrounded by chalkboard walls. While some lovely chalk art was on display, our waiter brought a big cup of chalk and Eva was hooked. She drew and erased for at least fifteen minutes straight, which in parenting is a lifetime–enough time to read the whole menu and sip some beer. For food, they feature burgers, of course, and as every new Sacramento restaurant seems to have on their menu, sliders. While a bit ubiquitous these days, I appreciate sliders for their kid-sized qualities. The adult-sized burgers were extremely juicy and had lots of options, although our buns disintegrated by the time we were finished. Meanwhile, though, Eva was plowing through an enormous order of macaroni and cheese for only $2.95. The perpetually whirling bicycle wheels on the ceiling kept her pretty entertained as well.
I’ve found some other great places, and I’ll profile them in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, do any of you parents or friends of parents have favorite places to eat out with kids? Places that don’t involve happy meals and sodium overdoses? Let me know and I’ll be happy to check them out with my assistant eater in tow.