I love food and I love it even more when I didn’t have to cook it. Unfortunately, taking kids out to eat can be stressful, if you care whatsoever about the enjoyment of those around you, that is. Sure, you could go to a chain restaurant that’s guaranteed to have carrots smashed into the carpet and Matchbox cars lodged between the seat cushions before your rug rats have even arrived, but do you really want to sacrifice a chance at culinary bliss for a kid’s menu? I don’t. So after countless spilled drinks, thrown Cheerios, and temper tantrums, I have compiled a list of restaurants where you can enjoy delicious food that doesn’t come from a microwave oven, while being kid-friendly, without being “kid-friendly” (if you know what I mean). Plus, these are all independent restaurants, so you’re supporting the local economy to boot!
• Hot Diggity Dog: This place is way more than hot dogs and it’s all cooked right in front of you. The steak sandwich is heart stoppingly delicious and the fried grouper sandwich is a crispy delight. Add on a chocolate malt and fries and you’ve got the perfect start to an I-need-a-nap day, which I’m pretty sure you could take on the floor of their dining area while your kids ran around in circles and no one would care.
• Nancy’s Bar-B-Q: Whoever designed this space must have been thinking about having out of control children aplenty. It’s wide open, there are no waiters to trip, and it’s noisy—perfect for kids. The barbecue is already famous around town and for good reason. Two words: ribs and banana pudding. Wait, that was four words.
• Marina Jack’s Portside Patio: This is the place to go when you want to pretend you’re on vacation. Perhaps your vacation dreams don’t include your kids, that’s totally cool, mine don’t either, but when Grandma is screening her calls and you desperately need a mind-numbing tropical cocktail, Marina Jack is always there. It’s the full package—excellent water view, usually a band of sorts playing to drown out the sounds of your crying baby, full bar, and plastic chairs. Also, there’s plenty of room to roll around a stroller. Just steer clear of the bar since they do allow smoking at it. Or light one up and blow it in your kid’s face, no judgment here.
• Simon’s Coffee House: Strollers easily fit in this café serving up a daily changing menu of eclectic, casual, California-style cuisine. Plus, it has the whole noisy diner thing going for it, so nobody will notice that your kids are banging the silverware on the table.
• Il Panificio (Gulf Gate): This is a new and very welcome addition to the Gulf Gate dining scene. Fabulous, expansive outdoor seating in a busy business district gives your kids plenty of space to run amok and scream to their heart’s content. And who doesn’t love their crispy, oily, awesome pizza.
• Pho Cali: They turn tables so fast in this place that your kids won’t even get the chance to truly ruin anyone’s meal. The servers are so gracious, they’re bound to make you, and your little demons, feel welcome. Plus, the food is sooo good that you won’t even care what horrid manners they’re displaying, you’ll be in a tongue tingling trance. Order anything that has pork in the description, you won’t be disappointed. If your kids are particularly wound up and showing no signs of sleep in the near or distant future, then make sure you end the meal with a red tea with tapioca pearls, you’ll thank me later, it’s like jet fuel.
• Hob Nob: If burgers and beer are what you want, then look no further. Considering I can’t stop thinking about their patty melt and it’s been well over a week since I last ate it, it might possibly be the best I’ve ever had. I’m pretty sure your kids could have a paintball battle in this place, in their underwear, and no one would bat an eye. Unless, of course, they’re teenage girls, then you might get some looks.
• Station 400: I have never even been to this place without there being at least two wild and crazy children in there that weren’t mine. And thank heavens, because the food is so delicious, I would hate to have to miss out on it just because I can’t control my child. The chef uses the best ingredients he can find and highlights them in inventive spins on breakfast and lunch classics. Truffle eggs Benedict with arugula and roasted mushrooms? Hell yeah.
I can’t guarantee highchairs, changing stations, or complimentary crayons at these joints, but I can guarantee rave-worthy food without feeling like you should make your kids wait in the car. With these locally owned and kid-indifferent options, you can say goodbye to dry chicken fingers, dusty tchatchke, and top 40 hits, and say hello to some damn good dining.