Best Bites

The Cuisines Staff Noshes Through 2000

Top 10 Children's Dining Experiences That Are Not the Usual Suspects

Dining with children is easy. Go to the likely haunts (hamburger joints, family restaurants, etc.) and the young set will have plenty of options to satisfy their cravings. But sometimes, the ubiquitous chicken fingers, cheese pizzas, and hot dogs become too familiar. And sometimes you simply want to up the ante and dine, not just eat. What to do? You can always get a babysitter, but how's a person to learn about the broader horizons if they're never included on the journey? Kids need to get out to restaurants (after they've been thoroughly drilled on etiquette and have demonstrated an ability to follow through with the lessons). Here's a list of places to start and items to order; each item has been clinically found to be successful with actual children!

1. Fruit and Cheese Plate at Chez Nous: This is listed as an appetizer and includes a tasty and tangy assortment of cheeses, plus sliced apples and walnuts. A basket of baguette slices completes the meal and keeps kids busy while the grownups slowly work on their bottle of wine.

2. Beef Tenderloin at Granite Cafe: Okay, I have this information secondhand, but from a very reliable source: one Rebecca Chastenet de Géry from the Chronicle's very own food writing staff. You gotta love a kid's portion of tenderloin!

3. Pesto Capellini at Vespaio: It's fragrant, fresh, and scrumptious, and they'll fix up a smaller order for the young diner.

4. Goat Cheese Fritti at Cafe Spiazzo: Fried mozzarella doesn't stand a chance against this tangy version. It's an appetizer, but with bread and a salad, a child has made herself a meal.

5. Mini Hamburger Appetizers at Ray's Steakhouse: Okay, I said no hamburgers, but the miniature size of these appetizers at this grownup venue gets an exception. The sheer volume of the plate will keep kids engrossed for some time as they happily gobble them up. Try not to sample too many for yourself.

6. Red Snapper Taco at Polvo's: While this restaurant has plenty of the usual delicious kid's options (like queso, beans, etc.) the snapper taco adds some delicious twists to the standard Mexican outing. The garlicky, buttery fish is a great introduction to kids who are normally shy of sea-based meals.

7. Chicken Taco at Güero's: The kid's menu at this Mexican food hotspot features the heavenly chicken taco al carbon. This is the same taco that has made thousands of adults swoon; it has the same effect on children.

8. Soups at Thai Spice: The unusual egg drop, the Thai chicken with veggies, and the cellophane noodle soups are big hits with the over-toddler-age set. They're a big hit with their parents too, for that matter.

9. Love Veggies at Magnolia Cafe: Granted, there are dozens of items that kids adore at this bohemian eatery, but ordering the Love Veggies is one of the most successful ways of putting down the hatch those three or five (or however many it's supposed to be) servings of veggies. It's huge, so plan on sharing or taking some home for later microwaving.

10. Lasagna on the Amtrak: The lure here is the unbeatable surroundings: the landscape whizzes by as you gaze from your white linen-covered table. The vegetable lasagna is a soft, gooey slab of cheese and mushy vegetables, but the novelty lies in the sides that seem somewhat hilarious paired with such an item: corn and Spanish style rice! This carb-lovers feast may not be a kids' item per se, but it's a thrill every time.

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