Noe Valley Voice April 1999

Noe Valley Restaurants That Are Happy to See Half-Pints

By Dodie Hamblen

Remember when dining out meant lingering over a meal accented by candles, table linens, and fine wine?

But that was before you had kids -- those precious darlings who can't sit still for a nanosecond, subsist mainly on carbohydrates, and think that a fork is a missile to be fired at the closest moving target, i.e., your waiter's head.

When you eat out with kids, you're not really expecting a fine dining experience-- you just want to get everyone fed without a fatality.

Lucky for us, Noe Valley has plenty of family-friendly restaurants to choose from. Here are some tips from local parents on where to take the kids for chow, and how to survive the excursion with your smile intact.

"You have to have a strategic plan," says Maryfran DeStefano, mother of nearly 6-year-old Giancarlo. She advises parents to "pack defensively" before leaving home. Crayons and paper, along with a few small toys, will keep your kids occupied while you wait for your food. "You want the food to arrive before you run through your repertoire. No one wants to reach that desperate moment," she warns.

De Stefano's favorite kid-friendly restaurant is Pasta Pomodoro at 24th and Noe. "If you asked Giancarlo, he'd say Barney's, but I think Pasta Pomodoro is nice. They are child-oriented. They get you in and out, and it's beautifully loud." (Noise is a boon to family dining -- you don't have to worry about your kids' "outside voices" disturbing fellow diners.)

Kids' portions of plain pasta with sauce on the side are available, says De Stefano, and the lemonade and chocolate mousse are big hits with Giancarlo. The food appeals to grownups as well. "Even my parents, who are first-generation Italians, like the food."

Another top choice for both kids and adults is Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers, on 24th between Castro and Diamond.

Jackie Haslam, a 22nd Street mom, says 4-year-old Ethan "really likes Barney's. If you're in the mood for a burger, it's a good place to go. Ethan has french fries, a hamburger, and a milkshake."

Barney's also provides crayons and a kids' menu (with coloring book), featuring hotdogs, burgers, and grilled cheese sandwiches, which Haslam feels is a big plus. Her only complaint is that service can be a tad slow. "Pasta Pomodoro does the service thing well," says Haslam.

Noe Street dad Michael Immerman and his 3-year-old son, David, have a standing Friday-night date at Haystack Pizza, on 24th near Sanchez. "David loves going there," says Immerman. "They're great. There are always lots of kids there, and I feel like they're glad to see us. They let David go in the kitchen and watch them flip pizza."

Service at Haystack is definitely geared toward families, he says, and the restaurant has booster chairs, highchairs, and crayons. "We always order pizza, but you can also get pastas and salads," says Immerman. "The food is good. It's a regular joint -- your basic pizzeria."

Immerman says that when wife Dana Geller comes along, the family prefers to dine at Miss Millie's, across the street from Barney's on 24th above Castro. "It's also kid-friendly, and the food is more healthful."

Twenty-fourth Street's Leslie Crawford seconds the motion. She and husband Steve Fox eat there regularly with 18-month-old Sam. "We usually have brunch at Miss Millie's," says Crawford. "It's a little expensive, but it's a treat, and cheaper than a babysitter."

Crawford gives the restaurant high marks in both health and hospitality. "The staff is so nice with kids. They all know Sam by name and will walk around with him. Sam likes the roasted root vegetables, but there are kid-friendly foods on the menu like French toast." Highchairs are available, and the staff knows how to give families the extra attention they need, like bringing the bread right away.

Crawford says the other brunch patrons at Miss Millie's are generally tolerant of kids. "I've never had any hairy eyeballs." But, she adds, attitudes may be different at dinnertime, when people are paying more and expect a little more formal atmosphere.

All the parents I interviewed for this story noted that diners in Noe Valley were very accepting of "normal kid behavior."

Additional restaurants recommended by moms and dads were Savor Restaurant and Casa Mexicana, both on 24th near Sanchez; Valentine's Cafe on Church near 30th; and What's for Dessert, at Church and 27th streets.

If you or your kids have your own favorite eateries, please drop the Voice a line (1021 Sanchez St., San Francisco, CA 94114, or Graciousness--and free use of the crayons --should never go unrewarded.