Dining out with the kiddos doesn’t have to mean chicken nuggets and plain pasta. If you have small children, it can often feel as if the only places where you can dine out (without receiving death glares) are fast‑food chains. Not so! Here are six great restaurants in Orange County where you can bring the kids and eat well, too. Say goodbye to the PlayPlace.
1. Pitfire artisan Pizza
When it comes to declaring one restaurant an easy, go-to destination for families with kids, Pitfire checks all the right boxes: stellar Neapolitan-style pizza, well-executed pasta dishes, plus craft beer and wine for mom and dad. Kids will love the Greens, Egg & Ham pizza ($12), and you can never go wrong with the spaghetti and house-made chicken meatballs ($6.50 for kids, $11.50 for adults). For dessert, treat them to soft-serve vanilla ice cream swirled atop a chocolate chip cookie ($6.50). Best of all, the staff is always friendly—and accustomed to squeals and dropped pasta on the floor. 353 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949-313-6333, pitfirepizza.com
Everything here is served in miniature form, perfect for little hands. When it comes to flavors and ingredients, they’re sophisticated while still appealing to the kid in all of us. Case in point: mini-Japanese-style hot dogs and sliders ($3) on fluffy King’s Hawaiian rolls. For the little ones, get the PB and J slider when it’s available; adults can’t go wrong with the fried chicken slider. Be sure to share a mountain of crispy garlic tater tots ($5). Bonus: Even the desserts are mini.
14413 Culver Drive, Irvine, 949-392-5995, burntzilla.com
3. Blue C Sushi
Traditional sushi restaurants aren’t generally considered kid-friendly, but for parents who crave raw fish, Blue C provides a modern and interactive experience for the entire family and a great way to familiarize kids with Japanese food. Children will be entertained by the colorful conveyor belt that brings a variety of nigiri sushi and rolls ($2.50 to $6 per plate) straight to your booth. There’s even a Blue C Express train that delivers special orders. Fun must-tries include the Tuna BLT roll (with bacon jam!), Smoked Yellowtail Tacos, and for dessert, the Blue Raspberry Cotton Candy.
1095 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, 949-258-9280, bluecsushi.com
4. Saigon District
If you’re searching for a comforting bowl of pho but don’t want to deal with Little Saigon crowds or parking, head to Saigon District. This family-owned Huntington Beach restaurant offers a great beef pho, its broth shimmering and flavorful ($9). If your little one is too young to deftly slurp long, hot noodles, order the terrific mini-shell noodle soup ($8) with minced beef, meatballs, and the same savory broth as the beef pho. 19171 Magnolia St., Huntington Beach, 714-964-4500, saigondistrict.com
Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market is ideal for introducing youngsters to a variety of flavors because they’re all here under one roof; there’s Italian, Mexican, Vietnamese, New American, and Lebanese cuisine. At Falasophy, must-tries for little ones include the falafel bites ($4.50), stuffed grape leaves ($4.50), and crispy, gooey Lebanese Cheese Taquitos ($5). For grown-ups, the Spicy Modern Tacos ($7) satisfy—soft flour tortillas stuffed with falafel, cilantro garlic sauce, pickled red cabbage, and pickled jalapenos—as does the Garlic Chicken Panini ($7), filled with shredded chicken breast, garlic sauce, and pickled cucumber. For a dollar more, make it street-style and add fries inside.
201 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, 949-610-5296, falasophy.com
6. Snooze, an A.M. eatery
Even a year after opening, this all-day breakfast spot remains a runaway hit, with lines often out the door. If your kids are up at the crack of dawn, you’re in luck—there’s hardly a wait when doors open at 6:30 a.m. Pancakes star here, and there’s an ample and tempting array. For something unusal, try the sweet potato pancakes; or go mainstream with the pleasantly sweet French Toast Neat, with toasted brioche and mascarpone whipped cream. Another kid favorite? The Sandwich I Am, a soft pretzel roll stuffed with scrambled eggs, cheddar, and a sausage patty.
3032 El Camino Real, Tustin, 714-415-6269, snoozeeatery.com
7. Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop
The casual and relaxed atmosphere at Greenleaf is evident in its regulars, a mix of Eastside Costa Mesa’s athleisure-wear set and young families with strollers. The kids’ menu is abundant in healthy yet approachable items such as turkey miniburgers served with baked sweet potato fries ($6.50). Instead of the usual fried chicken nuggets, you can order tasty almond-crusted chicken bites ($7.50).
234 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949-200-3950, greenleafchopshop.com