Location, location, location. This adage is especially true if the restaurant in question happens to feature an airport, old fire station or vintage train car and especially if you are eating with children in tow.
Dining out with kids presents its own set of problems that could read like a comedy of errors, if only it felt funnier to parents: spilled milk, whining, dirty looks. Choosing a spot that is interesting in itself will hopefully take the edge off, giving everyone much needed room to relax, take in the atmosphere and actually enjoy their meal.
Los Angeles is known for serving food in quirky locations, like eating in the giant bowler of the Brown Derby or the huge bowl that was Chili Bowl. Maybe the history of the city being so intertwined with the film business has made eating “on location” a natural fit. Regardless, there are still plenty of options for dining that break the traditional mold, a feature that kids (and the rest of us) love. Here are seven great ones, listed in no particular order.
Celebrating 75 years downtown, and offering 60,00 passengers service each day, according to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Union Station is a hive of activity. Located inside this landmarked gem is Traxx Restaurant, open since 1977. Reflecting the glamour of the Mission Moderne and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of Union Station, Traxx feels like a destination in itself — the kind of place that makes you want to sit up a little straighter and maybe dress up a little. The menu swerves from classics, like the Waldorf Salad, with smoked chicken, Pt. Reyes blue cheese, apples and walnuts (saluted in the 1934 Cole Porter song “You're the Top”) to wild cards, like chicken and green child posole. Small fry will swoon for the savory gourmet popcorn with parmesan or house made fingerling potato chips and everyone will feel utterly civilized. 800 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles; 213-625-1999.
6. The Trails Café
A true daycation destination, the Trails Café in the middle of Griffith Park serves up healthy fare with ambience to spare. Off of Fern Dell Dr., this little cabin-like structure is shaded by trees and flanked by picnic tables. Many items, like the quiches, scones and pies are baked fresh daily. The avocado sandwich with vegan bacon bits is a thing of simple beauty, sort of jolie laide. Stuffed with sprouts, red onion and a slice of cheese, this sandwich is the sandwich you wish your mother made you for lunch everyday. The hot dog wrapped in pastry is also good, a cool twist on a corn dog. Oh, and why not take the opportunity of being in the park to visit the Griffith Park Pony Rides and the Griffith Park & Southern Railroad, three miles away? 2333 Fern Dell Dr., Los Angeles; 310-871-2102.
5. Engine Co. No. 28
An actual fire station, built in 1912, the Engine Co. No. 28 was made into a restaurant in the late '80s. Some features of the original structure have been preserved, like the pressed tin ceiling and brick flooring and details, like a line of fire hats, have been added to remind diners of the building’s history. The menu of classic American food, like meat loaf and Cobb salad, burgers and steak will appeal to both the young and young at heart. Don’t miss the firecracker burger spiked with pepper jack and jalapeno chips. 644 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles; 213-624-6996.
4. Horse Thief BBQ
With a view of Angels Flight (still out of commission, but hopefully not for long), and a location just outside Grand Central Market, Horse Thief BBQ has much to recommend about it. Thankfully, not least is the barbecue. The rib tips are sweet and sticky delectables with the perfect amount of meat for one or two juicy bits. The sides, like jicama cabbage slaw, prove a good balance to the meat with its astringent vinaigrette and the creamy aged white cheddar mac and cheese will please kids and adults. The recent addition of a beer and wine bar off to the side may please grown ups that much more. 324 S. Hill St., Los Angeles; 213-625-0341.
3. Spitfire Grill
Very kid-friendly with cozy booths on the inside and plenty of tables outside, the Spitfire Grill is smack dab in the middle of the Santa Monica Airport. Filled with airplane memorabilia from WWII and the once local Donald Douglas Aircraft factory, the Spitfire is the kind of place that serves up good versions of standbys, like onion rings and fries, bacon and pancakes. If you’re hungry, the B-52 Bomber Burger will surely satisfy with its double patty, double onions and double cheese. There are sweet potato and parmesan garlic fries to be had as well. After your meal, take a stroll. There are a multitude of activities in close proximity from the airfield to the Museum of Flying. 3100 Airport Ave., Santa Monica; 310-398-2500.
It turns out that an authentic Pacific Railroad passenger train transforms perfectly into a fun dining establishment. Carney’s serves up just what kids want to eat: burgers and hot dogs. Thankfully, the gettings are good. The hot dogs can be had with or without chili, onions, chili peppers or sauerkraut, depending on the iron content of your stomach, and the burgers come in all stripes, including turkey or veggie if you are so inclined. You can even get a grilled hot dog on top of your burger to make a Burger Dog, if you have trouble making decisions. On a nice day, the patio outside the train is a pleasant place to chow down. 12601 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; 818-761-8300 and 8351 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-654-0343.
1. 94th Aero Squadron
Located practically on the runway of the Van Nuys Airport, which boasts about a thousand take offs and landings every day, the 94th Aero Squadron takes full advantage of its location. Vintage planes and other military gear decorate the outside and the theme continues on the inside as well. Go for Sunday brunch, an all you can eat affair that has got to be one of the most extravagant meals in the city. The decadence begins with an array of baked goods, from cinnamon rolls to muffins, and marches on through an egg station, waffle station and, best of all, a seafood station – shrimp and crab. There are desserts by the dozen, a chocolate fountain to dip fruit in and all the champagne you can guzzle. Did I mention the chocolate fountain? 16320 Raymer St., Van Nuys; 818-994-7437.