Alameda’s selection of eateries has been called a number of things — uninspired, bland, stuck in another decade. While such mud-slinging may be a topic for another article (such as ), one thing about our town’s cuisine is never disputed: We have an exceptional number of kid-friendly spots. In fact, aside from , you’re not likely to find a restaurant in Alameda that won’t welcome your little ones with a least a dollop of graciousness.
Still, there are stand-outs in the field: places that provide dedicated kids’ menus, crayons and something to color, and a tolerance for kids’ sometimes unsophisticated manners. Also, happy parents make for happy kids, so good grown-up food (and drink) counts too.
. This is one of my daughter’s absolute favorite places in the entire world — she might pick Pasta Pelican over Disneyland if given the choice. It’s a little tricky to find, behind the Posey Tube, but the view is lovely. The restaurant sits on the estuary, facing Jack London Square across the water. If you get a seat by the window, you’ll be able to watch the sailboats going by.
The service can be hit-or-miss and the food is, at best, mostly fine, but the Pollo e Spinaci is tasty, and my kid can’t get enough of the rainbow pasta with butter and Parmesan. She judges all other noodle dishes across the globe against Pasta Pelican, which remains, in her eyes, superior to all other pasta palaces anywhere, ever.
. While some Alamedans are sure to prefer , at Marti’s there's a coloring and activity children’s menu, and the cooks will make mouse-shaped pancakes for your little ones. The Swedish pancakes are a lovely treat.
If you run out of things to talk about, just look around. The trivia pages that the restaurant supplies, the eclectic array of knickknacks and wall art, the mismatched thrift store mugs can fill many a conversational gap. The line never stretches down the block — and it is a truth universally accepted that waiting is not a kid-pleasing activity.
. This place has more of a retirement community vibe than a preschool one, but the staff will provide coloring book pages and crayons if you ask, and you have a view of one of Alameda’s many marinas, not to mention a tank full of colorful fish. And it’s always nice to have another West End option.
If you go before 7 p.m. (6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays), Pier 29 has an Early Bird menu with, among other selections, a lovely prime rib for mom or dad for only $14, which includes a soup or salad and a nice little dessert. The pasta, however, is not of the rainbow variety, an eternal disappointment to my daughter.
Of all of the restaurants on this list, La Penca Azul is my personal favorite, although it’s probably my kid's last choice. She's just not a huge fan of Mexican food, I suppose, and she’s way too young for the amazing margaritas, which are, I’ll admit, a big draw for me. But the staff gives you a few crayons wrapped up in the kids’ menu, and the kitchen has burgers on offer in addition to the burritos, tacos and quesadillas you’d expect.
Okay, this is no surprise. Tomatina consistently wins "top family restaurant" in all the local polls, and with good reason. They’ve got activity-filled kids’ menus and a rotating array of artwork from the junior set taped to the wall. No one gives you angry glares when your kid is laughing so hard milk comes out her nose.
As for food, I know my kid could eat Tomatina pizza every night of the week. Other faves include spaghetti and meatballs, ravioli and the über-kid friendly “Noodles and Sauce.” For parents, aunts and babysitters, the pizzas are excellent, as are the Piadines, a Tomatina speciality. Piadines are something like salads, served on a giant piece of flat bread and eaten like the biggest falafel sandwich you’ve ever fit your mouth around.
It must also be noted that Tomatina's slightly fizzy sangria is a nice addition to any summer’s eve.
I also have to also give a special shout-out to . While a sushi house may not immediately springs to mind when you think “kid-friendly,” Katsu is tied (with Pasta Pelican) for my kid’s all-time favorite. Of course, her preferred food is a cherry blossom roll, so she might not be your typical 5-year old. But Katsu does have the most adorable kids’ dishware (if you’re lucky and the waitstaff remember to bring it out); ramune, a delightful — if high-fructose corn syrup-ridden — Japanese soda with a marble trapped inside the bottle; and children's bento boxes (called ID’s Special on the menu) that include a lot of food for $8.
And of course, there's . No dinner with your kid on Park Street, or perhaps within a 15-mile radius of Tucker's, would be complete without a super-creamed ice cream from Alameda’s favorite ice cream palace. (I often wonder why any other establishment on Park Street bothers offering dessert on its menu). It's a perfect way to end any family night out.