I asked Laura Scholes, an Oakland mom of 4-year-old Nora, to send me a list of the restaurants she goes to with Nora most frequently. Thanks so much for your tips, Laura!
Hard to say whether this is a list of my daughter’s favorite places to eat in Oakland or mine. As you know, once you have kids, it’s kind of hard to separate things out. But here we go!
La Calaca Loca
My husband and I loved this place before Nora was born, and once she was old enough to shove a bean in her mouth without fear of choking, this became a favorite go-to. The beans-and-rice plate is more expensive than the ever-popular Cactus, but the mermaid piñatas and skeleton art more than compensate. They also have a crazy fountain for your kids to throw pennies in (yes, even though my 4-year-old can download apps on my iPhone, she still gets a thrill out of tossing a penny and making a wish). And there’s really not much cuter than hearing a toddler shout, “Let’s go to La Calaca Loca.”
Nora can sum up her love for this place with two words: Mango Lassi. I can also sum it up in two words: Coconut Rice (okay, four words: Coconut Rice, Fast Service). The only downside is this place is ALWAYS packed. But since you’ve got a kid, you can likely beat the hipster masses by going early. We head there straight from preschool, so we’re always there before 6pm and have never had to wait. Bonus: while you wait for the lassi, your kid can practice making letters and shapes with the green plastic chopsticks. (Editor’s note: There is a location in Temescal and one in Alameda in addition to San Francisco.)
Toast Wine Lounge
I know, I know: Putting a place with “wine” in the name on a kid’s favorites list is so edgy, right? But seriously, this place is the best of both worlds: the modern, minimalist décor and outstanding wine list makes grownups feel, well, grown up, and kids can eat a not-too-gourmet mac-and-cheese and ask a zillion times if they can write on the blackboard wall with chalk. And because it’s a small-plates place, you get out of there with your bank account in tact, more or less.
In Oakland, there are two types of pizza people: Pizzaiolo people and Zachary’s people. We’re definitely on Team Pizzaiolo (though to be fair, I do like Zachary’s; I just don’t like the deep-dish hangover after). Because it’s another Temescal hot spot, you have to get there early to snag a table. And though it’s definitely skewed to grownup-centric pizza options on the changes-daily menu, there is always a plain cheese (Margherita) available. Plus, because it’s pizza, a family of four can get out of there for about $25 bucks if you’re not drinking.
Rubio’s Fresh Mexican
Okay, so this isn’t Oakland, but I wanted to include a super-cheap, fast-food place that we love. Rubio’s is at the Bay Street mall on the upper level, kitty-corner from the Barnes & Noble and is almost worth the trip even if you don’t need to get anything at Old Navy. Their Kid’s Meal is under $5 and includes a main (fish taco, burrito, quesadilla), a side, some rBST-free milk or a soda, and a churro. Nora doesn’t even know the churro comes with it—I crumple it up in the bag for compost—and don’t you dare tell her. I adore the Balsamic & Roasted Veggie Salad with Chicken. It’s shockingly good (and fresh). They also give kids their own little box of crayons and a paper menu with games, things to color, etc. Total win-win.