Living in Berkeley, we really are spoiled for choice when it comes to family friendly places to eat.
We like to try out cafes and restaurants all over the city, but the North Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto is definitely our favorite place to go when we're looking for a bite to eat. There are so many fantastic options whether we want a quick snack, a sweet treat, a take-out meal or a dine-in option. Here are a few of our favorite places in the Gourmet Ghetto to go with children.
Take Out: Grab and go food in the Gourmet Ghetto
Cheeseboard is our absolute favorite place to visit in the Gourmet Ghetto. We drop by for baked goods in the morning, we meet up with friends in the parklet out the front, and, just like everyone else in Berkeley, we join the long line for pizza! Ah, Cheeseboard pizza… It doesn't get any better than this! The long line for pizza at Cheeseboard can be pretty daunting, but as there is only one type of pizza available each day the line moves pretty quickly. Light bake pizzas are available in the bakery, so I'll often stop by for pizza earlier in the day and heat it up at home for dinner.
Seating has always been a bit of an issue at Cheeseboard due to its popularity, but with the opening of the parklet in front of the store, this has been alleviated quite a bit.
The bakery part of Cheeseboard does not have bathrooms, but the pizza section does. While the pizza section is not open for pizza all day, the seating and bathrooms are still usually available for customers to use. Baby change tables are available in the bathrooms.
Kirala 2 in Epicurious Garden on Shattuck Avenue is the take out branch of popular Japanese restaurant Kirala. With ready made sushi, sashimi and sides, plus hot food including bento boxes, donburi and noodles, Kirala 2 is the perfect place to stop by lunch or dinner on the go. Bench seating and tables are available over three levels of decked garden out back. Epicurious Garden, is a popular spot with families. Kids love the novelty of sitting outside to eat, and the pond and waterfall in the garden will delight. Toddlers may need reminding that the water features are just to look at, not to play in – which can be pretty tempting on a hot day. Bathrooms are available inside Epicurious Garden. The bathrooms do not have baby change tables.
If soup is what you're after, then look no further than Soop. Also located in Epicurious Garden, Soop offers a large range of delicious, home style soups, chowders and chilis. The menu varies week to week depending on the fresh produce in season, but you can expect to find a great variety of soups on any given day, including vegetarian and gluten free options. Chicken noodle, clam chowder, vegan friendly minestrone, split pea and ham, chicken tortilla… Soop has something to make everyone happy. Soop's soups, chowders and chilis are available in single size serves, perfect for eating in the garden out back, and large family size serves for taking home. Sides including house made corn bread are available.
Poulet, on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Virginia Street is THE place in North Berkeley to go for roast chicken. With the tastiest roast chickens (sold whole, half or as pieces) and freshly made, healthy salads and sides, Poulet is a great place to pick up dinner when you don't have time to cook – which, let's face it, can be more often than not with kids and their often busy after school schedules. Roast chicken is available all day Monday through Saturday and fried chicken is also available on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. A variety of frozen take home meals and soups are also available. If you prefer to dine in Poulet has you covered too with a small dining area. Bathrooms are available but there are no baby change facilities.
Dine In: trying to sit and eat with kids
Saul's Restaurant & Delicatessen
Saul's is firm favorite with many Berkeley residents. Reminiscent of a New York diner, Saul's serves a classic Jewish menu including brisket, pastrami on rye, matzo ball soup, and the most delicious potato latkes.
The kids' menu offers a good range of kid approved food including hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, PB&J, turkey sandwiches, matzo ball soup and bagels. After 4pm dinner options such as chicken of the day are included. Side serves such as apple sauce, plain noodles, cheese and turkey are perfect for the littlest diners – or super fussy eaters! There have been plenty of times when all my youngest wants for lunch is a few slices of turkey and a cup of apple sauce! My kids love that breakfast is served until 2pm (3pm on weekends) meaning that a pancake for lunch is totally an option! The kids' paper menus feature fun kid-drawn illustrations and crayons are available for coloring. High chairs are available for the littlest diners although if your kids are anything like mine, they'll want to sit in a booth because, hey, booths are more fun! Baby change facilities are available in all of the bathrooms.
The delicatessen part of Saul's offers a great range of take out foods including bagels, cookies, knishes and blintzes.
More pancakes for lunch! Well, crepes to be precise. Or pancakes, because they have those too.
Crepevine is my 5 year old's favorite restaurant. She loves the kid friendly menu, but her absolute favorite thing about Crepevine is the Wikki Stix they give out to kids to play with while they wait for their food. Coloring while you wait for lunch is fun, but Wikki Stix? They just take it to a whole other level! My kids always end up eating their meal while wearing glasses fashioned out of Wikki Stix. Sometimes I do too! The kids menu features all the typical meals you'd expect to see on a kids' menu including mini pancakes, mini burgers, spaghetti, chicken tenders and grilled cheese. The relaxed atmosphere is perfect for family dining and there are plenty of large tables plus high chairs for little ones. Both the women's and men's bathrooms at Crepevine have baby change facilities.
Among the mostly European cuisine of the Gourmet Ghetto Asian restaurants are few are far between. Da Lian is a large, family friendly Chinese restaurant and one of our favorite places to eat out with other families. The menu offers a large range of dishes including plenty of not so spicy ones that kids love such as pot stickers, chow mien, beef with broccoli, sizzling rice soup and spring rolls. The noodles are always fresh and tasty and nothing feels overly oil which can be common at Chinese restaurants. The serving sizes are pretty large making them perfect for sharing. The atmosphere at Da Lian is pretty relaxed and there are plenty of large tables with is great for families. My kids love getting a round table with a lazy susan in the middle. Passing the salt is definitely more fun with you can spin it over to the next person! Clean bathrooms are available but there are no baby change facilities.
Mission Heirloom on Vine Street is relatively new on the scene. This gluten free and paleo friendly cafe is a great spot for meeting up with friends thanks to its amazing courtyard garden that looks straight out of a design magazine. The spacious courtyard garden features plenty of seating as well as a small grass area perfect for little ones to play on. I find Mission Heirloom perfect for parent coffee dates with little ones in tow rather than a place to eat with my older kids. The menu is generally aimed more towards a grown up palate, but there is a daily selection of small baked goods available that kids will enjoy. Mission Heirloom also features a marketplace stocked with healthy take home meals. Large and clean bathrooms are available in the courtyard but no baby change facilities are available.
Sweet Treats: so many choices for dessert in the Gourmet Ghetto
Lush Gelato in the Epicurious Garden is one of our favorite places to stop for a sweet treat on a warm day. Or a cold day. It's always a good day for gelato! The gelato and sorbetto flavors on offer vary daily and many are quite gourmet. It is the Gourmet Ghetto, after all! Many of the flavors are better suited to an adult palate and at times can seem quite experimental, but there are always a few classic flavors on offer like strawberry and chocolate that kids will enjoy. My kids like to taste a few different flavors before ordering but they almost always end up ordering the same thing (strawberry sorbetto and ricotta and lemon zest gelato) unless there's a special flavor like donut or popcorn, chocolate and salted caramel available. The garden out the back is the perfect place to sit and enjoy gelato on a warm day (or any day) and as I mentioned earlier, there are bathrooms available inside the Epicurious Garden building.
Virginia Bakery is known for their cakes, cookies and pastries and is pretty popular with kids. My girls love to drop by for a cookie after school on special days. It's always a tough decision trying to choose between the different iced cookies – all of which are equally delicious. Hmm… smiley face, butterfly, Warriors cookie?! Different iced cookies are available depending on the season and special events. I can't wait to see the election cookies coming later this year! It's not all about the cookies at Virginia Bakery though. They make pretty tasty cakes too and are well known for their special order birthday cakes. The chocolate eclairs are good, too. Limited seating is available both inside Virginia Bakery and out the front along the sidewalk.
Love at First Bite
Located in Walnut Square on the corner of Walnut and Vine Streets, Love at First Bite makes some of the tastiest cupcakes around. Each day, little (and big) cupcake lovers can find anywhere between 12 – 15 flavors on offer including classics such as vanilla, chocolate and red velvet, alongside new favorites like hummingbird cake, PB affair, lemon pistachio and matcha green tea. Dairy- and egg-free vegan options are also available. While there is no seating available inside the tiny store, there is bench seating out the front. Walnut Square is a lovely, quiet spot to sit and enjoy a cupcake. Away from the bustle of Shattuck Ave, Walnut Square really feels like a little secret hideaway, and you know that kids love secret hideaways!
Where to Play: Live Oak Park
After eating all that delicious food, kids need to run around and play. Nearby Live Oak Park is our favorite place to go after we've filled our bellies in the Gourmet Ghetto.
Live Oak Park features something for everyone. There are two playground areas: a fenced in toddler playground with sand, toddler swings, bouncy rides and a small climbing structure, and a larger playground for older children, with a large climbing structure, slides and swings. Adjoining the playground areas are basketball courts, tennis courts, plenty of flat grass for running around on, and Live Oak Community Center which has bathrooms available during its opening hours.
On the other side of Live Oak Community Center lies a large sloped grassy area filled with shady trees, meandering paths, picnic areas with tables and grills, and, the highlight in the eyes of most kids, Codornices Creek. The shallow creek is accessible by stairs, or by scrambling down the side, and is perfect for wading on a warm day.
[All photos by Sally Mason, all rights reserved, see more awesome stuff from Sally on LittleHiccups.net]