A Family Affair : Laguna’s Restaurants

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From coloring to activities and special menus, many of Laguna’s restaurants go the extra mile for family-friendly dining. 

By Beth Fhaner

Laguna’s restaurants

Whether you prefer a casual atmosphere or fancier fare, Laguna is a foodie town, and the dining options are plentiful, ranging from fresh fish and sustainable cuisine to comfort food and Italian fare. Both longtime locals and visitors in town for spring break will find many kid-friendly restaurants. Whatever type of food you and your kids have an appetite for, these Laguna Beach restaurants and others around town aim to please even the pickiest of palates, while keeping little ones entertained and parents satisfied.

Fresh Fare

Nirvana Grille fits the bill for a healthy, organic meal. Specializing in fresh, locally sourced food, the kid’s menu features sustainable seafood, antibiotic- and hormone-free meats and organic, free-range chicken. Gluten-free kids can be accommodated as well. Children can choose from several delectable dishes including Oodles of Noodles (pasta noodles), Little Slugger (a quarter-pound, hand-formed, organic grass-fed beef patty with fries) or Little Chick-y’s (lightly breaded chicken fingers with fries). Desserts include a scoop of ice cream or a vanilla ice cream sundae with chocolate syrup and whipped cream. Additionally, baskets full of toys and games, plus crayons and printed coloring pages keep little ones occupied here. Local mother Brita Corradini says she likes to patronize Nirvana Grille for the great kid’s menu, since the chef/owner, Lindsay Smith-Rosales, has a son, Diego, whom she tries everything out on first. (949-497-0027; nirvanagrille.com)

Irresistible Italian

If your family is in the mood for mouthwatering pasta, head to Polina’s Salerno, which has been cooking up traditional specialties since 1975, making it Laguna’s longest-running Italian restaurant. Open for dinner only, this family-style eatery has a small dining room with a warm, charming ambience. Children are welcome here, and to keep them entertained there are crayons and placemats, as well as toys for the smallest tots. On the kid’s menu, scrumptious dishes such as a small-sized pasta plate, cheese pizza, meatballs and cheese and meat ravioli are available. For dessert, don’t miss the truffle ice cream or cannoli. Local mother Liz Dick says her family enjoys Polina’s Salerno due to the “fun, friendly atmosphere—and our daughter [Natalia] can color on the table [placemats] there.” (949-497-2600; polinassalerno.com)

Laguna’s restaurants

Fish Frenzy

At the laid-back House of Big Fish (and Ice Cold Beer, for those old enough to imbibe), youngsters are greeted with crayons and placemats for coloring—once they’re done creating art, they can hang their pictures on the restaurant’s bulletin board. The kid’s menu features large portions of tasty dishes including fish and chips, coconut shrimp, a grilled fish of the day with rice and veggies, kid’s pasta and a chicken quesadilla. For dessert, little ones can indulge in an ice cream sundae or the blue raspberry Shark Attack—a sweet concoction that consists of blue raspberry syrup and Sprite, served with a cherry and gummy shark. Torrey Cook, local resident and mother of a 6-year-old daughter, says she frequents the eatery because they not only have a “great menu for adults, but a great kid’s menu with crayons, and the noise level is on the louder side, so if you have loud kiddos, they will fit right in.” (949-715-4500; houseofbigfish.com)

Beach-View Bites

For families who wish to dine seaside, The Beach House is a terrific choice. The kid’s menu (for children 12 and under) provides adult-sized portions and includes entrees such as linguine with butter or marinara, a half-pound cheeseburger, crispy chicken tenders with ranch dressing and a grilled cheese sandwich with shoestring fries. “The delicious, complimentary plate of fruit and muffins that they bring out when you sit down is the perfect appetizer for the kids,” says local mother Samantha Savage Breit. “Plus, the beautiful views of the beach and ocean provide kids with a healthy distraction to observe nature, as opposed to some electronic device.” (949-494-9707; thebeachhouse.com)

Tasty Nostalgic Treats 

With classic cars parked at the entrance and a casual, retro ambience, Ruby’s Diner caters to those dining with kids. Youngsters 12 and under can select from special breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. Best bets include the silver dollar pancakes or pigs in a blanket for breakfast, and a kid-sized turkey or beef burger, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, or macaroni and cheese for lunch or dinner. Ruby’s famous shakes and malts come kid-sized, too—try the Oreo Cookie Fantasy or Chocolate Banana. “My daughter (a ‘tween’) usually refuses to order off the kid’s menu but actually will at Ruby’s because even the kids’ burgers are so good,” says local Carolyn Graham, the mother of an 8-year-old and 12-year-old. “We like to go there because the kids can get what they like, and there are good options for more grown-up burgers, too. And if we’ve spent a long day at the beach, we splurge on milkshakes.” (949-497-7829; rubys.com)

Trendy Eats

For parents with well-behaved kids who are seeking a more stylish setting, Nick’s Laguna Beach—in the heart of downtown Laguna—is an excellent choice. They have an Etch A Sketch to occupy youngsters, and while there’s no official printed kid’s menu, ask your server for options like the chicken fingers. Leslie Christen, a mother of two young sons, says she likes to take her family to Nick’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner. “You’re able to get smaller portions for the little ones. My boys love to indulge in creme brulee oatmeal for breakfast and sides of gourmet macaroni and cheese and roasted vegetables for dinner,” she says. “The service is friendly and the food is always fantastic.” (949-376-8595; thenickco.com) LBM

 Laguna’s restaurants

More Kid-Friendly Eateries

Anastasia Cafe (949-497-1212)

Asada (949-715-5533; asadalaguna.com)

BJ’s Pizza and Grill (949-494-3802; bjsrestaurants.com)

Gina’s Pizza and Pastaria (south Laguna: 949-494-4342; north Laguna: 949-497-4421; ginaspizza.com)

Heidelberg Cafe & Bistro (949-497-4594; heidelbergcafe.com)

Hennessey’s Tavern (949-494-2743; hennesseystavern.com)

Johnny Rockets (949-497-7252; johnnyrockets.com)

La Sirena Grill (Mermaid Street location: 949-497-8226; Laguna Beach south: 949-499-2301; lasirenagrill.com)

Sundried Tomato Cafe (949-494-3312; sundriedtomatocafe.com)

Zinc Cafe (949-494-6302; zinccafe.com)

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