My in-laws will be joining my wife and I plus our one year-old daughter for dinner in the city for a Friday night out. This is not a crowd that wants Applebee's or anything of that sort, but something interesting. The major issue is that it needs to be kid friendly. We're all staying at the Hotel Nikko, and any recommendations are welcome!
Dear Kid-Friendly Downtown,
Kid-friendly, and (I’m assuming) not in the heart of the Tenderloin? An interesting challenge, indeed! Cabs may be fair game, but I’m going to stick to the general Union Square/nearby SOMA area for the sake of brevity. I'm thinking of a few things here as guidelines — a lively atmosphere (so your daughter won't be out of place) without being crazy, and food that's interesting without being insane.
Very close to your hotel is the brand-new, super hot Liholiho Yacht Club. Ravi Kapur’s brand of Hawaiian-inspired comfort food is one of the more exciting new menus in town — but not so weird that it’s unrecognizable to those unused to animal parts and fish sauce. I’m not sure if “kid-friendly” is 100% the right descriptor, but Ravi’s been known to have his own adorable child hanging out with him in the kitchen from time to time, so I’m guessing it’s not completely frowned on (plus, your daughter isn’t stealing a seat from a reservation-hungry adult).
Of course, reservations are currently kind of tough to come by at Liholiho — though earlier hours (in the 5 p.m. range) might be doable. If we look towards SOMA, there are a number of options that I’d consider good bets — they’re bustling enough that your daughter won’t stand out, but still have enjoyable food worth trying. Zero Zero, Bruce Hill’s stalwart pizza joint is one — they’ve got delicious seasonal antipasti, great pizzas, and cocktails, if, you know, the in-law/kid combination makes you want to take the edge off a little. Thirsty Bear is another — they’ve got solid Spanish style tapas and great beer, plus a mellow atmosphere and ample space.
You could try the brand-new, totally massive Ginto Izakaya — with options ranging from yakitori to sushi to izakaya classics, there’s sure to be something for everyone. That might be a little heavy on the party/lounge atmosphere, in which case you could go for more mellow Japanese fare at Ramen Underground — the Kearny Street spot gets packed at lunchtime, but is easy to get into in the evening, and makes some seriously solid ramen (without the evening crowds of nearby Katana-Ya).
Or, there’s Barbacco, a definite downtown go-to. The space and vibe both lean casual, and the food is consistently excellent - from salumi and pasta to bruschetta and fresh fish, this is thoughtful, and undeniably tasty Italian food (don’t skip the fried brussels sprouts with anchovies).
I will say that none of these places scream “KIDS!” to me, but I also can’t imagine your daughter being terribly out of place. Besides, when it comes to appreciating good restaurants, you can never start ‘em too young.