San Diegans are eating out with their families again and we're on a mission to find all of the best spots! Nirit from @Sandiegoeats is here to make sure you're up to speed on the best restaurant playgrounds, menu items and activities in every corner of the county!
All in San Diego Podcast – With AJ and Sara
ALL IN on Family Dining with Nirit @SanDiegoEats
AJ: Welcome back to “All in San Diego.” As of the recording of this episode, the world is going back to normal. And a question that we've had to ask ourselves a lot of times in our lives is making a comeback. The question is where are we going to eat?
But specifically for families it's where are we going to take the whole family to eat? Well, we're going to tackle that question today.
Sara: We'll be joined by Nirit from San Diego Eats and she has tons of tips and great restaurants, no matter what part of San Diego you live in.
AJ: Let's go all in on family dining. Let's do this. Nirit, hello.
Nirit: Hi, good morning.
AJ: This is such an exciting topic because as of the recording of this episode, we're all starting to go out with our families again. And it's a very exciting thing. So, thank you for joining us to tell us some places to go.
Nirit: Thank you. Yeah. I mean, before I didn't like taking my kids out and I'm just so desperate to get out of the house that I'm even willing to dine with my kids. But the good news is that so many things have moved outdoors. And so, there are tons of kid friendly spots and when they scream, it's just not as amplified because you're not inside.
AJ: So, it’s perfect.
Nirit: So, it really works out.
AJ: Well, let's dive right in. Let's pick a part of town and gives us some spots to check out.
Nirit: Sure. So, I'm in East County, Grand Ole Barbecue is definitely one of my favorite spots. There's a lot of live music there. There's a ton of really good meat. They slow cook everything and it's just amazingly smoked and so delicious.
There are outdoor games, there's space for kids to run around. It's super casual. Everyone gets messy. It's perfect.
AJ: What are these outdoor games?
Nirit: There's like Cornhole and things for kids to climb that is not their parents head. So, whatever it takes.
AJ: People sleep on barbecue as something to feed your kids. Because the barbecue sauce tends to be sweet and it is fun to get messy and barbecue spots are a good choice for parents.
Nirit: Yes. And there's always Mac and cheese there. So, worst comes to worst. There's always an option for picky kids.
Sara: That's perfect.
AJ: Throw some Mac and cheese at them and send them over to the Cornhole.
Nirit: That's basically how it goes. I also love, Trails Eatery for brunch, and that is located in Del Cerro and they have super amazing pancakes. As last time I went there, they have this Samoa pancakes that were girl scout, cookie inspired, and they were so delicious.
And also in that area is BO-beau Kitchen in downtown La Mesa that has a really cool school bus that kids can climb into while the parents eat.
AJ: Okay. I want to get back to the second place you just mentioned, but the Trails Eatery, I know of that she had Stacey Poon-Kinney is the owner. They are like mad scientists with their pancakes. And that restaurant has a distinction of having been rescued on Restaurant 911.
Sara: Oh, really?
AJ: Whatever that one is, where the big buff chef comes and saves your restaurant. Robert Irvine, he came and saved that restaurant.
Nirit: Yeah. Yeah. That restaurant is really good. There is a really big line usually, but they just expanded outdoors. So there's a lot more seating space now.
Sara: Okay. And I bet the line probably goes pretty fast. Some of these places now that they've moved outdoors, it can be overwhelming when you walk up and you go, oh God, we're so hungry, but they've gotten really good at getting through that line pretty fast.
Nirit: Yeah. Yeah. I think also all the, to go orders during the pandemic, just help the cooks cook even faster.
AJ: They've trained themselves up. Okay. Now, let's go a little deeper into this place with a school bus. What is this?
Nirit: So, BO-beau is an American, French mix, in downtown LA Mesa. Besides for being able to walk in downtown La Mesa before and after dinner, there is an old school bus at the restaurant that kids can climb into and run all over and go up and down the stairs. So, it's just a really nice place for parents and the kids to eat. And the Brussels sprouts are amazing. Even kids eat the Brussel sprout.
Sara: Really. What's up with the Brussels sprouts?
Nirit: They taste so good.
Sara: They have like a swim place or something?
Nirit: Yes. And like when you walk outside, you could smell them. You're just like dying for Brussels sprouts, which never happens. But it happens with there.
AJ: Okay. Are we talking about a Brussel sprout appetizer?
Nirit: Yes. It's like a must. It's a must. Besides for the school bus there, the Brussel sprouts highly recommended.
AJ: Okay. Sounds like a lot of fun. Okay. So that was East County. Where else are we going?
Nirit: Okay. Downtown Little Italy, Point Loma area. One of my favorite spots is the Crack Shack. That's in Little Italy. There is so much to eat there and there's so much for kids to do there. There's like a big chicken that they just point and say, chicken, chicken, chicken, the whole time. They find it extremely entertaining.
And there's also a lot of alcohol for the parents. And is a good spot to run around for the kids. So it's the perfect casual place to go.
Sara: There's one in Encinitas as well. And people love it because the kids can just go. They have like a sand pit at the one in Encinitas. I don't know if they're all the same, but there's a sand pit.
Nirit: Amazing. Yeah. Whatever. Keep them entertained.
AJ: And that's another food network timing because that's chef Richard Blais from top chef that started the Crack Shack.
Sara: Look at you. AJ with the fun packs.
Nirit: Crack Shack is definitely one of the favorites over there in point Loma, right in Liberty stations. There's Buona Forchetta, which is just always good. It's hard to get into, but again, they just expanded their patio in the back. And there's just tons of seating space now. There's pizza and pasta and kids always like pizza and pasta. So, it's a win-win. There's also a playground there.
AJ: Yeah. Yeah. Before we move on to another place, you obviously are very dialed in and talk to these restaurant owners. What is your impression of what's going to happen with all this awesome outdoor patio seating that's kind of been expanded? Is it going to be a part of regular life going forward?
Nirit: Yeah. As long as the city allows for it. And the city just extended the outdoor seating restrictions. As long as the city allows for it. They're really open to it. It rains in San Diego twice a year, so there's not really a problem with weather. And it just allows them to have a lot more seating out there and it's easier to clean up outside. Believe it or not.
Sara: It’s really become part of my favorite parts of, all the pivoting, you know what I mean? It's like, how come we didn't have this before.
Nirit: Yeah, it feels a lot more like Europe, which we should have been doing a long time ago. It feels almost like a vacation.
AJ: We should become the outdoor dining capital of America. There's no reason that shouldn't be a thing that we become known for.
Nirit: Absolutely. It's weird to get indoors now. Why would you do that when there's beautiful weather?
AJ: Well to keep that indoors seating for the two months of the year when it rains, but the rest of the year let's go for it. All right. What else do you have?
Nirit: I also love Stone Brewing, right in Liberty Station as well. There's just a lot of beer and there's a lot of stuff for kids to do. There're the ponds, a ton of fish, there’re turtles. They can run around it's super casual. There's good food options. So, that's definitely a great spot. Just you have to make sure that your kids don't fall into that pond trying to catch the fish.
Hey, moving on in the downtown area, this is a little bit off downtown, but one door north in North Park has an awesome patio. They're also open indoors with cool, like camping looking gear. But the outdoor patio was really great. They have awesome bar with great cocktails and the best Nashville, hot chicken sandwich ever.
AJ: Ooh, Nashville, hot chicken is blowing up. I went to Nashville. I don't know how many years ago, but I had never heard of Nashville hot chicken. And now it's on every menu in town it seems like.
Nirit: It is the most popular it's the cauliflower of the year.
AJ: I love that.
Sara: It’s true.
AJ: I want to give everyone approach it for listening to this episode, because I think the temptation, when you listen to an episode like this is to wait for your part of town. So you can hear what's near you, but we'd recently did an episode with Sam, the cooking guy, and we were talking about, don't be afraid to be a tourist in your own home area.
Don't be afraid to jump into your car and drive from La Mesa to downtown or from Escondido to East County. These places seem worth the drive and let's get out and support businesses everywhere. And don't just wait for the ones your neighborhood.
Sara: Yeah. And make a whole day of it. There's so much to do in all these parts of town too, that I'm sure would be totally brand new experiences for everybody.
AJ: Yeah. Okay. Are we still in the downtown area, Nirit?
Nirit: We are. One more restaurant in North Berkeley I totally love is, Underbelly. And it is so good and they have the best ramen ever, and you can even eat it on a hot day. That's how good their hot soup is. And it's great outdoors. There's a lot of outdoor space, that are heated outdoor space, non-heated outdoor space.
And the buns over there also, the hot chicken bun at Underbelly is amazing. Along with the fried eggplant bun, incredible. I highly recommend that spot.
AJ: It's not a Nashville hot chicken bun. Because that would be very authentic.
Nirit: No, no, no, no. It's very Asian inspired.
AJ: Sarah knows this about me. Ramen is one of my absolute favorite things. This may not be in the line of our family restaurant theme. What do you think is the best ramen spot in the greater San Diego area?
Nirit: Oh, that's a tough one. Menya Ultra is one of my favorites, impossible to get into, but Underbelly is definitely top of the list.
AJ: Really. Okay. I've never gotten into Menya Ultra. You need to know people and have a special knock.
AJ: And people will start lining up.
Sara: Where is that one?
AJ: The original ones on Mira Mesa Boulevard, no the original one is in ---.
AJ: Clairemont Mesa. And then now there's one on Mira Mesa Boulevard.
Nirit: Yes. And now there's one in Hillcrest right next to Uncle Biffs.
AJ: Cool. Keep opening more so that there's enough for everyone to get in to try one.
Nirit: I know. It's impossible to get in seriously. Okay. Should we move on to Chula Vista, Bonita area or North County?
AJ: Yes, let's do Chula Vista, Bonita. I'm dying to hear where people need to be going there.
Nirit: Okay. So there are three different places, Savoy in Bonita. They have these insane pancakes over there, the airy ones. What do you call them now? It's out of my mind.
Nirit: No, they're really fluffy, thick pancakes.
Nerit: No, but they're amazing. Okay. If you go over there and you tell them about the pancakes, they'll know exactly what you need to eat. it is incredible over there. They have a great patio, indoor and outdoor space. Lots of family friendly food options. And they're open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the pancakes there are definitely my favorite.
AJ: Okay. You got me curious about these airy pancakes.
Nirit: Yes. They're really, really good. And they are my top performing post of all time on my foodie account.
AJ: That amazes me.
Nirit: Soufflé. That's the word. Soufflé.
AJ: Soufflé. Now we are getting fancy.
Nirit: Yeah. Soufflé
AJ: By the way, one thing you need to do while you're listening to this episode, if not the second it's over is follow Nerit on Instagram because San Diego Eats is amazing. But it shocks me when you say that a pancake post is your biggest post of all time. Because I feel like when you go to the average food blog, they've got 500 different kinds of hamburgers and 15 kinds of Buffalo, this and Buffalo that. Those seem to be the things that get the most traction. You're telling me these pancakes are that gun.
Nirit: The pancakes are really good. It's between pancakes, tacos, and fries that performed the best on my page. Pretty San Diego, I would say. But yes, those pancakes did really well on my page. People seem to really love them. And they were shared and favored a lot.
AJ: Can we take a side deal? Well, no we'll have you on again, and we can do tacos.
Sara: It's hard not to.
Nirit: Oh, my God. We could do a whole two-hour episode on tacos in the city. There's an insane amount.
Sara: We get a foodie on and we're like, oh, we want to pick your brain.
AJ: Careful what you wish for, because I think we're going to do a taco episode with you, but let's keep moving on family dining right now.
Nirit: Okay. In another place that's just very casual, but really fun dessert place is Holy Paleta. They have a location in Bonita and Little Italy. They have these really cool paletas, which are Mexican popsicles and they have dairy base. They have fruit-based and you can put any kind of chocolate on top and then a million different toppings.
My favorite is the Cinnamon Horchata one. It's tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but like on a cold, really delicious popsicle with like a creamy middle that is my favorite one there. And it's just a really fun place to take the kids and have them do their own little design. And then if you don't want to give them too much sugar, they have mini paletas which are equally as delicious. They're just much smaller.
Sara: Maybe you get a bunch of those and try a bunch of different mini flavors. Maybe that's the move.
Nirit: Yes. Good call.
AJ: That's one to put on your summer to do list with the kids. That sounds like it'd be worth the drive for just about anywhere. A really unique experience.
Nirit: Yeah. Yeah. And if you're in Little Italy definitely stop by. It's just a casual spot right there.
And then my last favorite place over there is Elote. They serve corn and it's a really cool outdoor space. They kind of are to loom inspired. They have a DJ, it's all outdoors. They're out of an old shipping container and it's a really, really great spot for the family. And that's extremely delicious.
AJ: I love that. Boy, you know, what, if you were pitching me restaurant ideas, and you said we're going to do corn in an old warehouse and have a DJ. I don't know if you're onto something here, but they apparently are. And I love the creativity of San Diegans.
Nirit: They figured it out. It's a really cool spot. During the day, it's a really nice casual spot. At night they have a ton of lights, it's all outdoors. They cook up amazing corn in these crazy machines and the idea was super random. Two guys one is an architect. One is a lawyer and they just left their careers during COVID and opened it up. And it's amazing.
AJ: And they're cooking corn in these machines. So am I eating a corn on the cob with couchy stuff on it?
Nirit: Yes. That’s exactly. That's exactly how I would describe it. It is really delicious and they even have dessert corn. They have a lot of different types of corn. Tons of toppings. It is so good. You just have to go. There's no way to really explain how good it is.
AJ: You've piqued my curiosity for sure. I love that. Alright.
Sara: I love it. These two guys are sitting around. They're like, you know what San Diego needs is an off the rails corn party.
Nirit: Yeah. Pretty corny. But they did it.
AJ: They did. Okay. That wraps up the South Bay, right? So where are we going to, North County?
Nirit: Now, we're just finishing up with North County. Gravity Heights is one of my favorite family-friendly spots. It's in a very industrial area. You would never find it, if you were just driving by, but it's a huge spot. There's space to run around.
There's great food and lots of beers that they make over there. I love that spot. They're open for brunch. They're open for dinner. And it's just anytime of the day, a great spot to go with the kids.
Sara: I feel like this is happening a lot where these restaurants are opening up in kind of industrial, like a lot of businesses and stuff around there, and you wouldn't expect it and you roll up on it. And it's this huge restaurant.
Nirit: Yeah. But you would never go there for any other reason, to go there it's totally worth it. That is in Sorrento Valley. So, highly recommend that spot.
Going further North, Viewpoint Brewing in Del Mar it's right over the lagoon. There's again. Great beer. And there's also a lot of space and swings and games for kids outside. The food is great. It is a little bit of a wait, especially on the weekends, but it's a really great family friendly spot.
AJ: Nice. They could use a new option in Del Mar. The few places they do have popular breakfast spots. The lines are always very, very long. So, maybe a few more long lines individually, be a little shorter.
Nirit: Yeah. Not just to retirees in Del Mar, there's a lot of families moving in. So, it's great to have that as the North County option.
Nirit: Campfire in Carlsbad, also a favorite, a great place for the family to go. It's all outside. There're little tents. It's just a great place for kids and every time there's really great food. And then also Fish 101 in Leucadia
AJ: Okay. Before we go into Fish 101. Campfire, you said this, like it was a normal thing. There are tents?
Nirit: Yeah. It's like camping. Well, it's not there. It's just the theme of the restaurant. But there's just a lot of outdoor and outdoors the vibes at that restaurant and kids really tend to love that. And it's just a great place to go. Especially if you're up north, we went several times after LEGOLAND. So, a really great spot in Carlsbad.
Nirit: Yes. And then, Fish 101 in Leucadia, always good. The food is always fresh, tons of space for kids to run around for the parents to enjoy. They have good drinks, overall, just a really great restaurant, for casual night out. Or if you want to not take the kids and have a date night.
AJ: That is awesome. It's amazing to hear you just list place after place each one with such a unique approach and they all sound great. Are you a San Diego native?
Nirit: I'm not. I'm from the Bay area.
AJ: I saw your area code. I thought you're from the South Bay. I moved out here from the Bay area in the early 2000’s. And I was in love, who doesn't love San Diego? You fall in love with the beaches. For me, I love PB, but I quickly thought to myself, they don't have a whole lot of a food scene out here compared to the Bay area and they didn't, but boy, has it turned around. How would you describe San Diego's food scene?
Nirit: Well, I also came here about 10 years ago for college and besides for Cocina and PB, I didn't know anything else. But things have really changed. A lot of people are moving into San Diego. It was kind of a hidden gem in California and now it's really become a multicultural location. There's so much to eat.
There's a lot of great restaurants and a lot of food network, people over here. A lot of famous chefs that are living in San Diego because why would you not? And a lot of really unique concepts came out of COVID actually.
So, I think the city is really, really transforming and we just have such great weather that the outdoor space is just encouraging restaurants, I think, to open and people are just desperate to go dine.
AJ: Wow. Well, this was specifically about family dining and you've given us some great places to go. Do you have any tips for how to go about it? Do you have any way to keep it? Obviously, having adult beverages there is a big thing.
Sara: I know; I love that she mentioned all those.
AJ: Any other parent night out pro tips?
Nirit: Besides for bringing a nanny, I'm just kidding. Not really. I would recommend bringing activities for your kid if you're going to a place that doesn't have a lot of kid friendly options. And also you have to keep in mind that. All the parents are desperate and kind of drop their kids off at the playground.
So, if there’s a line you could become inpatient. So, bringing activities for them, cars, crayons, whatever it takes, really helps. And then if you have babies, either leave them at home or if you come, don't forget to bring their food and maybe something for them to nibble on. If they're not at the age where they're able to go to the playground.
AJ: Yeah. I feel like it's so easy for a lot of parents to hand their phone or a tablet to the kids now. But before we just had these devices on us, it'd be like, Hey, don't forget to bring that little book or the little toy to keep everyone busy, because you can't count on the child's menu.
Sara: One of my favorite tips from a friend along those same lines, is she would go to the dollar store like once every couple months. And she would just get a whole bunch of dollar toys and trinkets and activities and crafts, and she would just keep them in a bag in the garage. And when they were going to go out to dinner, she'd pop a couple in the car. It was like perfect to just entertain them for that extra half hour.
Nirit: Totally. Yeah, whatever it takes. Whatever your kid loves. We have a 3 1/2-year-old and a six month old and we don't own a tablet and we have never given the phone because I totally get it, but I just try to find activities for my kid. If I do choose to take them out and make sure that it is a family friendly restaurant, because you don't want to be the family screaming when someone is trying to enjoy date night, because I've been there as well.
AJ: Wow. Your life could almost be a reality show that I would watch. How long will they go before they break and hand the Kata tablets?
AJ: I love that.
AJ: Well. So, you've built up this massive platform on Instagram and it's built largely on finding great places. Let's wrap up with that. What is your advice to people? How do you find places like this? Do you look through all of the many, many choices and find awesome new places to dine out in San Diego.?
Nirit: Yeah, so, before I started and the only place you could really go is Yelp. There wasn't really a lot of social media going on about restaurants. And then on Yelp, you have to know where you want to go. What kind of food you want to eat, you can’t just easily pick? So, the reason I started is because my husband would always say, “Well, where do you want to go eat?” And I would have no idea.
And I wish there was a place where I could just look at pictures, find something that looks good and then go there. And that's kind of how San Diego Eats started. It was before influencers really became a thing, but I was just intending to start taking pictures of my food because I love to eat out and then it grew. So, go on social media and there's a lot of people that are reviewing places and its worth looking at. And a lot of times, places that you would never even heard of.
AJ: Yeah. I'm new to following people like you, and it is way better because reviews, you can look at something that's like five stars and you read three reviews and your mouth is watering. Then that fourth review says, “It's the worst place I've ever been.” And there is probably an outlier, but it's like, well, I can't go to that place now.
And you're almost looking for a place that has nothing but good stuff said about it, which doesn't exist. So, find someone who everything they share seems to actually be good. Yeah. Following people like you, that is the tip. San Diego Eats on Instagram.
Sara: This is so great. You gave us so many restaurants. We've both lived here for 20-plus years and I'm looking at this going God, I think I've only eaten at a few of these places. We have so much to explore.
Nirit: Yeah, so much to eat.
AJ: Next time I see you, Sarah. I expect you to be full and hung over.
Sara: Oh, God. You guys, I'm going to be so fat from doing this Podcast.
Nirit: Welcome to my life from doing the podcast. How do you think I feel?
Sara: Bring it on.
AJ: Nirit, thanks so much for taking the time to join us.
Nirit: Of course, anytime.
AJ: Nirit, had so many great places. I expected that. I didn't expect so many unusual places, but corn warehouse, the place with the tents. There's, something for everybody.
Sara: There really, really is. God, I love checking in with these experts.
AJ: If you enjoyed the episode, if you don't want to miss future episodes, make sure you click subscribe wherever you're listening.
Sara: Thanks for listening guys.