Five best: Where to dine with kids in Marin

Making the choice to take the kids out to dinner can be a parental dilemma. Is it an opportunity to do what’s proper by patiently teaching suitable eating-out etiquette? Or is it only fair to let out some steam by ordering an adult beverage and permitting the youngsters to either zone it out on a screen or run around to release some energy? The former seems like work and the latter most certainly will garner judgmental glares from fellow diners.

Then there’s the fussy eater issue, one that many restaurants address with kid-luring fare like mac and cheese, and chicken nuggets. It’s far from innovative, but better than spending full price for an entrée that might largely go untouched. Or should one consider the idea that it’s often away from home that kids are willing try something new?

Whatever your stance, here are five restaurants with food and ambiance that both kids and their adults should enjoy. Of course, there are quite a few family-friendly eating options in Marin, so please share your favorites in the comments section online or by sending me an email at


“Let’s bring the kids!” isn’t the first thought to come to mind when one sets out for a brew pub. But State Room Brewery in San Rafael gets it when it comes to family dining. The farm-to-fork focused gastropub with a hip, industrial vibe steps it up for the 10 and under crowd with bento box meals ($12). Youngsters can choose mac and cheese with peas or red sauce, chicken tenders or grilled cheese, along with house fries, steamed vegetables, apple slices, a chocolate chip cookie and milk, apple juice, lemonade or a fountain soda. Or go with a cheese ($10) or pepperoni ($12) pizza. If appetites kick in early, the young and older can take advantage of the siesta happy hour from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Small plates like baos with crisp pork belly or fried chicken ($7), tuna poke tacos ($10) and salads ($6) are perfect for the more adventuresome young foodie and grown ups wishing for a snack to go with craft brew and cocktail deals. Sports are shown on multiple televisions and a pool table, Skee-Ball and board games are on hand for entertainment for all.

• 1132 Fourth St. in San Rafael; 415-295-7929;


Give the kids a dose of old school at Marin Joe’s, a pretentious-free establishment in Corte Madera where the creamy cheese spread and crackers circa 1970 and a classic piano player will keep everyone content if there’s a wait, as there often can be. Coloring books and crayons are also at the ready.

The Della Santina family has been serving classic roasts and pastas since 1954, and a good selection is available in child-sized portions for kids under 12, including roast beef, lamb and pot roast with vegetables and french fries or roasted red potatoes ($9) and pasta dishes like spaghetti and ravioli, also with vegetables ($5.75 to $6.50).

“We’ve been kid-friendly through the 63 years we’ve been here. If you can’t bring them in here and let them get a little crazy, well … that’s just the way we are,” Paul Della Santina says.

• 1585 Casa Buena Drive in Corte Madera; 415-924-2081;


Playa, the colorful, modern Mexican restaurant, is a hit for all ages. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Playa, the colorful, modern Mexican restaurant, is a hit for all ages. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal) 

Playa might seem like the place to be for a rousing good time, sans kids, but the colorful, modern Mexican restaurant in downtown Mill Valley with a happening atmosphere hits a few notes for all ages. The bar not only scores for artisan cocktails, but bartenders will also mix up special virgin versions. For food, the kid’s dishes are more mature than many with a Caesar salad ($6); cheese quesadilla ($5); chicken flautas ($7); fish, chicken or steak tacos with rice and beans ($6); the Playarito ($6), and sides of rice or beans ($3 each). Bustling action both inside and out keeps everyone visually engaged.

• 41 Throckmorton Ave. in Mill Valley; 415-384-8871;


Find yourself with the kids at the end of their browsing rope at Town Center Corte Madera and Pacific Catch can help boost everyone’s shopping stamina. Eat inside or out at this West Coast “fish house” starting off with a snack of edamame and pretzel fish. The kid’s menu is more extensive — coconut shrimp or chicken strips that include seasonal vegetables, fruit and choice of fries, teriyaki rice bowls with chicken, salmon, shrimp or steak, tacos with mahi mahi or Rocky Jr. chicken and California sushi rolls ($7.50 per entree).

Stop by between 4 to 6 p.m. weeknights for happy hour drink specials and a wide assortment of half-priced bar bites to snack on that give kids a chance to try dishes beyond the norm — Korean sticky ribs, poke, calamari, ceviche, rolls and more.

• 133 Corte Madera Town Center in Corte Madera; 415-927-3474;


Step into the nautically appointed Waypoint Pizza on charming Main Street in Tiburon, and you’ve got the history of an 1880s landmark building combined with sailing lore and family vibes. There’s no reason not to enjoy the full range of pizzas and toppings, but children might get a kick out of the mini ($7.75) or small ($13.20) cheese pizza with a carrot smile and olive eyes. For something simple, slices ($4; 50 cents per topping) or penne pasta with butter and cheese ($5) will fit the bill.

Clean platers can delight in chocolate or vanilla Straus Family Creamery organic soft serve in a cup or cone with sprinkles ($3.50) or caramel or chocolate sauce (50 cents), or a warm chocolate chip cookie with ice cream and chocolate sauce ($5). Unless of course, the Candy Store was seen on the way, which is always a pull.

For an extra good time, there’s a party room for kids with a 3-D TV where they can don glasses and watch a large selection of Pixar and other animated movies.

• 15 Main St. in Tiburon; 415-435-3440;

By Leanne Battelle, IJ correspondent | POSTED:  | Leanne Battelle is a freelance food writer. Send her an email with ideas for the next Five Best in Marin at Or follow the Marin dining scene at

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