Ask just about any parent with small children, "Hey, would it be a good idea to take a 4 year old boy and his 20-month old brother out to dinner in a restaurant-- not a McDonald's, but an actual sit down restaurant?"

You can guess what the answer would be. It's common sense, really.


However, in some communities, families sometimes find a "family-friendly" restaurant and claim it for their own. "Family-friendly" means noisy and kids running around all over the place. There's probably one in your neck of the woods. Oddly enough, the one in my town, Picante Cocina Mexicana isn't a diner or a pancake house or a burger joint. No, it serves Oaxacan cuisine. Go figure.

But, Wednesday night, as I'm driving into downtown San Francisco on four and a half hours of sleep to pick up the Li'l Bean, Boy Wonder (age four) brings up the idea of dining out once again. Seeing as I will soon have two hungry boys on my hand, a 40 minute commute home, and then having to prepare a meal (no doubt from something frozen... but that's still another 20 minutes)... the restaurant option is looking promising.

Until I pick up Li'l Bean who's puffy, coughing, congested, and clingy. Hmmm. Decision time.

What are the odds of finding a family friendly restaurant in the Financial District of San Francisco, a city that prides itself on its restaurants?

Boy Wonder informs me he would like to find a restaurant that serves tortilla chips, french fries, Hot Dogs, and Burritos.

"Do you want a burrito or a hot dog for dinner?"

"I want a burrito, hot dog, and french fries."

"Well, you can have a burrito or a hot dog but not both."


"Because the restaurants that have hot dogs don't serve burritos and the restaurants that have burritos don't have hot dogs. Or french fries."

"How about chips?"

"Yeah, they'd have chips."


"So which would you like for dinner?"

"I want hot dog and burrito."


Boy Wonder is fickle when it comes to burritos. Some days he just picks at them and some days he will wolf an entire one down. So I make a decision that we'll go in quest of hot dogs. With a Plan B for a quick extraction in case Li'l Bean (who loves burritos, by the way) decides that being sick is a perfect excuse for a meltdown.

I drive the one ways streets of downtown San Francisco, making my way towards the parking garage on Fifth and Mission to scout out my target: and there it is-- a restaurant that I once swore I'd never set foot in again, because it was an overpriced tourist trap that catered to meat-eating yahoos with no sense of culinary adventure or foodie self-respect: Mel's Drive-In. I knew, however, that they would definitely have hot dogs and french fries on the menu.

We parked. We went in. And let me tell you, it was magic.

It's not tourist season, so it wasn't busy. Balloons. That went over big with the boys. They deposited us in a booth with crayons to color on the placemats and kids menu. That went over really big. Chuck Berry and Dion and the Belmonts on the jukebox. That went over big (with me. The kids would rather hear the Wiggles). The kids' meals came to the table presented with the food in the front seat of a paper model of a classic hot rod convertible. And thanks to all that, the boys were on their best behavior. No yelling, no throwing, no spitting, no shreiking. No squirming, no running around, no whining.

French fries all around!

(The hot dog option was bypassed for a Grilled Cheese sandwich... which was studiously ignored, as the French Fries became the main event).

I love Mel's Diner.

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