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PARENTING : Dining With the Small Fry : A variety of Valley restaurants serve up entertainment, special plates and lower prices for the younger members of the family.

March 26, 1993|MICHAEL SZYMANSKI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Michael Szymanski writes regularly for The Times

At the doorway of Mumms Restaurant in North Hollywood, children and parents alike pay 50 cents for a try to catch a foot-high stuffed animal by using a crane.

"It's easier than it looks. They have to fill it with new ones practically every day," says Mumms owner Bill Moore.

Mumms, at 13075 Victory Blvd., is a typical down-home family restaurant. There are carnations at the table, a salad bar, homey lamps hanging over each red vinyl booth, and everything is made fresh each day--no preservatives.

"We pride ourselves with being specifically geared for the family, and more than half our customers on the weekends are large families," says Moore, who has co-owned the restaurant with his brother for nine years.

"You just don't see many family restaurants in the rest of Los Angeles anymore," Moore sighs. "We're a dying breed."

Yet the San Fernando Valley has a plethora of fun places for the whole family, and they're not so hard to track down. A Coco's Bakery Restaurant can be found in Encino, North Hills, Van Nuys and Woodland Hills, with two in Northridge. There's a Charley Brown's in Woodland Hills and Studio City, each on a different end of Ventura Boulevard.

"You just don't want to have to feel uncomfortable about bringing your child into a place," Moore says. "And, you don't want to have to pay full price for something they're going to leave half of anyway."

At Mumms, for example, half of a tuna sandwich for "our friends 10 years or younger" costs $3.25. Spaghetti, which comes with a soup or fries, milk or juice, is $2.95.

Other places that welcome whole passels of kids include traditional, deli-style Solley's in Encino, Woodland Hills, Northridge and Sherman Oaks; the offbeat diner Johnny Rockets at 14561 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, and Bobby McGee's, with its theatrical, funny waiters and waitresses, 107 S. 1st St., in Burbank.

Special menus in family restaurants provide the best deals for big families. Billingsley's at 6550 Odessa Ave. in Van Nuys has a hamburger, salad and fries for $3.95 and a steak dinner for little mouths for $5.95. The special child's platter at Cable's Restaurant, 20929 Ventura Blvd. in Woodland Hills, ranges from $3.15 to $3.85, which buys a cheeseburger with fries.

If pizza is the child's delight, Chi Chi's Pizza in Panorama City, at Tampa Avenue and Nordhoff Street, has peewee pizza prices and a plate of petit pasta for children at $3.95.

Many little ones, however, prefer loading up their own plate at the buffet. The Soup Exchange at 21610 Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills, lets children 4 to 11 have a crack at its large buffet for $3.99. In Van Nuys, Mac's Cafeteria, 6230 Sylmar Ave., is open only on weekdays but has special deals for kids, and the meat-and-potatoes buffet of Furr's Cafeteria, 13055 Sherman Way in North Hollywood, allows children 12 and under to eat as much as they want for $2.99.

Chains can be homey too, as evidenced by the popularity of Marie Callender's pies, available at any of three Valley locations: 6633 Fallbrook Ave. in Canoga Park, 19310 Business Center Drive in Northridge and 14743 Ventura Blvd. in Encino.

Another favorite among the chains is Bob's Big Boy, and the one to visit first is the 44-year-old Streamline Moderne-style coffee shop on Riverside Drive in Burbank.

For a place that's just plain fun to go, try the Copper Penny across from the Warner studios in Burbank, where kids can count the pennies lacquered into the tabletops.

An even more lively alternative is family bowling after a meal at Granada Lanes, 10823 Zelzah Ave. in Granada Hills, where alley and shoe rentals are less than $5 each. The 30-year-old bowling alley has a decent coffee shop, a pool table and a video arcade where the likes of Hulk Hogan, Tony Danza and Michael Keaton have been spotted with their families.

To step into a bit of World War I history, take the kids to see the old barn and antique planes at the 94th Aero Squadron, 16320 Raymer St. in Van Nuys.

Inevitably, one of the most entertaining places features a giant mouse greeting families at the door. No, it's not the Magic Kingdom but Chuck E. Cheese's, which has branches in Sun Valley, Northridge, Granada Hills, Canoga Park and Lancaster.

"We want parents to have fun with their children," says Jaime Cossio, who for 10 years has managed the Chuck E. Cheese's in Northridge at 8425 Reseda Blvd. "They play the video games together and they dance and talk to the characters too."

One of the most fun parts of the Chuck E. Cheese's experience, Cossio says, is the cage of colored balls that children can jump into and crawl through--but parents aren't allowed in. "Usually when you're going out to dinner with the kids, it's more of a chore than fun," Cossio says. "We try to make it fun all around."

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