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Special Restaurant Issue | Kid friendly

The sitter's in Sedona

(Scene 10) This night out is one for the family--which means you need something fun to eat and you need it fast.

June 20, 2004|S. Irene Virbila

Who doesn't love a hot dog on a summer night? At The Stand in Encino, you can eat outdoors in the little tree-shaded patio or take in the action indoors, where chefs in their whites grill wieners beneath a sculptural copper hood. For the kids, there are old-fashioned sodas and the basic dog with all sorts of house-made fixings. For the grown-ups, gourmet dogs--a Big Blue dog with blue cheese, grilled onions and tomato on a poppy seed bun, anyone? Or you can eschew the dog for a Caesar salad and a glass of hand-squeezed lemonade.

Not far away is The Dip, a cheerful stand that serves up humongous French-dipped sandwiches to eat there or to go. Regulars vouch for the roast beef piled 3 inches high on a soft bun (the better to soak up the jus), single-dipped, with a squirt of potent horseradish cream. But you can also order your sandwich double-dipped or "submerged," the latter perfect for a teething kid. I like the pot roast, based on a recipe from the owner's mother.

Kiddies get their own menu at The Counter, a new burger palace near the Santa Monica Airport. For kids 8 and younger, it's a pair of mini-burgers or a PB&J. And for bigger kids, a 1/3-, 2/3- or, eek, 1-pound burger (beef, turkey or veggie). The beef is ground fresh daily on the premises. Order one of the signature burgers or build your own by checking off items--cheese, toppings, sauce, roll--on a paper menu. Such an exercise is guaranteed to bring out the genius chef in just about anyone. For dessert, warm chocolate chip cookies, shakes and malts, even old-fashioned root beer floats.

Forget the mass-market pizzas dripping with cheese. Cheebo in Hollywood has come up with a winning formula: a great billowy crust with the flavor built in, and a choice of inspired toppings (try the fresh sausage and fennel or the vegetarian with goat cheese, artichokes and olives). This boho-Hollywood cafe is tremendously kid-friendly, with butcher paper-covered tables and crayons. In addition to the pizzas, there is house-made ravioli, rustic soups, the Cheebo Chop salad and a terrific "porkwich" made from slow-roasted organic pork. For dessert, it's "Da bomb," a souffle that oozes chocolate like lava.

At Chinois on Main in Santa Monica the nonstop action behind the stoves is enough to entrance any kid. And when the waiters in black pj's make their way to the table with barbecued baby ribs in honey and chili sauce or Chinese chicken salad crackling with fried wonton skin, any residual crankiness is sure to disappear. The Shanghai lobster is magnificent, swimming in a heady black bean sauce. So is the Cantonese duck with fresh plum sauce. For dessert, pastry chef Junuen Saldana has devised some ingenious Chinese-accented sweets, including beautiful wafer-thin cookies shaped like dragons.

Kids love 'cue. It's great for takeout, but what about those times when you just have to get out of the house? Head for J.R.'s Bar-B-Que in Culver City, which features a horseshoe-shaped counter and a handful of tables. Jeanie Jackson's 'cue is Memphis-style, slathered with her signature spicy, smoke-laden sauce. She also serves up a superlative potato salad and serious baked beans larded with smoky pork. She makes a mean brisket too. Don't forget the freshly squeezed lemonade. And for dessert, she bakes double-crusted peach cobbler and a rich yellow 7-Up cake.

At Gyu-Kaku, a chain of Japanese-style Korean barbecues now in West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Torrance, everyone can get into the act grilling veggies and organic chicken, shrimp and, best of all, kalbi (marinated boneless short ribs) over hardwood coals set into tables. I'm a big fan of the bibimba--rice cooked and served in a sizzling stone bowl to develop a crunchy crust at the bottom. Dessert is grilled too, either classic s'mores or Chiclet-size mochi that swell over the fire.

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