Picky Eaters’ Paradise: Restaurants With Build-Your-Own-Meal Options

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Holding the pickles and lettuce may not upset the labored waitstaff of many a family eatery – the kitchen crew may be another story. SoCal service staff are used to special requests, particularly from peewee patrons, but the time it takes for the food to reach the table may become significantly longer. The well-‘mealed’ tot can now enjoy several ethnic faves, made to order in front of their curious eyes. Here are  some swell spots making it big on the foodie scene, with little impact on parental pockets.


How Do You Roll?
Now franchised in 5 states, How Do You Roll? launched the fast-casual experience (Veggie Grill, Poquito Mas, Chipotle) for sushi in 2008 in Austin, Texas; the “custom” sushi shop staked its first SoCal outpost in Marina Del Rey earlier this year. The concept is like Subway for sushi – choice of wrap, rice, veggies and fish OR meat.  Those little noses that turn up at raw fish can opt for chicken or beef and still savor the joys of a roll. Seasonal fruits such as mango can sub for the ‘yucky green stuff‘ like sprouts and spinach. Or big eaters will gobble up the kid’s meal, composed of a 5-piece junior roll or a beef or chicken teriyaki bowl with edamame and fruit. Complete with a pint-sized drink and a toy, that’s a happy meal for a happy family; parents can sip on beer or wine while the kiddos finish up. There’s even a loyalty program for Frequent Rollers (buy 10, get one free!)

4730 Lincoln Boulevard, Unit A
Marina Del Rey, 90292
Open daily: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm

Click here for more great sushi options in Los Angeles.

Burritos & Tacos

This Santa Barbara ‘import’ gives Chipotle a run for its beans. With housemade rice and beans, grass-fed beef, all-natural chicken and slow-roasted pork, the ingredients are always fresh, especially the corn chips from scratch. Appetites of all sizes can savor burritos in 3 sizes made with 4 kinds of tortillas. If the kiddos prefer a taco, that’s easy-peasy too. Tasty fillings include creamy homemade queso and Spanish or white rice with cilantro & lime. Try a ‘pot’ brownie for dessert:  this is a family restaurant – the fudgie concoction is named for its shape, not ingredients. Freebirds management also endeavors to nourish the soul of their neighborhoods. Through their World Works program, they encourage volunteerism, as shops partner with local non-profits to benefit their community.

4025 Del Rey Avenue
Marina Del Rey, 90292
Open daily: 10:30 am – 9:30 pm
$5 late-night menu available Thurs-Sat 9:30 pm – 2:30 am

3335 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, 90007
Open daily: 10:30 am – 9:30 pm
During school year – $5 late-night menu available Thurs-Sat 9:30 pm – 2:30 am

1509 Hawthorne Boulevard
Redondo Beach, 90278
Open Mon -Thurs 10:30 am –9:30 pm, Fri–Sat until 10:00 pm, Sun until 9:00 pm

17947 West Chatsworth Street
Granada Hills, 91344
Daily 10:30 am – 10:00 pm


800 Degrees
The team behind über-successful Umami Burger crossed a few oceans and a couple of continents to pioneer an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria, complete with vaulted European ceiling and noise level. There’s always a queue at this popular Westwood locale; it moves fairly swiftly, yet may snake around the block on a weekend eve (sometimes daily) so be prepared with distractions for hungry kiddos. As patrons move down the line, thin-crusted pies are assembled from 3 basic choices: margherita, bianca (white, no tomato) and marinara. From there, the add-ons – most bargain priced at $1! – are virtually endless. Adventurous sprites may try rock shrimp with smoked provolone and broccolini, while traditional toddlers opt for classic pepperoni. Specialty combos can shorten decision-making – check the menu for seasonal specials. Into the wood-fire oven and out comes dinner before you’ve left the counter. Satisfy their sweet tooth (and yours) with organic La Creamery gelato, right next to the specialized soda dispenser with 150 different customizable flavors. Grown ups will love the pay-by-the pour wine on tap.  The management promises more locations opening soon.

10889 Lindbrook Drive
Westwood, 90024
Open daily: 11:00 am – 2:00 am

Clusi Batusi
Named for chef/owner Michele Gargani’s favorite pet cat, Clusi Batusi sidles up to shabu shabu and sushi spots on Sawtelle, holding its own as a yummy alternative to the neighborhood’s typical offerings. The casual storefront pizza parlour is quick and easy so little mouths can dig their teeth in within minutes. Dough is fresh daily, from a fermented ‘mother’ batch, a bit like sourdough starter; one 10” size fits all while diners choose from 3 authentic Italian sauces: red (traditional tomato), white (D.O.P. Pecorino Toscano cheese) or green (basil pesto). Delectable top-notch toppings include wild baby arugula, housemade meatballs and balsamic mushrooms. Or indecisive kiddos may also pick combos like the San Gennaro with Italian sausage and peperonata or the Contadino boasting grilled chicken and asparagus with oven roasted tomatoes. Grab a comfy red seat and, roughly 3 minutes later, feast on sumptuous hot pizza just right for one –or 2 or 3 — depending upon the size of the stomach or appetite! Frozen finishers like shaved ice are just around the corner.

2047 Sawtelle Boulevard
West LA, 90025
Mon-Sat Lunch 11:30 am – 3:30 pm, Dinner 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Closed Sundays

‘Craft your own’ boasts this Valley spot, with locations in Northridge and recently opened Studio City. This is a place to wear your sweats and bring the tykes on the verge of a meltdown: for just under $8, you can customize a creation with unlimited toppings. No arguments, no choices, just pile it on. (They even offer call-ahead ordering, though that kind of defeats the purpose here.) Try a Greek-inspired creation with olive oil with feta, red onions and kalamata olives. The thin ‘Roman-style’ crust’ may not hold up to all the ingredients, such as pineapple, artichoke hearts, and jalepenos, yet your crew will have a self-satisfied smile and your wallet will be none the wiser. Gluten free crust tacks on to an extra $2 and vegan cheese is only a buck. For the clean-plate club, there’s dessert pizza with cinnamon, vanilla icing, and chocolate, raspberry or caramel sauce – or of course, all 3.

9420 Reseda Boulevard
Northridge, 91324
Open Sun-Thu 11:00 am – 10:00 pm, Fri-Sat 11:00 am – 11:00 pm

12103 Ventura Boulevard
Studio City, 91604
Open Sun–Thurs 11:00 am – 10:00pm, Fri-Sat until 11:00 pm

6439 Canoga Avenue
Woodland Hills, 91367
Open daily: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm

Blaze Pizza
The newest joint just opened in Pasadena in mid October, with a plan for assembly-line domination through franchising their ‘Flash Fire’d’ concept. Originated in Irvine by the folks behind Wetzel’s Pretzels, Blaze brings fast-casual dining to pizza; here’s decent pizza pie in around 2 minutes flat. The wait to get in the door varies during peak hours, so figure it into the small-fry schedule before venturing to this hot spot near the heart of Old Town. Choice of cheeses will please beach babies and adults alike, with Gorgonzola on the list alongside perlini mozzarella and vegan cheese. The sauces harken to their California roots, including a now-classic BBQ. Gluten-free dough is offered, but cooked with the same utensils and in the same oven.

667 East Colorado Boulevard
Pasadena, 91101
Open daily: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm

Where do your picky eaters go when hunger strikes? What’s their favorite build-a-meal option in Los Angeles?

— Kim Orchen Cooper

Photos courtesy of How Do You Roll Facebook, Freebirds Facebook, and 800 Degrees Facebook!