Adventures in Dining
The Red Onion Family-Friendly Diner May Give Stalwarts a Run for the Money
There’s something about the promise of a milkshake and a steamy basket of deep-fried finger food that makes the all-American diner an attractive option to kids. We had only walked past The Red Onion once or twice when my 10-year-old, Maya, asked if we could try it. Visions of root beer floats and grilled cheese sandwiches surely danced in her head as she spied the open, well-lit interior, with metal accents throughout and stools lined up at the window and the counter for front-row views of sidewalk traffic and cooks flipping patties at the griddle.
On Park Street and San Antonio Avenue in Alameda, The Red Onion competes with several nearby eateries offering similar food choices, from relative newcomers Scolari’s Good Eats and Burgermeister to time-tested Ole’s Waffle Shop and Jim’s Coffee Shop.
The first time my husband and I tried the new Alameda diner was during school hours, so Maya has yet to sample the restaurant’s rendition of her comfort-food favorites. We did, however, bring the baby, and were pleasantly surprised to find a handful of other parents accompanied by their infants and toddlers. It’s always reassuring to know we will not be the only ones unleashing a trail of cereal puffs on the floor or shaking rattles and finger puppets to keep potential meltdowns at bay. The Red Onion’s patronage — from those customers who brave the chaos of eating out with little ones unable to sit up on their own or use a spoon without spilling half its
contents — is a definite plus.
It was bustling but not overcrowded for the weekday lunch hour. A spacious floor plan and smooth cement floors make for easy stroller access. Most of the seating consists of standard tables, though there is one booth available for a large party. With my older child in mind, I made a mental note of the kids’ meals — corn dogs, “chix” strips or spaghetti for $5.59 — each accompanied by half a grilled cheese sandwich and a soda.
One pitfall with diners is they don’t tend to serve the healthiest food options. In general, The Red Onion is no exception, though the burgers are made with Niman Ranch beef and the soda in the kid’s meal can be replaced with juice — for a fee hike. Another option is to order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with bananas from the breakfast menu. Get creative and substitute a bowl of strawberries (also on the breakfast menu) for the fries.
Speaking of breakfast, The Red Onion serves the most important meal of the day until 3:30 p.m. Choices include a variety of omelets, cinnamon French toast, dollar-sized pancakes or the likes of a pancake feast that also incorporates eggs, bacon, sausage and home fries. We definitely spied plates covered with waffles during the lunch hour. As someone who is no stranger to craving pancakes at any hour, I was tempted to go that route, but went for a burger instead.
If you’re looking for a traditional, made-to-order burger, The Red Onion is a safe choice. The ingredients are fresh and tasty. The portions are average. There are no fancy tricks and prices do seem comparatively lower. Basic hamburgers and cheeseburgers are a bargain at under $5.
You may have seen or been to The Red Onion elsewhere, because the restaurant is part of a small and longstanding Bay Area chain and, according to the Alameda employees, headed up by the same owner of sister restaurants in Pinole and Vallejo. The first, or Original Red Onion, opened in Pinole back in 1963. The pastries, displayed in glass cases up front by the register, are made fresh daily by a Red Onion pastry chef and shipped into the Island from one of the sister branches.
Overall, the service at Red Onion was predictably friendly. Our youthful server didn’t flinch as my 10-month-old endlessly babbled. For bigger portions and homemade waffles, I’d probably choose Ole’s, though, and the burgers at Scolari’s are more interesting. When in need of a diner food fix, I would return to The Red Onion for the convenient location with easier access to neighborhood parking, the excellent prices, and shorter lines — though the latter probably doesn’t come easy on weekends.
Heads Up, Parents
The Red Onion, 1222 Park St., Alameda, (510) 521-3288, open 7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily
• Highchairs and booster seats
• Easy stroller access
• Limited booth seating
• Straws available by request
• Diner food options such as beer-battered fish ’n chips and creative pizza sandwiches at low to moderate prices.
• No drawing materials or similar entertainment for young guests. However, I was informed that this would change to accommodate Alameda patrons.
• No changing table in the restroom.
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