The Infatuation is built on the idea of “Perfect For” categories, catering to assorted restaurant needs. Dinner With The Parents? Date Night? Impressing Out Of Towners? We got it.
But occasionally, we field requests that don’t quite fit into any of The Infatuation’s pre-determined categories. And there is one such genre of restaurant that comes up over and over again – at parties, on our Text Rex service, in the cramped changing rooms of spin classes we don’t actually attend. It’s what we have come to call the “Super Cute Reasonably Priced Restaurant To Catch Up With A Few Friends.”
After considerable research (i.e. hearing this request repeatedly), we’ve broken down the core attributes of the Super Cute Reasonably Priced Restaurant To Catch Up With A Few Friends (SCRPRTCUWFF). In general, SCRPRTCUWFFs are:
- Kind of quiet.
- But not super boring.
- Relatively small in size, or at least not huge.
- With entrées mostly under $20 (or equivalent).
- “Any neighborhood is fine, but… probably the West Village or Nolita or Williamsburg?”
Turns out you guys really like SCRPRTCUWFFs, so we’ve updated the list with 10 new spots. Now go ahead and plan that Tuesday night dinner.
Old Rose in the bottom of the Jane Hotel in the West Village, and it looks more expensive than it actually is. It has super-high ceilings and big paintings on the walls, but it’s actually pretty casual, and nothing costs more than $20. So if you need to impress a few old acquaintances, but you recently spent too much money on some shoes or a karaoke machine you saw in SkyMall, try this place. The pastas are solid, the pizzas are great (especially the clam), and there’s a surprisingly good kale salad for whoever wants a bowl of leaves.
There are certain restaurants that are perfect for pretty much anyone, and Shuka is one of them. The food is solid, prices aren’t too high, and the space feels like the home of a person who makes a very decent living and probably does pilates. The food here is Mediterranean, and they make things like beet hummus and chicken shawarma. The restaurant itself is also surprisingly spacious, and it’s charming in a West Elm sort of way.
Selamat Pagi is from the same people behind Van Leeuwen ice cream, and, from that fact alone, you should expect good things. This is where you go for Balinese food in Greenpoint, and it’s also an ideal spot for vegetarians. The pumpkin coconut curry is great, and if you eat meat, there’s plenty of that as well. This place is a pretty well-hidden gem, and between the food and the leafy wallpaper, it feels like a tropical vacation that you can’t currently afford. Try it for an easy weeknight dinner with friends or stop by with your old college roommate at brunch.
You can bring just about anyone to Minnie’s, and they’ll find something to eat. There are healthy-type things like quinoa, farro, and salmon - but there’s also pork belly, pasta, and a pretty good burger. So if you need a place to eat with several different friends, this place will work. The restaurant is just one small room on the Lower East Side, and it’s about as casual as a living room. It also doesn’t get as packed as other spots on the LES, which makes it a good last-minute option.
Aita is in Clinton Hill, and it looks like the country home that you don’t own. There’s some old art on the walls, a bunch of wooden furniture, and a little chandelier. It’s a nice break from the trash-and-pigeon-filled streets of NYC, and they also happen to make some pretty good Italian food. Bring friends who you would invite to your country home and have some oxtail ravioli and whatever fried vegetable they’re currently making.
When you want to stay home on your couch, but it turns out that you have to go meet someone, get a table at Lil Gem. It’s Lebanese place on the LES, and it’s designed to feel like a tiny home. There are couches along the walls and little curtains on the windows, and if you squint you might be able to pretend you never left your apartment. Just relax and eat some mezze and flatbread while you give about 50% effort in a conversation with a few friends.
If you’re planning a meal with a vegetarian, try Jajaja. It’s a Mexican place on the Lower East Side serving nachos, burritos, and tacos - but they’re filled with things like jackfruit and squash. Everything here is vegan, and it’s all pretty good. The dining room isn’t huge, but there are a couple of big booths, and it looks sort of like a Southwestern-themed coffee shop. There’s also a neon sign out front that one of your friends will probably take a picture of.
At the original Egg Shop in Nolita, you’ll typically find a bunch of tourists and college students there waiting for their chance to take pictures of eggs. The second location in Williamsburg, however, isn’t as congested. It’s bigger and a little nicer looking, with large windows and bright wallpaper, and it’s open all day. Plus, nothing costs more than $20, and they serve things other than eggs. Get a burger, a chopped salad, or a burrito.
Fumo is on a corner just across the street from City College, and it’s an attractive, white-walled space with marble countertops, lots of plants, and big bright photographs covering the walls. More importantly, they make solid versions of pretty much all your Italian classics.. Bring some friends and split some pizzas, pastas, and appetizers. There’s also a pretty reasonable wine list, so it’s a great spot if you want to drink a little and vent about your job or your friends who aren’t currently present.
Dante has quickly become one of our most recommended restaurants, for a few reasons: the small plates are interesting and ideal for sharing, there’s nothing else quite like it in the area, the service is extremely friendly, and you can usually walk in and get a table on a given night. Drink a few of the on-tap negronis and things will progress onwards from “cute” very quickly.
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into Excuse My French is the decor - the gold and green wallpaper, the fake bookshelves lining the bathroom, the still life paintings in big gold frames, and so on. Unlike so many Lower East Side restaurants, Excuse My French isn’t too cool for school, and that’s exactly why we like it. It’s a little quirky, definitely charming, and the food happens to be really good. Whether you want to eat some bread and cheese or something more closely resembling a real meal, you’ll do well here.
Lovely Day definitely has the cute thing down - just look at those red booths and antique-y wallpaper. But this Thai-ish spot in Nolita really has the reasonably-priced thing covered as well. With plenty of dishes under $10, this is one of the few restaurants where you can really feel like you’ve had a night out, while spending under 25 bucks a head.
Jointly owned by the people behind Buvette and I Sodi, certified “cute” West Village restaurants, Via Carota is a classy, low-key Italian spot that doesn’t take reservations, making it an ideal move for a night when you forgot to book anything. There are usually a dozen-plus vegetable dishes on the menu, plus several pastas, and fish and meat entrees.
Classic Italian food, lots of greenery, a prime Williamsburg location: Aurora is an excellent go-to when you’re looking for an easy dinner in a highly charming environment.
Tartine, a very small French restaurant in the West Village, is the kind of place where you’ll probably end up talking to the people at the table next to you, just in case you get tired of “catching up” with your friends. It’s an extremely warm and friendly environment, and it’s also BYOB, so you’ll probably end up sharing your bottle of wine with the people next to you as well.
We’ll spare you the repeated “ugh, Murray Hill is all sports bars” spiel, and remind you that Penelope is a nice place to have a casual dinner. Brunch does tend to be a complete sh*tshow, so reserve this for evenings during the week.
You could easily sit at Sisters all day, starting with coffee and a newspaper (do people still read newspapers?), all the way through to late night drinks. We also recommend it somewhere in the middle, for a nice dinner in what is a truly beautiful space. Nearly everything on the menu is under $20, and all of it is good.
The capital of the Empire of Avocado Toast actually does a pretty good dinner menu, and there’s hardly ever a wait in the evenings. We like the Moroccan couscous or the chicken satay. The Little Cupcake Bakeshop is down the street, should you want to continue the whole cute thing into the evening.
It took us a weirdly long time to find out about Malatesta, a little Italian restaurant on the far west side of the West Village. Now, every time we mention it, someone says, “Oh! I love that place! It’s so cute!” STOP WITHHOLDING INFORMATION FROM US. Anyway, this place is “cute.” And tasty.
Epistrophy is a small cafe that works for a surprising number of situations – big groups, drinks, a quick bite, a long dinner with your friend from high school who’s going through a weird time but you actually are really on the same page despite not having spoken for a few years. You know, that kind of thing.
You’ve probably been on at least three dates at Aria in the West Village – it’s dark, the bartenders pour big drinks, and the people next to you are probably making out. Great, for a Saturday night or a second date. For the issue at hand, hit Terra – it’s essentially the same restaurant, but bigger, quieter, and a couple dozen or so blocks south in Tribeca.
If you have been to the Jack’s Wife Freda on Lafayette, you have likely experienced the following: being cramped, and overhearing the complete details of the yoga retreat to Tulum the people next to you just took. That’s fine and all, but you can get the same reliable food at the newer, bigger West Village location. It’s the way to go.
The Oscar winner in the Cute Casual Girls’ Night Out Restaurant. You will probably age noticeably during the time you wait for the privilege of eating a piece of grilled fish over greens in a bowl, but it’s worth it. It will bond you closer together.