The only thing better than eating is eating with people you genuinely like. Largely because there’s no pressure to impress someone who’s already impressed by your mere existence. When you’re out with a friend, you can happily share everything or be very blunt about the fact that you hate sharing even more than you hate unnecessarily loud breathing. You just need a place where the food is as good (and the atmosphere is as laidback) as the company. You’ll be happy at any of the spots on this list.
If you’re meeting in FiDi for dinner, there’s a solid chance one of you works in the area and the other is willing to travel there (because, as we’ve already established, you’re friends). To prevent a grudge from developing between you two, go to Schilling. This is a low-key neighborhood European spot in an area where steakhouses or cocktail bars that feel like chic airplane terminals are the norm. Schilling is the kind of place that might make eating in FiDi something you start doing more often.
We’re not sure how Lovely Day manages to keep a good, sit-down dinner experience so affordable, considering that it’s located in a neighborhood where every second store is a luxury sneaker boutique. Most of the Thai entrees here are under $15 (and generously portioned), and they’re reliably satisfying, so you can focus all your energy on listening to your friend’s idea for a musical about Minneapolis called “Twins.”
Say you solidified this plan mere hours ago because you’re not “calendar people,” and all you know is that you’re looking for someplace off the L train. General Deb’s is a walk-in only Sichuan restaurant where you can split dan dan noodles and some excellent vegetables like Chinese broccoli and smashed cucumbers. Plus, it’s close to a bunch of great bars - like KCBC, where you can go after dinner to play Connect Four and drink beer made in the neighborhood.
West-Bourne is open all day, so it works for a low-key lunch, too. The food at this Soho cafe is vegetarian, and so good that you’ll leave wondering why you don’t normally get excited by carrots. Everyone we see in here seems glamorous enough to be featured in a profile in a semi-well-known magazine, and while it’s counter-service only, that just makes it easier to split the check, and get in and out if you’re in a hurry.
Best Pizza is about one casual step away from having arcade games and teenagers in it. And it’s an excellent place to get a few slices with a friend who doesn’t want anything fancy (but definitely wants pizza). We don’t know who is in charge of music in here, but that person is always playing old school hip-hop. Also - it’s open pretty late (until 1am on Saturdays). So use this spot before or after meeting up with people in Williamsburg, or just on a Wednesday night when you’re both free and want really good white pizza with onion jam and fresh basil on top.
America runs on some donut company, and friendship in Crown Heights runs on Chavela’s. It’s just the way it is. So if you spend time in the area and you haven’t been to this casual-but-fun Mexican place yet, we don’t really know how you’ve gotten away with that. Order some tacos or the chile relleno, and get a margarita or two for good measure.
Lao Ma Spicy is a Chinese restaurant on 8th Street near NYU that specializes in dry pot dishes, and is spacious enough that you’ll easy find a table. The only options are dry pot (soup or noodles) and dumplings, and depending on how much you hate making decisions, you can order a seafood, vegetable, and meat combo directly from the menu, or customize your own soup or noodle dish at a counter. The DIY area is set up a little like a Chipotle, only with lobster tails, tripe, and a soul.
And now, a brief excerpt from a letter we sent to the tenants who live above Briciola in Hell’s Kitchen: “Dear tenants who live above Briciola in Hell’s Kitchen, you have it so good. Please allow us to stay with you sometimes. Thank you.” This Italian wine bar/restaurant is one of the most useful non-subway stations above 42nd Street. In most ways, it’s just a comfortable neighborhood spot, but all of the pastas are $14, and the walls are covered in shelves full of wine bottles. If the only thing better than seeing your friend is seeing your friend with fettuccine and pinot grigio in hand, this is your spot.
Casual sushi is something you two have been doing for years now, ever since you realized you have the exact same order. Sushi You in Midtown East serves high-quality fish in what’s still a casual setting (there are Japanese music videos playing in the corner). You can sit at the bar and order the $60 omakase, but going a la carte is also a good move.
From the rich, spicy goat curry to the biryani baked with a layer of dough on top, the Indian food at Adda in LIC is extremely good. If you have your heart set on eating here, though, we’d recommend making a reservation. They’re not hard to come by, but the place is small enough that you might have to wait if you try to walk in. Also, you can have a full dinner here for around $25 per person - partly because it’s BYOB. So coordinate which of you is bringing a six pack, and enjoy.
Introducing friends to Kopitiam is a little like bringing out weed in the middle of a crowded party. The people are just going to keep flocking, and soon you’ll realize you’ve started something beyond your control. Which is to say that this Malaysian all-day cafe on the Lower East Side is the kind of place everyone will love. They make excellent soups, snacks, and sweets, and you can/should feel free to order sugar-coated French toast at 7pm. As long as you’re OK with a very casual meal (you order at counter and bus your own table), you and your friend are in for a great dinner.
Kashkaval Garden is a quiet restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen with a lot of fondue. Five varieties and three different sizes, to be exact. Aside from these hot cheese cauldrons, the menu is full of shareable Mediterranean small plates like skewers and flatbreads. Make sure to sit in the back room if there’s space - it’s an indoor garden/fairytale bubble.
You’ve both been seriously considering bailing on dinner and just ordering pizza to one of your apartments, but trust us when we say that having dinner at Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop in Greenpoint is more exciting than delivery and whatever show you’ve both already seen. The retro space has NY-style slices, vegan options, counter-service, and TVs with the game on. If you want a quick meal in what’s not-so-slowly becoming Greenpoint’s neighborhood rec room, this is it.
This is a one-room Ethiopian spot in Alphabet City where each main comes with two vegetables (of your choice) and lots of injera (spongy flatbread). The food is really good and the place stays pretty quiet, a.k.a. perfect for your twice-annual heart-to-heart, or going into arguably too much detail about your horoscope.
If pasta is one of your so-called love languages, Malatesta Trattoria should be in your vocabulary. Because it’s the kind of charming, cash-only place where the menu is handwritten and you can eat veal meatballs, but it isn’t as much of a production to get into as the 400 other charming Italian restaurants in this neighborhood. Come for simple, tasty food and a bottle of red wine that might kickstart some major nostalgia for that time you both became briefly obsessed with the idea of moving to Northern California in 2013.
Sala Thai is one of our favorite spots on the Upper West Side for a nice dinner that isn’t too big of a deal. Expect a range of curries, noodles, and specialty Thai dishes that you can split with a friend. Also - for the purposes of this guide, we’re considering sitting in a comfortable leather chair in a muraled room with gold accents “low-key.” It is the Upper West Side.