Where To Eat With A Third-Tier Friend
When you somehow rope yourself into dinner with a friend you don’t see too often, use this list.
After several text exchanges involving increasingly fake-sounding excuses, it’s finally happening: You’re meeting up with a third-tier friend. Legally, you don’t have to hang out with this person. But socially, you’re obligated. So whether you accidentally talked your way into meeting up with a college acquaintance you ran into on the street or someone you had jury duty with who seemed really nice at the time and now is maybe weirder in hindsight, use this list of places for a dinner that won’t cost too much or take too long.
Allswell is one of our favorite places for a quick, casual meal along the L. It has a bar where you can sit if you don’t want to stare directly into your third-tier friend's eyes, and the menu includes one of the best burgers in the city (which is exactly what you should be ordering). You’ll enjoy it even if you’re only half-listening to what your acquaintance is saying about his former dogwalker’s divorce.
There’s a reason your third-tier friend isn’t a second-tier friend, and that reason might be because they like to talk about downer things like the New York Jets or the current state of the bee population. If that’s the case, go to Playa Betty’s. It’s a Mexican restaurant on the Upper West Side that has palm trees and tater tot nachos, and it’s hard to be upset here. The food options (especially the steak tacos) are solid, and you can take sips of a frozen paloma while you try to think of upbeat conversation topics.
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photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Nolita is a good meet-in-the-middle neighborhood, but there aren’t too many places in the area that work for this kind of occasion. Fortunately, you only need one, and that’s Epistrophy. This place is open all day, and it works equally well for a lunch/brunch meet-up or a casual dinner. Most dishes cost less than $20, the noise levels are quiet, and the cafe-like space might even make your friend say something along the lines of, “This place is super cute.”
You don’t know a ton about this person, but you do at least know that you both like sushi. Try Takahachi. This East Village restaurant is one of the best casual sushi spots in the city - mostly because it’s relatively easy to walk into, the fish is good, and the prices are pretty low (rolls are around $5). If Tribeca is more convenient for you, there’s another location there that we endorse for the same reasons.
When you aren’t quite sure how long you want to hang out with someone, tapas is an intelligent choice. If things go well, you can share a lot of food, and if you aren’t having fun, you can have one small plate and then say that you have to go home to talk to your bird (who gets separation anxiety). So check out Lamano. It’s a sleek little tapas spot in the West Village with a big communal table, and there are plenty of trains nearby for when you need to go talk to your bird. Start with the Spanish tortilla, then go from there.
photo credit: Kate Previte
You haven’t seen this person in a while, so you may not be looking for reasons to make extra small talk. Santa Panza in Bushwick is great because you can show up almost anytime and get seated right away. Even if it’s busy, this Italian place magically seems to have room for everyone. Walk five minutes from the J train, order two Neapolitan pizzas and a carafe of wine, and you’ll have successfully reached your friendliness quota unscathed.
photo credit: Michael Ezra
Joe & Pat's
If you’re getting dinner with someone you wouldn’t necessarily bring to a desert island, you should at least get some kind of consolation prize. At Joe & Pat’s in the East Village, that prize is pizza. This is the second location of one of our all-time favorite pizza places (the original is in Staten Island), and they serve some of the best thin-crust pies you’ll find in the city. The space is somewhat generic, but the vodka pies are excellent, and you shouldn’t have a problem getting a table.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Surfish is a casual Peruvian restaurant in Gowanus where you’ll be able to walk in unannounced, ready with superficial talking points about your apartment search. The menu has things like hamachi tartare and a ceviche tasting, so it’ll probably give the illusion that you’re putting a lot of thought and effort into this dinner, whether or not that’s really the case.
photo credit: Liz Clayman
Beebe’s isn’t an especially exciting restaurant, but it’s solid and easy to get into. It’s at the bottom of the Boro Hotel in Long Island City, and you’ll find some good pizza and pasta here, as well as a burger you won’t mind eating. The space also pretty large and nice in a furnished-by-Ikea sort of way, and there’s a big back patio. So if you live nearby, convince your friend to meet you here, and start your meal with a negroni on tap.
East Harlem Bottling Co.
If the characters from Friends had realistic day jobs (instead of paleontologist and musician masseuse) and lived uptown, they’d all hang out at East Harlem Bottling Co. after work. This is the kind of neighborhood bar/restaurant where friendship feels inevitable, even if it’s just for a few hours. Stop by on a weekday and grab some wings and beers, or go for the burger. It's one of the best in the area.
Planning a meal at a bar is sort of like planning an anniversary at a Dave & Busters. But Sweet Afton in Astoria is different. It’s much nicer than your average drinking spot, and there’s a full dinner menu. The space has exposed brick walls and leather banquettes, and at night there are little candles on the tables. They also make a good burger, as well some other things like a couple of salads and a steak sandwich. More importantly, this place has a lot of drinks. Because it’s a bar.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
If you’re meeting up near Midtown, don’t go to a pricey steakhouse or a place where the servers have excellent posture and pay a weird amount of attention to you. Go someplace casual, like Briciola. It’s a little spot from the same people behind Aria and Terra, and they serve pastas (all of which cost $16) that will keep you in a reasonably happy mood while your friend tells you all about a television show you’re too polite to say you didn’t like. Service is also quick, so you should be able to get in and out in under an hour.
photo credit: Gouie
The old high school acquaintance that you only hang out with when you're home for Christmas is in town and wants you to take them somewhere New York-y. At Gouie, you can get a $30 seven-piece-and-half-roll special that’s just that: special (and not just because of the price.) This place feels fitting for a visitor even though it's in a food hall on the Lower East Side, and you might even get an impromptu tasting consisting of locally-made sake while you wait for your nigiri.
Island Shack is a lively spot in Fort Greene with chicken that's good enough to give you and your sort-of-friend something to reminisce about the next time you awkwardly run into each other. Whether you get their jerk chicken in wing form or in larger pieces over rice, it’ll be covered in a smoky dry rub and doused with sticky, spicy sauce. There's enough energy here to keep your conversation from getting too stilted, and this might even become your new "spot" for more vague, future plans that probably won't happen.
photo credit: David A. Lee
Mariscos El Submarino
At Mariscos El Submarino, it's imperative that you order the aguachile. After you slurp the spicy liquid, you can blame any lulls in conversation on the numbing of your tongue, rather than the fact that you've blanked on what else you could possibly have in common. This Jackson Heights place is counter-service, so you can get in and out—and the 7 train is just two short blocks away.
Villa Brazil Café Grill
At Villa Brazil in Astoria, the setting is a cafeteria-style buffet complete with sneeze guards and tiled floors, but there's amazing homestyle cooking and a dedicated Meat Guy (the nexus of any good BBQ). It's got a cozy, familial feel, and you can eat and run as soon as you finish whatever you've piled up on your pay-by-the-pound plate.
When someone asks you who you’d most like to have dinner with, dead or alive, this third-tier friend doesn’t exactly clear the top 10 (or even top 50). But you can still take them to one of our top 25 NYC restaurants for a quick, casual meal. At Teranga you can get grain bowls that won’t suck out part of your soul, with components like Nigerian beef suya and Moroccan chermoula, and nothing costs more than $18.
For some reason, you’re meeting up with someone you can barely endure a text conversation with let alone a sit-down meal’s worth of words. Meet them at Taqueria Ramirez, where you can get the city’s best shredded suadero and al pastor tacos for $4 a pop. The restaurant’s space only holds about 10 people, so you’ll get most of your talking done in line before eating on the sidewalk. The tacos are worth a trip, so you shouldn’t feel too bad when you slowly wander away into the Williamsburg crowd afterwards.
photo credit: Liz Clayman
You’re doing that thing where you meet up with someone so they can help you in your job search, but you can’t call it “networking” because you’ve hung out with this person socially (and also that word is gross). Asking someone to get coffee without a meal is the equivalent of bringing LinkedIn to life, so stop by Daily Provisions for pastries, juicy rotisserie chicken, and simple but excellent sandwiches.
Sure, you're both in the same group chat, but you rarely address this person directly. Still, the group chat is a sacred space, somehow making this person worthy of a meal in a real sit-down restaurant where you can continue to pretend that you're closer than you are. Get some great cocktails, ceviche, and other Peruvian favorites at Panca, the rare sort of West Village restaurant that serves good food and isn't impossible to get into.
photo credit: Agi's Counter
Since all of the bonding between you and this person mostly took place between the hours of midnight and 2am at a house party a week ago, it’s only fitting that you experiment with a sober hang featuring hangover-friendly, Hungarian-inspired food at Agi’s Counter in Crown Heights. You probably aren’t going to feel so much like long-lost siblings in the light of day, but it’ll still be fun to grab some pastries and an Alpine cheddar egg sandwich on a buttery Hungarian cheese biscuit while you update each other on where the rest of that night took you.