You’re supposed to be catching up with the girl you were sort of friends with in college but haven’t seen since graduation. Or your cousin who just moved to the city from Athens (Ohio, not Greece). Or you need to eat food, but can’t be in your apartment due to your roommate’s boyfriend’s political views.
This is when the casual weeknight dinner that isn’t delivered by a stranger becomes essential. And the fact that it’s casual doesn’t mean it needs to be served to you in a to-go box or you have to eat it outside sitting on the curb. You can do better. Here’s our list of weeknight-friendly places - they’re easy to get into, not offensively priced, and will get you home in time to watch multiple episodes of your favorite Tiny House franchise before getting a solid eight hours of sleep.
Now that Blue Barn has two locations in the Marina - and the new space is nice enough to host a small, “rustic” wedding - it has jumped many slots in our casual midweek dinner power rankings. The newer Steiner St. venue has lots of seats and a partially-covered, airy back section, and still serves the same solid menu of salads and sandwiches that are overpriced but extremely satisfying. Both Marina spots and the Russian Hill location sell their fantastic churro rice krispie treats, and you should stock up on those on your way out.
Burgers are an ideal weeknight dinner: they’re easy and they’re delicious and they make Mondays in particular a little less rough. Roam makes fantastic burgers that won’t cost you $20, and we are very on board with this business model. If you’re trying to be healthy, you can get mini burgers on a salad, and the sweet potato fries are also “healthy” and pretty damn great, too. On a nice night, the outdoor tables at the Union St. location are prime for people-watching as well as burger consumption.
When you want to eat Flour and Water-level pasta but don’t have the patience to get in line at 5pm or plan accordingly, Barzotto is here for you. The prices and setup are much more accommodating for a midweek dinner (wine is $40 a bottle, you order at the counter, and the food comes out quickly), and since the chef comes from F&W, the Barzotto crew know what they’re doing. The salads and vegetable sides are excellent, too, as is the gelato soft serve dessert you can grab to go.
Media Noche serves fast-casual Cuban food in a space that’s designed to be photographed. Pretty tiles, turquoise paneling and plants make it seem beachy and tropical, and overall like an ideal place to escape the fact that you have a call with someone in Dublin at 8am tomorrow. It’s an easy spot to go and get a sandwich, salad, or bowl, and it executes very well on the Cuban classics. The Cubano sandwich is phenomenal, and they do a rice and bean and brisket bowl that’s a little less messy and also great. Don’t skip the empanadas, and get some extra green sauce because it’s insanely good.
Green Chile Kitchen is a place where you can wear workout clothes or fancy work clothes and no one will judge you either way. The New Mexican spot does a mix of healthy-ish and unhealthy-ish entrees and apps, and has one of the better quinoa bowls not served by a robot around. The inside is pretty bare-bones, but they have good enough food that you don’t need a super fancy set-up.
Little Gem is for the dinner that you want to be casual but also sort of fancy, like a movie date night where you go to Kabuki and not just the AMC on Van Ness. The Hayes Valley space is swanky and minimalist, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on Gough - and with a bunch of bar seats by those windows, it’s not a bad option for a solo dinner, either. The order-at-the-counter setup is laid-back, and the food, which is pretty much a well-plated, higher-end version of the Whole Foods prepared section, is generally very tasty.
It’s very charming to watch the people at Italian Homemade Co. making pasta through the front window on Union St. - especially because their products are delicious. Like the pasta, the meatballs and sandwiches here are excellent, and this is one of our favorite places to get some comfort food after declaring TGIF, only to discover that it is in fact Wednesday. Order any pasta involving pesto - and the burrata salad (a.k.a. cheese on top of some arugula) is also a great way to feel like you’re being healthy, even if you’re very much not.
Yes, you could go to Safeway, buy a rotisserie chicken and some accompanying containers of no-longer-crispy roasted vegetables, and call that dinner. But although that would be the cost-effective move, it would also be the wrong one, because the rotisserie chicken at RT Rotisserie is exceptional. As is the roasted cauliflower. And the fries. As you’d expect when the people behind Rich Table decide to jump on the fast-casual bandwagon. This relaxed Hayes spot has quickly become one of our go-tos, and we’re probably spending more money than we should on spit-roasted chickens, but we’re not sorry.
This place is the very safest of choices, but sometimes that’s just what you need on a Tuesday after a barre class and/or getting put in your place by your boss for abusing the work-from-home policy. They do breakfast all day, so if you want an omelet for dinner, no one will stop you, and the salads (especially the Cobb or Berkeley Bowl) are hearty enough to be considered a full meal, not a side masquerading as an entree.
If eating poke served Chipotle-style weirds you out a little, you are not alone. Pacific Catch does poke better than the typical fast-casual spot, and also has rice or salad bowls, stir-fries, and generally delicious seafood at a reasonable price point in a super casual Marina set-up. It’s an easy place to pop into, and they do a solid happy hour as well.
There are few things in the city as delicious as Souvla’s lamb, whether it’s delivered to you in a pita or on top of a salad. The SF mini-empire’s locations are always busy, and even though the menu is basically six items long, this place works for vegetarians and people who are creeped out by eating baby sheep, too, thanks to the sweet potato salad or sandwich option. While the Hayes Valley spot is the original, we like the Nopa location these days because of the big communal table in the back garden area. Besides the awesome salads and sandwiches, the Greek wine served here is affordable and unique, and the frozen yogurt with baklava is stellar, too.
Limón is probably pissed that RT entered the rotisserie chicken scene and stole all their glory, because Limon was there first. This Mission spot does a good delivery business, but it’s worth coming here for dinner when you’re looking to eat very well-cooked chicken and authentic Peruvian sides like yucca fries.
On weekends, this place from the people behind Namu Gaji can be a bit of a mess, but on weekdays the wait is much more manageable. Stonepot focuses on Namu Gaji’s popular stone pots of rice and vegetables with spicy sauce, and does a ton of variations that are excellent - even better than the originals at Namu G. If you’re not feeling a rice bowl, they have some good small plates, too - especially the fried chicken. We’re big fans of this place, and it’s a good addition to the options on Divis.
Sure, this place is a tad corporate and goes a little overboard with the nautical theme, but it beats going anywhere near Fisherman’s Wharf. The clam roll, crab cakes, and fish tacos are all high-quality. The lobster roll is great, too, but know that it costs close to $40, so ordering it might take your dinner out of the “casual” realm.
La Med does a serious takeout operation, but it’s a good option if you actually want a place to sit and eat as well, provided you are OK with said place not being too fancy. The pomegranate chicken is our favorite, and getting some dips and pita is one of the better ways to start a meal. Only the Fillmore and Noe locations do sit-downs, though, so don’t try to hit up the Powell St. spot unless you’re doing to-go.
Many people think of Chubby Noodle as a place to get blacked out at brunch, but we tend to prefer to get only moderately drunk here at dinner. Despite its rowdy reputation, this Marina standby is actually a great place for a low-key weeknight meal, mostly because you don’t need to try to drink as many drinks as you can in two hours and the rest of the restaurant tends to be screaming at lower volumes than during brunch. The duck lettuce wraps, garlic noodles, and Korean pork tacos are all very good, and if you want to keep it healthy, they even do a decent kale salad.
While we have zero idea what about this place is paradoxical, it’s still an ideal spot for a better-than-takeout weeknight dinner when you want to drink wine but are trying to consume more than just cheese and olives. Indian Paradox is a small, very laid-back wine bar on Divis that has excellent Indian small plates and a super-friendly owner. Bonus points for being next to Powder if you need some dessert.
You’ve probably only spent time at Marengo watching sports or pretending to understand sports while actually being very drunk. The sliders were delicious then, but turns out, they are delicious even when you’re not under the influence. Besides the Union St. location, they also have a little outpost closer to Union Square, and both are worth hitting up when you want to have some salad but also maybe some mini burgers. We recommend the chili verde, too, if you want to break free of the expected moves and be your own beautiful butterfly.
Otoro is a very neighborhoody sushi spot in Hayes, and while everyone and their rich mother is is concerned with omakase, sometimes it’s nice to choose your own adventure. Otoro’s fish is high quality without being preposterously priced, and you can pretty much always walk in and grab a table. Get some of the sake butteryaki (salmon with butter sauce) along with some rolls, and forget that you have to go to work tomorrow.