The Casual Weeknight Dinner Guide
For all the nights when you can’t deal with figuring out where to get dinner.
The art of the casual weeknight dinner is tricky to master. You need a place that’s easy to get into, will get you home and in bed by 10pm, and won’t scare your budgeting app into thinking someone stole your credit card. Oh, and great food wouldn’t hurt, either. So use this guide, which has places that check all of those boxes, from spots for excellent seafood curries to a pasta bar with some of the best spaghetti and meatballs in town.
photo credit: Erin Ng
When you need a place for a spontaneous meet-up with friends who are randomly in town or a third date with someone you met on an app, all roads lead to Dumpling Home. It’s a Hayes Valley spot where you can sit inside or on their parklet and enjoy steamers full of xiao long bao, pan-fried pork buns, and vegetable dumplings. There’s usually a crowd outside, but the line moves quick—and you can go window-shop for fancy soap and houseplants at the stores nearby while you wait.
photo credit: Carly Hackbarth
This Goan restaurant is a neighborhood gem we selfishly want to keep a secret, but also want to shout about from the top of Coit Tower so everyone knows about their coconutty and slightly sweet prawn xacuti. At the quiet Marina spot, it's always easy to walk in and get a table, everything is shareable, and dishes—especially the seafood specialties and tandoori fish—are packed with flavor and perfectly cooked. So no surprise: we visit here whenever our fridge leans empty. Grab a seat and recap the day’s ups and downs with whomever you’re with over tandoori fish and fluffy naan.
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photo credit: Abu Salim Middle Eastern Grill
Abu Salim Middle Eastern Grill
If your Wednesday was filled with back-to-back meetings (and your t-shirt was inside-out the entire time), you’re probably in the market for some comfort food. Abu Salim is here for you. The Haight spot has mood-boosting murals and cushy banquettes for you to sink into. Order the hummus topped with crispy beef and lamb shawarma, falafel stuffed with caramelized onions, sumac, and pine nuts, and lots of pita to go with it all. By the end of the night, you’ll have convinced yourself that no one really noticed the shirt thing.
photo credit: Erin Ng
Wood-fired pizza with bubbly, chewy crust is the name of the game at this Outer Sunset spot. And since pizza is the ideal shareable group meal, you’ll find us here in the naturally lit dining room at least once a month, splitting pies over spritzes and wine. Get the pies topped with curled pepperoni cups or purple potato, pesto, and crispy pancetta. Ordering sides of hot honey and ranch is non-negotiable.
photo credit: Nippon Curry
While there are many quick and easy spots around town for comforting Japanese curry, we go to Nippon Curry in the Marina for their well-lit and spacious dining room with lots of tables and high-tops. Here, you’ll sit around warm plates of richly seasoned Japanese curry that are the comfort food equivalent of Morgan Freeman’s voice, and are flowing with vegetables or pork katsu, and the requisite tangy pickles.
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Taqueria Los Mayas
This counter-service Mexican restaurant in the Richmond specializes in food from the Yucatan, and what they serve is what you want after coming home and realizing that no cooking is happening tonight (you have an empty fridge anyway). On the menu is gigantic, made-to-order empanadas, tacos with homemade tortilla, and tender cochinita pibil and poc choc, which you should get on a panucho—a fried, bean-filled tortilla topped with meat, cabbage, and pickled red onion.
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photo credit: Melissa Zink
House of Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen
We go to this counter-service Ethiopian spot in Mission Bay for big, family-style platters of tibs and stews, and to catch up on our friend’s latest online dating escapade (plus, Tadu is open on Mondays). Every time we come here, we always end up with their excellent vegetarian combo. It’s a rainbow of saucy, packed-with-flavor kik alicha, misir wot, gomen, and alicha tikil gomen, and comes with more than enough injera to go around. And don’t miss the richly spiced kitfo.
photo credit: Lani Conway
Udupi Palace is where you go when you want to show up in sweats, catch up with a friend for an hour, and eat some of the best dosas in the Mission. The ones at this South Indian vegetarian spot are perfectly crispy, filled with well-spiced potatoes, and, depending on the kind you get (like the mysore) are roughly the size and shape of a briefcase. This small spot also does a saag paneer that’s heavier on the spinach, ultra puffy poori, fried samosas that get a boost of flavor from an array of chutneys, and a big curry section.
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photo credit: Carly Hackbarth
Donaji is a bright, counter-service Oaxacan spot in the Mission that we hit up for quick dinners when we’re on a time limit, or for meet-ups with a third-tier friend who texted twice about wanting to catch up. The incredible mole enchiladas and masa-centric dishes, like the loaded tlayuda, come out fast, and it’s never hard to get a table or a seat at the bar. Wash everything down with some agua fresca while you field questions like “what else is new with you?”
We feel as comfortable going to Gialina in Glen Park for a Thursday night double date as we do taking a soccer team to carbo-load after a game. The relaxed spot specializes in thin-crust pies topped with everything from pancetta and soft egg to mushrooms, caramelized onions, truffled fontina, and preserved lemon—and they’re all well-balanced and delicious.
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For a night that is sweatpants-and-oversized-sweater levels of comfort, head to Perilla in the Inner Sunset. At the family-run Vietnamese spot, you can show up in socks and slides as you dive into fantastic garlic noodle combo plates, and no one will bat an eye. The buttery, springy noodles pair perfectly with the tender five-spice chicken with crackly skin.
photo credit: Susie Lacocque
Our first thought after someone asks us to go out for dinner on a weeknight is, “Will I be home in time to finish my true crime documentary before passing out?” The second is, “Let’s go to Beit Rima.” The walk in-only spot for Arabic comfort food never disappoints. Their delicious mezze platter loaded with muhammara, hummus, baba ganoush, and labneh deserves its own entourage of paparazzi. Be sure to order the whole-fried branzino, which has the crispiest skin ever.
photo credit: Sarah Felker
This Burmese spot in the Richmond is exactly where you want to be for celebratory midweek meals after getting a random raise or finding out you successfully disputed a parking ticket. Mandalay will lift your mood. The walls are yellow, and there are colorful umbrellas hanging overhead. And everything on the menu, from the nutty tea leaf salad and mango chicken to the coconut chicken noodle soup, explodes with funky, savory, and sweet flavors. They also have beer, sake, and $10 wine by the glass if you want something to toast with.
The menu at Lers Ros is so thick it could count as a short novel. It’s why we like to arrive with as many people as possible and order enough to make our waiter somewhat concerned. The Mission location has the space to fit your spontaneous team dinner or meal with your entire apartment and their significant others any night of the week. The roasted duck curry is our go-to, as is the pork tom yum noodle soup that’s the perfect balance of spicy and sour.
photo credit: Carly Hackbarth
Balompié Cafe #3
One thing we’re always down for on a random weeknight: Pupusas. One place to go for them is Balompié Cafe #3 in the Outer Mission. The casual, walk-in-only spot decorated with soccer scarves offers pupusas with common fillings like chicharron, loroco, and cheese, and specialty pupusas, including shrimp, ground beef, and carne asada. Grab a seat by the window and you’ll hear the welcomed slap of pupusas coming together while you wait. They’re served hot with ideal crispy cheese edges and sides of oregano-heavy curtido.
Want to avoid the two-tops filled with couples on first or 30th dates at Elephant Sushi, and you're in the mood for a chill sushi night? Okoze is right around the corner. The Russian Hill spot is more lowkey and spacious than Elephant Sushi, and easier to walk into. We also love the decorative touches, like special rolls dressed up with things like flower-shaped beets and actual flower petals. Keep an eye on the chef’s specials, which can include things like fantastic negi toro gungan (two nigiri with chopped toro and sweet unagi sauce, topped with rice crackers).
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The spaghetti and meatballs at Barzotto in the Mission make us sad for all other spaghetti and meatballs. The al dente noodles are the ideal vehicle for the slightly sweet sauce, and there’s a generous amount of parmesan mixed in and on top. Throw in the fact that Barzotto always has seats available or, at the very least, a spot at the bar, and you have the perfect place for your next casual Monday evening meal.