It’s easy to go to default mode on a weeknight and make your “famous” stir-fry yet again. Or, more realistically, think about making your “famous” stir-fry, and end up eating some random leftovers when you realize you used every last ounce of energy trying to look like you were paying attention in meetings today. You can do better, and we can help. Here are our favorite casual weeknight spots - they’re easy to get into, not too expensive, and they’ll still get you home in time to watch multiple episodes of your favorite Tiny House franchise before getting a solid eight hours of sleep.
All restaurants featured on The Infatuation are selected by our editorial team. The Casual Weeknight Dinner Guide is presented by the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. Click here to learn more about the benefits you get from paying with a Premier Rewards Gold Card while dining out.
From the bright decorations to the lively music to the homemade dance videos playing on the screen at the hostess stand, this Mission Thai spot is an all-out celebration that can jumpstart the rest of your week. You’ll find excellent food, from fried chicken and huge short ribs to the distinctive house blue rice (dyed with butterfly pea flowers). Come for meal that’s fun but still relaxed.
If you work in SoMa and don’t have the patience to schlep all the way home before figuring out what to eat, Ippudo is a good choice. A bowl of ramen is all you’ll need to be full, but they have a good list of smaller items, too, if you’re especially hungry (we like the chicken buns). There can be a wait, but once you’ve ordered, your food will come out pretty quickly. So you’ll be back home in time to answer the 27 emails from your boss that somehow piled up while you were slurping noodles.
It’s a bold move to call something the “best damn” anything, but 4505’s Best Damn Grass Fed Cheeseburger is aptly named. Their brisket is very good, too - not quite Texas-level good, but then again, we aren’t in Texas. When it’s nice out, sitting out on the patio at this Nopa restaurant is ideal, and if it’s a little windy, they have heaters, too. The big outdoor tables make this a good spot for a spontaneous group meal.
Zarzuela in Russian Hill is perfect for a low-key weeknight date. This neighborhood spot serves tasty tapas, and while there are white tablecloths, you don’t need to get dressed up (although maybe don’t show up in a ripped T-shirt, either). Split a bunch of small plates and discuss your weekend plans over a bottle of wine.
You’re getting dinner with someone you haven’t seen in a while, and you want to have fun without spending seafood-tower-level money. Go to Palm House in Cow Hollow for drinks and tacos. If you can make it during Happy Hour (4-6pm Tuesday through Friday), do that - there are $6 alcoholic slushies, as well as some small plates to choose from. But no matter what time you get here, you’ll enjoy the great patio and airy, semi-tropical indoor space enough to forget about work tomorrow for at least a little while.
Sandwiches for dinner are pretty much the definition of casual, and Dip, in North Beach, makes some seriously good French dips (in addition to larger dishes like beef bourguignon, and sides like escargot). The bright, white-walled interior is welcoming after a long day, and the setup is laid-back: you walk in, order up front, and take a seat, either at the counter or at one of the handful of small tables. They don’t serve alcohol, but you can bring your own, so remember to stop by the store on your way.
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.
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.
Burgers: they’re easy and they’re delicious and they make Mondays in particular a little less rough. The burgers at Roam are tasty and don’t cost $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.
Media Noche serves fast-casual Cuban food in highly attractive space. 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 incredibly 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 and not-so-healthy 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.
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 as well, 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 interesting, and the frozen yogurt with baklava is stellar, too.
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.
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 Peruvian sides like yucca fries.
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.
If eating poke served Chipotle-style weirds you out a little, you are not alone. Pacific Catch is a sit-down place that 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.
This place is the very safest of choices, but sometimes that’s just what you need on a Tuesday after a workout 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.
Despite its reputation as a rowdy weekend brunch spot, this Marina standby is actually a great place for a low-key weeknight meal. The garlic noodles and Korean pork tacos are very good, and if you want to keep it healthy, they do a decent kale salad as well.
La Med does a serious takeout operation, but it’s a good option if you actually want a place to sit and eat, too, 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, Noe, and Berkeley locations do sit-downs, though, so don’t try to hit up the Powell St. spot unless you’re doing to-go.
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.
On weekends, this place from the people behind Namu Gaji can get busy, 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.
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 the Ferry Building, and both are worth hitting up when you want to have some salad but also maybe some mini burgers. We like the chili verde, too.
Otoro is a very neighborhoody sushi spot in Hayes. The 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.