The art of nailing the “cute catch up” is complex. First, you want to suggest a casual (ish) place that’s somewhat quiet (but not too quiet) so you can actually hear what your friends are saying during said catch up - instead of spending the entire night reading lips and nodding approximately every 35 seconds. Also, you’ll probably want plates that are shareable, and maybe under $20 each.
And finally, the “cute” element. What exactly does cute mean, you ask? Call it trendy, vibey, or somewhere you secretly wish your apartment looked like - it’s hard to describe, but we know a cute spot when we see it. Since you’re probably looking for a restaurant like this for one of the many overdue hangs you have this summer, this guide has you covered with 20 spots.
It doesn’t take much convincing for us to book a table at Prubechu - more specifically, a table on their expansive outdoor patio. The Guamanian restaurant in the Mission feels built for a chill, weeknight hang with friends - the service is attentive and warm, music is playing (but not too loudly), and the tender ko’ko’ wings, sweet rolls with tuba butter, BBQ plates, and tinaktak are perfect for sharing family-style.
If it’s a lowkey, dinner-and-one-drink kind of night, Causwells is here for you. The casual Marina bistro is home to one of our favorite burgers in town: the Americana, stacked with double-smash patties, cheese, onions, pickles, and housemade aioli. On top of that, they also have tons of beer and wine, and recently expanded the drink menu to include cocktails, like boozy slushies or mezcal palomas.
Going out for Korean barbecue is one of our favorite ways to do a group dinner, even if one person ends up doing all of the grilling for the entire night. So grab a backyard picnic table (complete with tabletop grills) at this Sunset spot where the smell of sizzling meat wafts through the air and early 2000s music plays through a speaker. Don’t skip staples like the crispy seafood pancake or gochujang-glazed pork belly - and wash it all down with soju or a beer tower for the table.
This new-ish neighborhood wine shop in the Sunset - perhaps most known for their absolutely gigantic hoagies - recently started offering sit-down dining in their bright indoor space. Come here with exactly three other friends (the circular tables can only accommodate parties of four or less) for a glass of wine from their extensive selection, snacks, and desserts. It’s first come, first served here, so plan accordingly.
A light-filled warehouse-like space, an impressive wine list (plus bottles you can take home), and small plates to share make Ungrafted a prime candidate for your next weeknight get-together. We love their za’atar pull-apart bread with labne, and the salt and vinegar fries - and if you’re on the hungrier side, they also have bigger entrées, like a fried chicken sandwich or steak frites.
If you’re a morning person (or trying desperately to become one), it’s possible that you might be planning an 8am breakfast catch up. Make a date at The Mill in NoPa, where you’ll find fantastic, thick-cut toasts topped with avocado or cinnamon sugar and butter. Their bright space with tiled walls is open again for dine-in, so you can sit inside and sip on an iced latte while you listen to your friend tell you all about their work nemesis, or the time they accidentally got chocolate all over their pants.
Rich Table’s more casual offshoot serves, you guessed it, rotisserie chicken - as well as other sandwiches and rice bowls. Be sure to save room for their incredibly thick, refreshing soft serve, which is swirled with a milk flavor and a seasonally-changing fruit flavor like strawberry or melon. Both the NoPa and Hayes Valley locations are open and have ample seating.
There’s no shortage of excellent dumpling spots in SF, but Dumpling Home stands out for their stellar shengjianbao and xiao long bao with delicate, chewy skin. This Chinese restaurant in Hayes Valley pretty much nails all the other dishes they serve - from green onion pancakes and sticky, dry-fried chicken wings to garlicky green beans - and ordering a massive spread of dishes to share is always a good idea.
Violet’s is a neighborhood tavern in the Richmond with great small plates and cocktails, a cozy atmosphere, and a top-tier, perfectly-grilled pork chop that occupies a permanent spot in our heart. Finish it all off with a slice of their key lime pie, which strikes a great balance between salty and sweet. You can usually snag a weeknight reservation pretty easily here - but they take walk-ins, too.
The only downside to eating at Beit Rima with friends is that you might be too engrossed in the excellent dishes to actually partake in the “catching up” part of the night. The Arabic comfort food is fantastic - from the mezze sampler with muhammara we’d like to bathe in to the whole-fried crispy branzino with a refreshing mint and onion salad, everything is packed with well-balanced flavor and texture. Order some extra za’atar and sumac-covered pita to sop up all the extra dips and sauces.
This small Japanese cafe in SoMa is great for a casual lunchtime hangout. They serve the best chicken katsu sandwich in the city, made with a tender chicken thigh and squishy milk bread, as well as great curries, donburi, and appetizers like potato croquettes or miso soup. Grab a seat inside and settle in over hojicha or matcha lattes.
For excellent totopos covered in queso fresco, or tender, juicy carnitas you can pull apart with a spoon, head to Nopalito. The Mexican restaurant in NoPa has a bright, light-filled dining room and covered patio where you can sit down with friends and get caught up on their tumultuous dating life over mezcal margaritas or a hibiscus-orange agua fresca.
Fable in the Castro has one of the best garden patios in the city, so if the weather is behaving (read: you can actually see the sky), it’s a great option. But even if it’s chilly out, they have heat lamps and are mostly shaded from the wind. Sit down in what feels like a lush greenhouse, and share things like a pork cheek, kale, and apple salad, pork chops, and burgers.
Del Popolo’s back deck is one of the city’s well-kept secrets - to get there, you head downstairs, under the restaurant, and pop out in a serene backyard with plants, picnic tables, and string lights. Add excellent wood-fired pizzas and thick, creamy soft serve to the equation, and you’re all set.
The casual French bistro in Cole Valley is a neighborhood institution - and going there for brunch or dinner is never a bad idea. On Monday nights, they allow dogs on the back patio and front parklet (plus $10 off a bottle of wine if you bring one), so round up your friends with fluffy companions and head over for a laidback dinner.
Noosh in Lower Pac Heights has white walls and big windows, which make dining here feel a little bit like you’re on vacation at a remote Greek island. They make their Turkish flatbreads in a big brick oven, and top them with things like halloumi or pomegranate molasses - get a couple to share, plus their assortment of spreads.
This Richmond spot looks like an Airbnb in the Hamptons crossed with an HGTV-staged apartment, with lots of natural light and cozy booths. They have small plates, like halibut crudo with strawberry and nuoc cham, or roasted cauliflower with black tahini hummus, and bigger dishes like handkerchief pasta with white bolognese - all of which are great for sharing, and go well with their cocktails.
If sipping on cocktails and digging into poke bowls, burgers, or tacos sounds like a good time to you, how about doing all of the above in a beautiful sky-lit atrium? You’ll find it at Horsefeather, a cocktail bar in NoPa that stands out for its lush outdoor dining area. There can be pretty long waits even on a weeknight, so if you can plan ahead, it’s worth it to make a reservation.
B Star Bar is another spot by the Burma Superstar team, and it’s a great option if you don’t feel like spending half the night waiting in line - plus, there’s a nice back patio. They have similar dishes to Burma Superstar with Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian influence - like the platha with dip and excellent tea leaf salad, plus dishes unique to B Star Bar, like khao soi and miso cod. They’re open for dinner and brunch from Friday to Sunday.
If you’re in the mood for Spanish food, Red Window in North Beach is the answer. The restaurant is decorated with bright colors and reminds us of the inside of a kaleidoscope, if that kaleidoscope also happened to serve excellent tapas, pintxos, and low-proof cocktails mixed tableside on a bar cart. The crispy, layered patatas bravas are a must-order, as well as the delicate mushroom skewers and bacalao croquetas.