The art of nailing the “cute, chill 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, 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 the food and drinks should be good.
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. So next time an acquaintance who’s in town or a third-tier friend texts you to meet up, don’t panic. Just head to one of these 25 spots.
The Infatuation SF Guide To Summer 2022
Floor-to-ceiling windows, plenty of seating, and free wifi. This all-day cafe and bakery in NoPa is ideal for any occasion: morning laptop dates, quick breakfasts, and meetups involving the question “so what’s new with you?” They’re open for dinner, but our favorite time to come here is during the day for their excellent breakfast and lunch things, like hot fried chicken sandwiches, garlicky, cheesy smashburgers with dill-pickled onions, and salads to dig into from a plush booth. And splitting a face-sized cinnamon roll is also always a good idea.
Catching up with friends over cocktails, natural wine, and an eclectic menu of stuffed chicken wings and Lao sausage with pasilla pepper jaew is an ideal situation. Doing so while on a lush, tropical-inspired rooftop in the middle of the Mission is even better. The laidback rooftop is filled with picnic tables and lots of heaters to keep you warm, and is also a lot quieter than the dining room downstairs. Get into their spread of colorful dishes influenced by Laos, the Philippines, Japan, and more, and plan to stay a while.
photo credit: Sarah Felker
It doesn’t take much convincing for us to book a table at Prubechu—more specifically, a table on their expansive patio. The outdoor-only Guamanian restaurant in the Mission is a place you’ll want to hang out at until closing. The service is attentive and warm, music is playing (but not too loudly), and the plump ko’ko’ wings, sweet rolls with tuba butter, and Chamorro BBQ are perfect for sharing family-style. If you're looking for a chill island party, this spot is it.
We head to this Oaxacan restaurant in the Mission whenever we need an immediate serotonin boost. Everything at this counter-service spot is bright and colorful, from the turquoise and pink walls to the papel picado hanging above the bar. Fun space aside, fantastic food is also why we love Donaji. There’s richly spiced mole over enchiladas, tacos on thick house-made tortillas, and crunchy, frisbee-sized tlayudas loaded with beef, queso, and avocado. Add in rotating agua frescas and gooey churro donuts and you’ve got a spot you’ll return to any time someone suggests grabbing a quick bite.
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 creamy house-made aioli. On top of that, they also have tons of beer and wine, plus plenty of cocktails to go around, like boozy slushies or mezcal palomas.
At this Sunset spot, the smell of sizzling meat wafts through the air, the hidden back patio is filled with picnic tables for big group meals, and early 2000s music plays through a speaker—in other words, dinner at Umma is just a lot of fun. Don’t skip staples like the crispy seafood pancake, sticky wings drenched in a ginger sesame soy glaze, and gochujang-glazed pork belly—and wash it all down with soju or a beer tower for the table.
Coming to this Richmond bakery for daytime meet-ups is high on our list of pleasant ways to spend a weekend. They have a sunny patio, variety of Asian-inspired pastries, and bright green kaya toasts finished with sea salt flakes. Also, everything on Breadbelly’s menu is delicious and photogenic. The sandwiches are stacked high with char siu, slices of basque cheesecakes have gooey middles, and the macadamia nut pineapple croissants are caramelized on the bottom. Order an iced sesame horchata and a bunch of things to split before going on with your day.
This neighborhood wine shop in the Sunset—known for their absolutely gigantic hoagies—has a bright indoor space filled with large round tables and lots of natural wine on deck. Come here with three other friends (the tables can only accommodate parties of four or less) and split a bottle over hoagies overflowing with mortadella and garlic cheese spread. It’s first come, first served here, so plan accordingly.
We swing by this Arab bakery in the Mission for midday lunches with coworkers, dinners with visiting family, and Sunday brunches with friends. While their indoor space is lovely, we like to kick back on their umbrella-covered sidewalk tables to people-watch on Mission Street and bring whoever we’re with up to speed on all the TV shows we’ve recently binged. Because this is a bakery, you’ll want to get any dish that comes out of the oven, like the freshly-baked mana’eesh smeared with caramelized onion purée, or a falafel sandwich on ring-shaped sesame bread. But the silky smooth hummus, dusted with sumac and topped with a shallow pool of olive oil, is one of the best versions in SF.
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 when a bottle of two buck chuck on the couch won’t cut it. We love their za’atar pull-apart bread with labne, and the everything-spiced fries—and if you’re on the hungrier side, they also have bigger entrées, like pork belly "carbonara" or a fried chicken sandwich.
If you’re a morning person (or trying desperately to become one), it’s possible that you might be planning an 8am breakfast hang. 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 and shelves of adorable ceramics is exactly where we want to be while listening to our friend tell us 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 we always beeline to for a midday power-up. Be sure to save room for their incredibly thick yet refreshing soft serve, which is swirled with a milk flavor and a seasonally-changing fruit flavor like strawberry or melon.
There’s no shortage of excellent dumpling spots in SF, but Dumpling Home stands out for their stellar shengjianbao and xiao long bao with hand-rolled wrappers so thin they’re practically see-through. 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. Ordering a massive spread of dishes to share is always a good idea.
Violet’s is a bar and restaurant in the Richmond with great small plates and cocktails, a cozy atmosphere, and a burger that should be a neighborhood mascot. Their desserts change occasionally, but if the key lime pie is on the menu, order it or you will have regrets. You can usually snag a weeknight reservation pretty easily here—but they take walk-ins up at the bar, too.
This Arabic comfort food spot in the Castro is one of the few menus we could order from five times in one week without getting bored. 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 well-executed and more comforting than our 30th nostalgia-rewatch of Ratatouille. Order some extra za’atar and sumac-covered pita to clean all the extra dips and sauces off the plate.
This small Japanese cafe in SoMa is built for casual lunchtime hangouts. They serve the best chicken katsu sandwich in the city, made with a tender chicken thigh and squishy milk bread we’d use as a mattress topper. They also have 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 one of our favorite heated, covered patios in the city, where you can sit down with friends and get caught up on their latest dating horror stories 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 a space that looks closer to a thriving greenhouse, and share things like pork cheek, kale, and apple salad, pork chops, and burgers.
The back deck at Del Popolo in Lower Nob Hill 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. The crusts on their wood-fired pizzas are always bubbly and charred, and a trip here is never complete without the salsiccia pie with well-spiced sausage we would eat on its own.
The casual French bistro in Cole Valley is a neighborhood institution—and going there for dinner or brunch (when you can get your hands on their legendary french toast) is never a bad idea. Plus, 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 relaxing dinner.
Noosh in Lower Pacific Heights has white walls and big windows, which make dining here feel a little bit like you’re vacationing on 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, complete with lots of natural light and cozy booths. They have small plates built for sharing, like halibut crudo with passionfruit vinaigrette and salsa macha, or roasted cauliflower with black tahini hummus, and bigger dishes like handkerchief pasta with rich white bolognese.
If sipping on cocktails and getting into poke bowls, burgers, or tacos sounds like a good time to you, how about doing all of the above in a beautiful atrium with a huge skylight? You’ll find it at Horsefeather, a cocktail bar in NoPa that stands out for its plant-filled semi-outdoor dining area that's still covered from the elements. The place is usually packed with folks on second dates or groups grabbing a drink before dinner in the area—so consider making 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 at their sister spot—plus, they also have a nice back patio, and serve brunch Friday to Sunday. They have dishes similar to Burma Superstar with Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian influences (like the platha with dip and excellent tea leaf salad), plus dishes unique to B Star Bar including poached chicken jook and miso cod.
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 perfectly fried bacalao croquetas.