It’s the weekend, but instead of a typical night at a bar, doing the same thing you always do, you’ve made a decision. You’re not just going out tonight, you’re going ‘out out.’
Before that, though, you need to start with dinner somewhere, since your normal move of getting pizza delivered to the bar isn’t going to cut it. You need a place that’s close to some bars so you don’t lose any steam in transit, but it should also be fun and not too expensive. Plan your pre-‘out out’ dinner at one of these restaurants so that you make it all the way to SF’s way-too-early last call.
You and your three best friends all have birthdays in the same month, and while planning separate celebrations for each of you is doable, every year it’s been a technical nightmare. Make things simple this year and get a big table at Farmhouse Kitchen to start your joint birthday celebration. It’s bright and loud with music and theatrics and the food here is amazing, from smaller things like Thai sausage to the larger beef rib and fried chicken. Booking a big table a few weeks in advance is usually doable, and it’s worth it if you know you’ll be able to get everyone in one place to start the night.
You’re finally getting your work friends and your “real friends” together for a night out. And since everyone doesn’t know each other, you don’t want anyone to feel left out. Tell everyone to meet at China Live. This place feels more like an over-the-top Vegas food court than a restaurant, but the extra noise can help the new people get comfortable and break the ice sooner. Plus, a lot of the food is served family style, and there’s no better way to start a conversation than, “Hey, could you please pass the blistered green beans?” If there’s a wait, head upstairs to Cold Drinks, their “hidden” bar, in the meantime.
When you have friends visiting and want to take them out bar hopping, you can’t go to a quiet dinner before telling them to flip the party switch in their heads. Instead, you start the night at Chubby Noodle. It’s one of the more fun restaurants in the city, and while people like coming here for bottomless brunch, the food is better at dinner. Plus, you feel much less obligated to drink everything as fast as you can. Get a reservation for your group, be sure to order the garlic noodles with fried chicken and some sake, and start talking about where you’re heading next.
It took two weeks, but you finally convinced your whole group to meet up and go out so that you’d all have something to talk about aside from what’s new on Netflix. But because a few of them really drag their feet at the beginning of the night, you should start out at 15 Romolo. Grab a table with whoever actually shows up on time, order a few Pimm’s Cup pitchers, and let the time go by while everyone else trickles in. While Alex is perpetually five minutes away, you’ll be busy eating one of their burgers or a charcuterie board.
If you don’t have set plans for the night, but don’t want to end up sitting around your apartment for longer than it takes you to get ready, Trick Dog in the Mission is a good first stop. The cocktail menu here is constantly changing, from things like tattoo artist-inspired drinks to ones based on great SF restaurants, but no matter what music sub-genre the cocktails are named after, they’re always interesting and good. If you’re hungry, the food here is mostly snackier things, like the chicken Tricknuggets or the Trick Dog that’s just a burger in hot dog form, but both the garlic shrimp noodles and guacamole are solid too.
There are a bunch of restaurants on Union Street that are good loud and fun options to start a night out in Cow Hollow or the Marina. But if you want more than the obligatory single sushi roll or plate of three small tacos, make Leopold’s your first stop. The tables are perfect for big groups and the large portions of German food they serve are easy to share. Go for the jägerschnitzel, beef short rib, or the käsespätzle, and round things out with a salumi platter, before you decide whether or not you should get a two-liter boot of beer.
The only difference between tonight and every other weekend night is that it’s your roommate’s birthday, so you want to celebrate a little before you go bar hopping in the Richmond. Carbon Grill feels a little like you’re eating in a Top Golf or a chain sports bar, but instead of loaded potato skins, they serve really solid Korean BBQ. Go for the $25 all-you-can-eat option and load up on pork cheek and lemongrass chicken thighs. Maybe get some bacon-wrapped asparagus too - you know, for balance.
You got a new haircut and for the first time that you can remember, it looks exactly how you hoped it would. Use this as an opportunity to convince your friends to get a litle dressed up and just go out. Starting at The Snug would be a good idea because it feels like a bar where reservations are totally necessary, even though they’re not. Plus, the drinks here are great, from their take on a Sazerac to the scotch cocktail that they have on tap. Their small plates are good too - definitely get the Korean fried chicken wings, brussels sprouts, and hummus with sesame naan.
You’re meeting up with an old friend who’s in town and you want to get the night started without having to rely on too many “remember when stories.” Come here for dinner, get some margaritas, and keep the conversation going while you let the music and the crowd prepare you for your next move. Order some crab tostadas and chips and guacamole to go with your drinks, and if you want more than a margarita, get the Curandera.
It’s been a while since you and your old roommates moved out of the Mission, and you’re all making a point to pretend that never happened for a night. Meet up at Beretta, get a few cocktails, and split some small plates like the walnut bread while you argue the finer points of going back to Blondie’s like you used to versus checking out a nicer bar like The Beehive.
Kelsey is the kind of friend who makes someone moving to SF an all-day welcome party. After hitting three bars and five different parks, you need a cool down and some food before you get back to bar hopping, but you don’t want to lose any steam. The Italian Homemade is great for an impromptu dinner before going to Mauna Loa or Blue Light. Order the tortellini if they still have any left, but if they don’t, get some lasagna. This location also serves wine if you’re not looking for a complete break.
You got a promotion, and you want the celebratory dinner with your friends to be a little nicer, but you don’t want to end up somewhere that you may fall asleep at the table before you go out after. Kaiyo strikes a difficult balance - the cocktails here are interesting and good, the food is worth coming for alone, and the space is both nice and fun. They don’t take reservations, so try to come with fewer than six people, which also happens to be the right number to split the sushi rolls and lobster stone pot rice.
Your group of four turned to nine quickly, and you need to find somewhere to eat before it turns to 15. Lers Ros is great both because the portions are large enough to share with a few people, and because it’s not hard to get in with larger groups when everyone decides at the last minute that they actually want to go out that night. Get the pad kra pow moo krob.
One of your friends is going through a breakup, so all bets are off. But not so much that you’re not going to get something to eat before hitting the Marina bars hard. Head to Delarosa - there will likely be around a half hour wait, but the communal tables are large and the food usually comes out pretty fast, which makes it more reliable than your friend’s ex.