Where To Eat When You’re Sick Of Being Told To Order 2-3 Small Plates Each
photo credit: Mary Lagier
Listen, we have nothing against small plates. It’s fun to try a bunch of different things and nod along while a server explains that “everything is meant to be shared.” But sometimes you don’t want to fight over a yellowtail crudo the size of a thumb, only to end up at the nearest drive-thru an hour later because you’re still kind of hungry. While it seems like every restaurant in SF is deeply committed to the small plates craze, there’s hope. There are still spots where you can order a single plate of food that’s enough for a single adult human. Here are our favorites.
At Viva Goa in the Marina, your table will be filled with seafood curries and baskets overflowing with more than enough naan to sop up every last bit of sauce. Anything that lands in front of you at this Indian spot is large enough to pass around a few times over—which is why you should go family-style. Get the prawn xacuti and tandoori fish, which arrives on a platter sizzling and gorgeously charred.
This American restaurant in the Financial District reminds us of a 1930s supper club, with nightly live jazz, martini glasses chilling on huge mounds of shaved ice, and a grand staircase you’d find on a cruise ship. It’s also where to go when you want to order an appetizer, entrée, and dessert, all for you. Because grilled pork chops and shrimp cocktails are what you should be eating when a pianist in a tie serenades you.
In the mood to take down an entire roast crab in one sitting? Get it done at Thanh Long. The Vietnamese seafood spot in the Sunset specializes in crab drenched in butter, garlic, and a secret spice mix we can only imagine was blended by sorcery. The crab meat is fall-apart tender, and is even better when paired with chewy garlic noodles that soak up all of the extra butter.
Trattoria Contadina is the antithesis of a trendy new pasta spot where you get exactly six pieces of fusilli per serving. The old-school Italian restaurant on the border of North Beach and Russian Hill is the place for creamy and tomato-y sauces, veal saltimbocca, and spaghetti and meatballs that are so big, that the bowl seemingly never ends. Bring your whole kickball league or come for a family gathering, and know that there’ll be leftovers.
“Small portions” are not in Daeho’s vocabulary. The bubbling kalbijjim at this modern Korean restaurant in Japantown could single-handedly feed a pack of bear cubs. It’s covered in cheese and blowtorched tableside until gooey. The other dishes at Daeho are also ginormous, from the kalbi bibimbap to the seolleong tang with melt-in-your-mouth brisket. You may have to be rolled out of here, but this meal is worth it.
Panuchos loaded with al pastor, fried plantains, and burritos the size of a newborn baby are on deck at this Yucatecan spot in the Richmond. The counter-service taqueria serves hearty plates of chicken mole, poc chuc, and cochinita pibil that will keep you full well into the night—no sharing required. Pitches of margaritas are just another reason to get here.
The synonym for “cozy” should be this French restaurant in Hayes Valley. The lighting is dim and warm. And the comfort dishes would be well-suited as an après-ski meal after one too many rough runs down the slopes. French onion soup is a staple on every table. And roasted chicken is piled on top of steamy garlic mashed potatoes. Keep the fresh baguette and glasses of wine coming.
On nights when stuffing your face with something cheesy and warm is a requirement, Balompie Cafe #3 is here for you. The counter-service, soccer-themed Salvadoran spot in Bernal Heights is our go-to for pupusas with classic fillings, like chicharrones, shrimp, and carne asada. Each one has the ideal crispy edge and comes with the requisite oregano-heavy curtido. Round out your order with a side of fried plantains.
At this Cantonese seafood restaurant in Chinatown, you won’t have to cut one scallop into fifths for sharing. Instead, sit back and let the family-style (and family-portioned) dishes come to you. A physics-defying mound of salted fish fried rice packs umami. And their iconic salt and pepper crab arrives with plenty of lightly battered legs to go around. Pack a group around one of the big round tables and go to town.
Nothing screams “I will not be sharing” than proclaiming you’re getting the burger. And the one at Nopa is legendary. Rolling up to the bar and ordering their cheeseburger, complete with thick-cut bacon and a side of fries, is a city-wide rite of passage, especially for anyone who gets territorial over the last bites. The rustic restaurant in NoPa also does other classic American dishes, like fried chicken, pork chops, and nine-hour bolognese, and getting any of them won’t leave you in need of a trip to McDonald's after.
Ramen is the ideal situation for nights when you’d rather drive a U-Haul down Lombard St. than figure out the most strategic way to order and share with a group. One steamy bowl of noodles can be all yours at Nojo. This Hayes Valley spot specializes in creamy chicken-based broth and thick noodles with the right amount of chewiness. Slurp down soup and know that you made a peaceful decision.
Walking into Mandalay is the cure to a sh*tty day. Ornaments and hanging umbrellas decorate the bright yellow space, and the staff treats you like a regular even if you’ve never been in before. The hearty Burmese food will make your day, too. Tea leaf salad is nutty and crunchy, the balada has buttery layers, and jalapeños and chunks of mango balance out a sweet and savory mango chicken. Getting into a family-style spread of shareable dishes is the best way to forget about whatever you’ve been commiserating about.
This Nob Hill establishment is over the top in every way. Spinning bowls of salads get dressed from as high as your server can reach, slabs of meat are carved from roving silver carts, and baked potatoes are split and topped with spoonfuls of sour cream and bacon so fast the process is almost blurry. Sink into a red velvet booth and enjoy the controlled chaos and your very own frisbee-sized hunk of beef.
Square Pie Guys serves Detroit-style pizzas with crispy cheddar walls. Even though each one looks like it could hold a door open, the crust is airy and light. This means ordering one for yourself isn’t a bad idea. The classic 6x8 has exactly 48 pepperoni cups that get nice and crispy around the edges. It’s even more flavorful when drizzled with their ranch and cilantro-lime crema. There’s a location in SoMa, but the Ghirardelli Square outpost has a patio overlooking the water.
The moderately upscale Turkish spot in the Mission is a place where you can—and should—order big. The crispy sarma beyti, wrapped in lavash and sliced, is an optimal dish to shovel into your mouth at rapid speed. And the charred eggplant topped with juicy ground beef is straight-up comfort. You’ll want to wash it all down with a glass of wine and stay until closing.
A trip to Tadich Grill is like walking into an 1850s time capsule, which makes sense since this FiDi spot has been around in one form or another since the days when people flocked here to pan for gold. There’s a bar so long you can’t even see the end, free sourdough, and servers walking around in white coats. Ordering your own entrée is also the unwritten rule, whether it’s the bowl of cioppino that looks deep enough to swim in (plastic bibs are included) or a plate of pan-fried sand dabs and fries.