SFGuide

Where To Eat With A Third-Tier Friend

When you somehow rope yourself into a meal with a friend you don't see too often, use this list.

Where To Eat With A Third-Tier Friend guide image

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

What happens when that “We should totally get dinner sometime!” conversation becomes a reality? That’s a meal with a third-tier friend. Maybe it’s someone you took a rug-making class with in the winter of 2016, or a college roommate’s friend who used to go to your climbing gym. No matter how this person got into your (very loosely defined) circle of friends, you’re overdue for a catch up. So here are places suited for those occasions: restaurants that will still offer a fantastic meal without taking too much of your money or time. And you never know—maybe that third-tier friend will end up in the second tier by the time the meal’s over.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Erin Ng

Automat review image
8.5

Automat

When your childhood friend-turned-nemesis-turned-acquaintance DMs you and says they’ve moved to the city and would “love to reconnect,” take them to Automat. It’s an all-day cafe in NoPa that’s ideal for quick lunch meet-ups. You order (and pay on your own) at the counter, the food comes out fast, and espresso drinks are on hand in case you start nodding off while this freshly reconnected friend goes on too long about the wedding they crashed last summer. Get anything involving Automat’s baked bread or pastries—like the breakfast sandwich overflowing with gooey pimento cheese, or the cinnamon roll we daydream about weekly.   

If you’re hanging out with someone from out of town who’s spending the afternoon at Dolores Park, offer to meet them at Stonemill Matcha. The serene Japanese cafe is home to perfect matcha lattes, desserts like matcha cream pie and black sesame financiers, and the best chicken katsu curry in the city. Settle into a light wooden booth and admire all the plants while asking what exactly they’ve been up to over the past few years. To avoid having to make small talk in line for a table, come here for weekday lunch—the waits are much shorter.  

This counter-service Oaxacan spot in the Mission is where we go for loaded tlayudas, fork-tender tamales, and mole that’s more complex than the relationship issues of your work acquaintance. You’ll likely be hearing all about them and more as you two dig into the colorful spread. Donaji is a great spot for a pop-in, pop-out dinner that'll last less than an hour, since the food arrives quickly. But if the conversation is flowing, grab another glass of wine or an agua fresca and stay longer. 

Dinner at a quick, casual sushi spot is one foolproof way to spend time with a third-tier friend. Even better when that time is spent at Okoze. It’s one of our favorite spots in Russian Hill for excellent nigiri and special rolls, and is also pretty easy to get a table last-minute. We also love the decorative little touches on each dish, like flower-shaped beets and actual flower petals. Comment on how adorable the beets are while you rack your brain to remember what this friend’s nebulous “I work in tech” job really entails. 

When too much time has passed since your old upstairs neighbor texted “let’s catch up,” it’s time to finally meet for a weeknight dinner. Pizza and beer should do the trick. This Bernal Heights spot focuses on Detroit-style pies, served in a sweatpants-welcome space. Get the one with pepperoni spilling off the top and crispy cheese edges, wash it down with a pilsner, and swap landlord horror stories.  

We come to this Arab bakery in the Mission any chance we get, including a get together with our 2015 yoga buddy to eat za’atar-covered mana’eesh on the patio. Also order the velvety sumac-dusted hummus and warm pita to share. Sitting out on the parklet and people-watching on Mission Street is great conversation-making material, if things start to get too quiet. 

Arm-length hoagies we regularly wax poetic about on this site—and in our dream journals—are why we love Palm City. We also feel as comfortable staying for hours with a bottle of orange wine at a big table inside as we do finishing off an Italian American hoagie with mortadella, arugula, and ‘nduja aioli on the sidewalk patio in five minutes flat. And since this is a third-tier friend guide, know that you can plan on doing the latter any time you randomly hear from the acquaintance who’s inexplicably made a habit out of liking your Instagram stories. 

photo credit: Krescent Carasso

Violet’s review image

Violet’s

RESERVE A TABLE

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open table

We gravitate towards this lowkey restaurant when we want to drink a cocktail, share a few dishes, and be in bed by 9:30pm to watch episodes of Glee. The menu changes once in a while, but one mainstay to zero in on is the burger, topped with bacon and creamy chipotle aioli. They also have things like garlicky fries, mac and cheese, and chips and dip if you and your friend are going the small plates route. 

At this trendy wine bar in North Beach, burrata is on most tables, there are at least seven separate couples on dates, and there’s a big neon sign that says “wet your lips.” This spot works well for pretty fast meet-ups with people you don’t need to dedicate an entire night to, because the food comes out fast and there’ll probably be a couple not-so-subtly side-eying your table after 45 minutes—this place is always busy. Slide into a seat at the bar, and order the salmon tacos or crispy potatoes with aioli. 

Piccino in Dogpatch is practically built for third-tier friend catch-ups. There’s walk-up bar seating if you want to keep things extra casual, thin-crust pizzas great for sharing, and plenty of wine and cocktails. The airy dining room or covered parklet at this Cal-Ital restaurant is a reliable place to bust out your best small talk skills over milk-braised pork ragu and mushroom pizzas.

Sit at the bar at this cozy Richmond wine and pasta spot, and you’ll see house-made fettuccine and amatriciana with generous amounts of crispy guanciale being prepared right in front of you as you sip on Italian wine. Corks is a great place to bring a friend, including one from your camp counselor days—it’s quiet enough inside that you’ll actually be able to hear them tell you about their new lanyard-making strategy, but not so quiet that you’ll want to blurt out something completely unrelated to fill the silence if there’s a conversation lull. 

If you’re planning a dinner with a mutual friend you’ve never actually hung out with one-on-one, set it up at Dumpling Home. The Hayes Valley Chinese spot seats you quickly even when there’s a line. And once you order, steamed, pan-fried, and boiled dumplings will land on your table before you can even ask this friend (again) to remind you what neighborhood they live in. Xiao long bao and the green-tinted vegetable dumplings should definitely be part of the order, as should the garlicky cucumber salad and sticky dry-fried chicken wings. 

The Sunset outpost of this Italian spot comes with a covered rooftop patio with twinkle lights, so get here for open-air dinners of thin-crust mushroom pizzas, hearty meatballs, rich rigatoni bolognese, and well-made cocktails. This place is also the neighborhood’s slightly dressed-up gathering spot. It’s lively, loud, and always packed with people. Luckily, reservations are easy to come by, especially for those spontaneous Wednesday night dinners with your cousin’s friend who sometimes hits you up.   

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