Sure, there’s more to life than being cool. But when you need to plan a dinner with someone you know or strongly suspect to be cooler than you, that’s quite easy to forget. So here’s a list of bars and restaurants that will help convince this person that you’re actually the cool one. It has places that aren’t too well-known, are fun and chic without making it seem like you’re trying too hard, and, of course, have great food. Good luck out there.
Moongate Lounge is a cocktail bar from the people behind Mister Jiu’s (it’s right above the restaurant), and it’s one of our favorite places to grab a pre or post-dinner drink. The plush couches and tall red booths look straight out of an Architectural Digest spread, and it’s a great place to bring a friend who runs a successful Substack. Grab a glass of natural wine or one of their creative, delicious cocktails, and act like you didn’t spend 25 minutes before dinner going through this person’s Twitter likes.
Eating at Al’s Place in the Mission is just a great time from beginning to end. Their playlists keep things fun and non-stuffy, and the seasonal menu of shareable plates rarely lets us down. Like the colorful butter lettuce salad you’re encouraged to eat with your hands, or crispy duck parts with a side of fermented black bean mayo that we dream about nightly. Be sure to save room for dessert - the brownie topped with a layer of torched peanut butter marshmallow will be a highlight of the whole meal.
The Castro’s Fig & Thistle Market recently rebranded as Millay, a wine and sake bar that feels like the set of a Euphoria shoot. It’s nearly impossible not to feel cool when you’re sitting at a marble table drenched in moody pink lighting, surrounded by bottles of wine, geodes, plants, and books. Grab a glass or bottle from their extensive natural wine selection (there’s still a bottle shop in the back), and if you’re hungry, they have snack-y plates like tinned fish or charcuterie and cheese.
Billingsgate is a small, relatively low-key seafood counter in Noe Valley where you can easily impress someone who hosts a mildly popular podcast. Their crudos, seafood salads, and anything from the raw bar are all super fresh and delicious, and they also have an oyster and champagne Happy Hour from Tuesday to Friday, 3-5pm. We’re partial to the kampachi crudo and smoked salmon on griddled brioche, but it’s hard to go wrong here. They also double as a seafood market, if you want to take home some salmon belly or uni.
Every time we introduce a new person to the handkerchief pasta at Pearl 6101, we feel like we’re letting them in on a very important secret. The rich white bolognese and perfectly cooked sheets of pasta make this our favorite dish on the menu. But this Richmond spot also has plenty of other dishes that will make people feel like we invited them to an exclusive, chic supper club, like the chicory Caesar with crispy prosciutto or halibut crudo. Sit back in one of their cushy booths, and make sure you have one of their great cocktails in hand.
Perhaps you’re meeting up with someone who has a highlight on their Instagram solely dedicated to carefully curated photos of their thriving houseplants. Take them to Propagation, a plant-themed cocktail bar in Nob Hill that’s filled with tons of greenery and comfy couches. Their drinks all have some kind of plant or fruit in the ingredient list, like a piña colada with acai and champagne, or a mezcal cocktail with matcha, all of which are great to sip on while you lie about the lifespan of your succulents.
Walking into the back patio at um.ma, the smell of grilled bulgogi and pork belly wafts through the air like it came from an essential oils diffuser. Dinner at this Sunset Korean restaurant feels like a backyard barbecue, with tabletop grills and throwback music playing on a speaker somewhere. Dazzle your dinner companion (who definitely has one of those diffusers in their room) with soju, ice-cold beer towers, and the knowledge that you should definitely order the seafood pancake, or else.
Liholiho Yacht Club
Liholiho Yacht Club has always been one of the coolest places to have dinner in the city - but at their temporary location in the Mission, an airy rooftop deck adds yet another cool factor to a meal here. Grab a seat in one of the spacious teal booths and split things like a whole-fried fish, short rib steam buns, and tuna poke while saying “oh yeah, that one’s on my list” about every obscure TV show your friend brings up.
Whether you know a lot about wine, or want to seem like you know a lot about wine, Palm City is the place to be. The wine shop in the Outer Sunset has tons of it, and you can stop in to enjoy a glass or bottle at one of their tables inside or outside. And it’s also home to massive hoagies filled with mortadella, roast pork, or bacon, lettuce, and tomato, all of which are fantastic.
Besharam in the Dogpatch serves an entirely vegetarian menu of incredible Gujarati dishes, like charred eggplant stew and blue cheese-stuffed paratha. We like coming here with a group so we can order as much as will fit on our table, and sharing it all. And don’t overlook the sides of the house-made chutneys and pickles - they’re all delicious.
In a city where wine bars are plentiful, Ungrafted in the Dogpatch stands out for its bright, warehouse-like space and laid-back energy - plus an extensive wine list that will make you want to stay awhile and try a few different glasses (or leave with a bottle or two). Sitting at the bar and getting into some za’atar pull-apart bread or salt and vinegar fries is never a bad idea.
Hanging out inside this Russian Hill bar feels like spending time in a botanical garden, thanks to all the hanging plants and that it’s decorated with earthy brown and green accents. It’s a great place to swing by on a first date with someone who calls themself a “plant parent” on Hinge, or to grab drinks with a few friends you haven’t seen in a while. But we don’t just come here for the greenhouse vibes and colorful cocktails - they also have great food, with things like a Maine-style lobster roll and fantastic deviled eggs.
We recommend hitting up this Mission spot for practically any situation, whether it’s a birthday, a date night, or a cute, chill catch-up with friends. But it works especially well for dinner with a friend who owns at least two denim jumpsuits. The colorful patio is lively and chill, the Guamanian dishes simply never miss, and everything is great for sharing family-style, from the perfect ko’ko’ wings to the Chamorro BBQ plates.
When we want to take someone to a laid-back, comfortable bar that actually has good food, Lost Resort comes to mind immediately. The nautical-themed spot in the Mission has a large back patio where we like to kick back with a cocktail or a pint of beer. Be sure to get the mochiko chicken bites, which come with a chicken fat hot sauce we want to bottle up and keep in our fridge at home.
Loló is a Mexican restaurant in the Mission that’s got an effortlessly buzzy atmosphere, excellent cocktails, and a high likelihood of having a fun night. Come with some people you don’t mind being drunk around and share panko-crusted shrimp tacos on jicama tortillas or some golden-brown, puffy empanadas, and wash it all down with a margarita (or a few).