After over a year of lockdown restrictions, SF is slowly returning to its former state of normalcy. Vaccine rates are on the rise, the weather is trending toward “pleasant,” and our pets are officially sick of being forced to watch old episodes of Schitt’s Creek with us every night. It’s finally time to emerge from our apartments and re-enter society.
As exciting as the prospect of spring socializing may seem, it’s possible you’re a bit rusty when it comes to making dining decisions beyond “let’s go eat Trader Joe’s everything pretzel slims at Dolores.” Maybe you’re not sure how to navigate the dizzying universe of outdoor dining options, or you said yes to seeing a friend who, frankly, you have no intention of talking to for more than an hour. Or perhaps this is all still a bit too much and you’re in need of some lowkey options that’ll help minimize the endless conveyor belt of social anxieties currently operating inside of you. That’s where we come in.
We’ve gathered these SF restaurants that will make socializing just a touch easier. And remember, whether you’ve been vaccinated or not, everyone still has to follow the safety protocols laid out by the city. So mask up, generously tip your servers, and go forth - and have fun being social this spring.
If skinny jeans and side parts were still in the last time you went out for dinner, you might be trying to take things slow. Re-enter the dining scene with a lowkey meal at Prubechu in the Mission. They’ve transformed their parking lot into a seating area that’s nicely spaced out, heated, and feels more like a chill backyard with its colorful, floral tablecloths and a great playlist. The Guamanian spot also does incredible Chamorro dishes, like tinaktak, a creamy dish with handmade egg noodles, cherry tomatoes, green beans, and coconut beef, and the tender ko’ko’ wings, spiced with a secret house blend and dipped in a tangy lemon fina’denne sauce. And don’t leave without getting the fluffy banana donuts for dessert. Reservations can be made here.
The time has finally come for you to meet the optical illusions you’ve been Slacking since last June, a.k.a. your coworkers. Or to go on a first date with the Hinge match you’ve been DM-ing on and off for months. Either way, you’re going to need to break the ice by talking about something other than the 40 seasons of Survivor you just binge-watched. A steamer full of xiao long bao from Dumpling Home should do the trick. You’ll bond while marveling over the delicate dumpling wrappers and rich, juicy pork filling, and all potential awkwardness will dissolve. If that doesn’t work, you can always just order a sh*t ton of pork and shrimp dumplings, garlicky pea shoots, and dan dan noodles, and share it all in silence.
The Anchovy Bar
The Anchovy Bar is a new-ish spot in the Fillmore that’s essentially a paradise for anyone whose primary love language involves tinned fish, seafood, and cheese. And if you’re meeting up with a friend for the first time and want to go all out, it’s a great place to do it. A meal here feels like a special occasion - from the whipped cloud of Wagon Wheel cheese to the slick, salty anchovies bathed in olive oil, every dish that hits the table is as exquisite as it is delicious. They’re currently taking reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
It’s the moment you’ve been dreading: third-tier friends are re-entering the chat. So you’re going to want to pick a spot that’ll take some pressure off of having to make substantive conversation with, say, an old college roommate who keeps texting, “Let’s catch up.” That’s where Zeitgeist comes in. Every Saturday at 6pm, the Mission beer garden has a stand-up comedy show (tickets are here and $25 each), giving you both a) something to talk about and b) less net time spent conversing about things like “the good old days.” Order a beer and a burger or grilled cheese and enjoy it all in one of Zeitgeist’s partitioned outdoor booths.
It’s been a long while since you’ve planned a real get-together, which you now see as a chance to prove that you’re still in the know about very cool, of-the-moment things. Intu-On, an Isaan Thai pop-up operating out of Birba Wine Bar in Hayes Valley on Sundays, is one of those things. Grab a table on the back patio and snack on funky, spicy dishes like shrimp toast, caramelized pork jowl, or crispy curry rice, all with a cocktail or glass of Birba’s natural wine. And remember to mention to the group that you finally downloaded TikTok (nice).
After spending a year at home, it’s probably an understatement to say your dog may have developed a bit of a codependency issue. And if you’re finding it nearly impossible to get out of the house without your best furry friend demanding to tag along, head to Zazie on Monday nights. It’s their designated Dog Night on the heated back patio and sidewalk parklet - if you bring your dog, you get $10 off a bottle of wine, which you should pair with the French onion soup, escargot, or braised lamb shank. They also have treats to keep your canine companion occupied.
You’re going big tonight and can’t be stopped. It’s your Bridgerton-esque debut into society, and you want to enjoy a meal that accurately reflects how you feel: sophisticated, lavish, and extremely sexy and cool. Enter Ju-Ni, the omakase spot on Divisadero that recently built an outdoor sushi bar on the sidewalk. For $147 per person, you get 10 courses highlighting fish that they fly in fresh from a market in Tokyo, housemade miso soup, and dessert in their minimalist wooden omakase bar. Tickets are sold for parties of two or four, and fill up fast, so snag a pair on Tock if you see availability.
If you’re not ready to dine-in at a restaurant yet, but still want to make an appearance in the Real World, there are lots of restaurants that have perfected the art of takeout over the last year. Exhibit A: Nopalito’s To-Go Window in the Mission. They opened last summer as a takeout-only window, and quickly added a parklet - and the best part is, it’s steps from Dolores Park. Meet a friend there, take your colorful rice bowl or totopos topped with carnitas to Dolores, and eat it in the grass while you discuss houseplant lifespans and the intricacies of Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett’s relationship.
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers
Maybe you’re looking for a big outdoor space where you can meet up with a few friends you haven’t seen in (checks notes) over a year. Head to Speakeasy Ales & Lagers in Bayview. It’s the perfect place to post up at a sunny picnic table and talk about your favorite pair of sweatpants over a pint of beer. And they always host a couple of excellent food trucks, like Al Pastor Papi or The Vegan Hood Chefs, as well as DJs, shops like Plant Baybe and Yes Pudding, and occasional comedy shows.
Your decision-making skills have all but deteriorated by this point, and the last thing you need is to buckle under the pressure of choosing what to order for dinner. Avoid the situation altogether, and meet up at Routier in Lower Pac Heights for their set menu. For $39 each, you’ll get a three-course meal - the menu changes, but expect to see dishes like sunchoke soup, smoked ham, and buttermilk panna cotta as your appetizer, main, and dessert. No matter what’s on the menu, the food will be great, and allow you to chat about more pressing things, like your newfound love for crocheting.
Looking for a casual spot with fresh air, great views, and a big patio? How about one that also functions as a place to finally (and quickly) meet up with that distant relative who always comments on your old Facebook photos from 2013? Red’s Java House fits the bill. Walk up to grab a seat on their patio and stare out at the water and the Bay Bridge, and make small talk over their sourdough burgers, fish and chips, and beer. Dogs are welcome, too.
If you’ve essentially forgotten what it feels like to be in a bar, and miss sidling up to the counter to order a drink (remember that?), check out this new plant-themed spot in Nob Hill. They opened in March with a beautiful interior decorated with lush, green plants hanging from the ceiling and lining the walkways, and booths and tables to sit at - or you can chill in their outdoor parklet, too. Despite having just opened, it’s already got the feel of a neighborhood bar that’s been around for a while, with friendly bartenders, fun music playing, and a “no wifi” mentality. Choose from their rotating list of cocktails, like the “Plantasia” with mezcal, matcha, wheatgrass, and pineapple, and lime, or the “A Million Reasons,” a piña colada with acai and champagne.
Perhaps you’re meeting up with someone that you’d rather not talk to for any more than exactly one hour, so you can go back home, get under the covers by 9pm, and deep-dive into a rabbit hole of collegiate gymnastics vlogs on YouTube. Suggest you meet at Spark Social. The food truck park in Mission Bay is expansive, open daily, and hosts a rotating roster of food trucks like El Fuego, Koja Kitchen, and The Sarap Shop. They have plenty of picnic tables, as well as a few firepits (make a reservation here). The best part is, coming here isn’t a full sit-down experience, so once you’re done eating, it’s easy to make some excuse about having to go so you can feed the neighborhood cat.
Lost And Found Bar SF
Lost And Found is a bar on a quiet stretch of Taraval in the Sunset, and has a cozy parklet that feels like an outdoor living room - you can take a seat in one of several swinging chairs or on a cushioned booth, and catch up with an old friend. When it comes to food, you have lots of options, from a wagyu burger or birria tacos to garlic noodles with five-spice chicken, and a great list of cocktails, wine, and beer to choose from.