The Infatuation is built on the idea of “Perfect For” categories, catering to assorted restaurant needs. Dinner With The Parents? Date Night? Impressing Out Of Towners? We got it.
But occasionally, we field requests that don’t quite fit into any of The Infatuation’s pre-determined categories. And there is one such genre of restaurant that comes up over and over again - at parties, on our Text Rex service, in the cramped changing rooms of spin classes we don’t actually attend. It’s what we have come to call the “Super Cute Reasonably Priced Restaurant To Catch Up With A Few Friends.”
After considerable research (i.e. hearing this request repeatedly), we’ve broken down the core attributes of the Super Cute Reasonably Priced Restaurant To Catch Up With A Few Friends (SCRPRTCUWFF). In general, SCRPRTCUWFFs are:
- Kind of quiet.
- But not super boring.
- Relatively small in size, or at least not huge.
- With entrées mostly under $20 (or equivalent).
- “Any neighborhood is fine, but… maybe the West Village or Nolita or Williamsburg?”
Turns out you guys really like SCRPRTCUWFFs, so here are 23 spots. Now go ahead and plan that Tuesday night dinner.
A few minutes after finishing your afternoon coffee, you get a jolt of energy and text a couple friends asking if they want to get dinner tonight. Finally, at 4:30pm, one of them says yes and asks where you’re meeting. Tell them Pheasant. This small spot in Williamsburg is ideal for casual weeknight dinners when you want some good food in the kind of atmosphere that makes you feel like part of the neighborhood. Start with the caesar salad and then share the chicken over spiced yellow rice and the burger topped with smoked kielbasa.
Cafe design must be something Australians learn in high school these days. And Banter, an all-day spot in Greenwich Village, is another spot you can add to the list of “super cute” Australian spots in NYC. It’s a good place to meet someone for breakfast or lunch, and it gets more lively at dinner, when you’ll be eating healthy-sounding things like beet cashew dip and roast chicken with sautéed kale. It’s also a solid option for after-work drinks - beer, wine, and cocktails are discounted during Happy Hour until 7pm.
You’re meeting up with a few friends in Williamsburg. One person in your group (who may or may not be you) gets pretty grumpy without snacks, but two others claim they only want to drink. Head to Bar Beau, where you can get a table or some bar seats and drink excellent cocktails while eating things like chicken liver mousse or scallop corn fritters that taste like briny hushpuppies.
Old Rose is in the bottom of the Jane Hotel in the West Village, and it looks like it’s going to be more expensive than it actually is. It has super-high ceilings and big paintings on the walls, but it’s actually pretty casual, and nothing on the menu costs more than $20. So if you need to impress a few old acquaintances, but you recently spent too much money on some shoes or a karaoke machine you saw in SkyMall, try this place. The pastas are solid, the pizzas are great (especially the vodka with stracciatella), and there’s a really good side of meatballs that should be on your table.
There are certain restaurants that are perfect for pretty much everyone, and Shuka is one of them. The Mediterranean food (like spiced beet dip and chicken shawarma) is solid, the prices aren’t too high, and the space feels like the home of a person who makes a very decent living and probably does pilates. It's surprisingly spacious, and charming in a West Elm sort of way.
Aita is in Clinton Hill, and it looks like the country home that you don’t own - complete with old art on the walls, a bunch of wooden furniture, and a little chandelier. It’s a nice break from the trash-and-pigeon-filled streets of NYC, and it also happens to serve some pretty good Italian food. Bring friends you’d invite to said country home if you did in fact own it, and have some oxtail ravioli and whatever fried vegetable is currently available.
If you’re planning a meal with a vegetarian, try Jajaja. It’s a Mexican place on the Lower East Side serving nachos, burritos, and tacos - but they’re filled with things like jackfruit and squash. Everything here is vegan, and it’s all pretty good. The dining room isn’t huge, but there are a couple of big booths, and it looks sort of like a Southwestern-themed coffee shop. There’s also a neon sign out front that one of your friends will probably take a picture of.
Fumo is on a corner just across the street from City College, and it’s an attractive, white-walled space with marble countertops, lots of plants, and big bright photographs covering the walls. More importantly, they make solid versions of pretty much all your Italian classics. There’s also a pretty reasonable wine list, so it’s a great spot if you want to drink a little and vent about your job or some of the so-called friends who couldn’t make it.
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into Excuse My French is the decor - the gold and green wallpaper, the fake bookshelves lining the bathroom, the still-life paintings in big gold frames, and so on. It’s a little quirky, definitely charming, and the food happens to be really good. Whether you want to eat some bread and cheese or something more closely resembling a real meal, you’ll do well here.
Dante is one of those spots that’s easy to recommend for lots of different situations. The small plates are interesting and ideal for sharing, there’s nothing else quite like it in the area, the service is extremely friendly, and you can usually walk in and get a table (although you may have to wait). Drink a few of the on-tap negronis and things will progress onwards from “cute” very quickly.
Between the red booths and antique-y wallpaper, Lovely Day definitely has the cute thing down. But this Thai spot in Nolita really has the reasonably-priced requirement covered as well. With plenty of dishes under $10, this is one of the few restaurants where you can really feel like you’ve had a night out, while spending under 25 bucks a head.
Jointly owned by the people behind Buvette and I Sodi, Via Carota is a classy, low-key Italian spot that doesn’t take reservations, making it an ideal move for a night when you forgot to book anything. There are usually a dozen-plus vegetable dishes on the menu, plus several pastas and fish and meat entrees. Just come early or be prepared for a wait.
With lots of greenery and a prime Williamsburg location, Aurora is an excellent go-to when you’re looking for an easy dinner in a highly charming environment. Sit in the courtyard when the weather’s nice, and get some housemade pasta, like the cacio e pepe or the spinach and ricotta ravioli.
This very small French restaurant in the West Village is the kind of place where you’ll probably end up talking to the people at the table next to you, just in case you get tired of “catching up” with your friends. It’s an extremely warm and friendly environment, and it’s also BYOB, so you’ll probably end up sharing your bottle of wine with the people next to you as well.
You could easily sit at Sisters all day, starting with coffee and a newspaper (do people still read newspapers?), all the way through to late night drinks. We also recommend it somewhere in the middle, for a nice dinner in what is a truly beautiful space. Nearly everything on the menu is under $20, and all of it is good.
Cafe Gitane is most popular for brunch, but they actually do a pretty good dinner menu as well, and there’s hardly ever a wait in the evenings. Get the chicken satay and the Moroccan couscous with merguez sausage. The Little Cupcake Bakeshop is down the street, should you want to continue the whole cute thing into the evening.
Epistrophy is a small cafe that works for a surprising number of situations - big groups, drinks, a quick bite, a long dinner with your friend from high school who’s going through a weird time but you actually are really on the same page despite not having spoken for a few years. You know, that kind of thing.
If you’ve been to the Jack’s Wife Freda on Lafayette, you’ve likely experienced the following: feeling cramped, and overhearing the complete details of the yoga retreat to Tulum the people next to you just took. That’s fine and all, but you can get the same reliable food at the bigger West Village location. It’s the way to go.
Tia Pol is a little tapas bar in Chelsea that’s pretty ideal for early-in-the-game dates. Sit at the bar and share a few small plates - nothing on the menu is more than $16 - like ham and chorizo or octopus salad with romesco. Come during Happy Hour (weekdays until 6:30pm), and drink some $6 glasses of wine or share a half-off pitcher of sangria.