You’ve been pushing this dinner off for a while. And after several text exchanges involving increasingly fake-sounding excuses, it’s finally happening - you’re meeting up with a third-tier friend. Legally, you don’t have to hang out with this person. But socially, you’re obligated. So whether you accidentally talked your way into meeting up with a college acquaintance when you ran into each other on the street, or someone you had jury duty with seemed really nice at the time and now is maybe weirder in hindsight, use this list of places for a dinner that won’t cost too much or take too long.
Allswell is one of our favorite places for a quick, casual meal along the L. It has a bar where you can sit if you don’t want to stare directly into this person’s eyes, and the menu includes one of the best burgers in the entire city (which is exactly what you should be ordering). You’ll enjoy it even if you’re only half-listening to what your friend is saying about his old boss’ former dogwalker’s divorce.
There’s a reason your third-tier friend isn’t a second-tier friend, and that reason might be because they like to talk about downer things like the New York Jets or the current state of the bee population. If that’s the case, go to Playa Betty’s. It’s a Mexican restaurant on the Upper West Side that has palm trees and tater tot nachos, and it’s pretty hard to be upset here. The food options (especially the steak tacos) are solid, and you can take sips of a frozen paloma while you try to think of upbeat conversation topics.
Nolita is geographically a good meet-in-the-middle neighborhood, but there aren’t too many places in the area that work for this kind of occasion. Fortunately, you only need one, and that’s Epistrophy. This place is open all day, and works equally well for a lunch/brunch meet-up or a casual dinner. Most dishes cost less than $20, it’s kind of quiet, and the cafe-like space might even make your friend say something along the lines of, “This place is super cute.”
You don’t know a ton about this person, but you do at least know that you both like sushi. Try Takahachi. This East Village restaurant is one of the best casual sushi spots in the city - mostly because it’s relatively easy to walk into, the fish is good, and the prices are pretty low (rolls are around $5). If Tribeca is more convenient for you, there’s another location there that we endorse for the same reasons.
When you aren’t quite sure how long you want to hang out with someone, tapas is an intelligent choice. If things go well, you can share a lot of food, and if you aren’t having fun, you can have one small plate and then say that you have to go home to talk to your bird (who gets separation anxiety). So try Lamano. It’s a sleek little tapas spot in the West Village with a big communal table, and there are plenty of trains nearby for when you need to go talk to your bird. Start with the Spanish tortilla, then go from there.
You haven’t seen this person in a while, so you may not be looking for reasons to make extra small talk. Santa Panza in Bushwick is great because you can show up almost anytime and get seated right away. Even if it’s busy, this Italian place magically seems to have room for everyone. Walk five minutes from the J train, order two Neapolitan pizzas and an $18 carafe of wine, and you’ll have successfully reached your friendliness quota unscathed.
Vini E Fritti is a good choice when you’re interested in potentially moving this person into first or second-tier territory. It’s impressive-looking, and the Italian small plates are really good - plus, you’re probably going to be sharing things. If you need to wait for seats, do a little team-building activity and strategize about what to order. We like the fried artichokes, pork ribs, and pizza dough pillows with prosciutto.
You like this person just fine. But you like ramen more. If both of you work in the general vicinity of Midtown East, Totto Ramen East should be your choice. It’s located right under another ramen spot we like called Hide-Chan, but of the two, Totto is more relaxed and a little less traditional. It’s cash-only, but there’s an ATM in the restaurant in case you forget to text in advance about bringing paper money.
If you’re getting dinner with someone you wouldn’t necessarily bring to a desert island, you should at least get some kind of consolation prize. At Joe & Pat’s in the East Village, that prize is pizza. This is the second location of one of our all-time favorite pizza places (the original is in Staten Island), and they serve some of the best thin-crust pies you’ll find in the city. The space is somewhat generic, but the vodka pies are excellent, and you shouldn’t have a problem getting a table.
Surfish is a casual Peruvian restaurant in Gowanus where you’ll be able to walk in unannounced, ready with superficial talking points about your apartment search. The menu has things like hamachi tartare and a ceviche tasting, so it’ll probably give the illusion that you’re putting a lot of thought and effort into this dinner, whether or not that’s really the case.
Beebe’s isn’t an especially exciting restaurant, but it’s solid and easy to get into. It’s at the bottom of the Boro Hotel in Long Island City, and you’ll find some good pizza and pasta here, as well as a burger you won’t mind eating. The space also pretty large and nice in a furnished-by-Ikea sort of way, and there’s a big back patio. So if you live nearby, convince your friend to meet you here, and start your meal with a negroni on tap.
If the characters from Friends had realistic day jobs (instead of paleontologist and musician masseuse) and lived uptown, they’d all hang out at East Harlem Bottling Co. after work. It’s the kind of neighborhood bar/restaurant where friendship feels inevitable, even if it’s just for a few hours. Come for weekday Happy Hour (until 7pm every day) and order some wings and $6 beers. Also good to know: they make one of the best pub burgers in the area.
Planning a meal at a bar is sort of like planning an anniversary at a Dave & Busters. But Sweet Afton in Astoria is different. It’s much nicer than your average drinking spot, and there’s a full dinner menu. The space has exposed brick walls and leather banquettes, and at night there are little candles on the tables. They also make a good burger, as well some other things like a couple of salads and a steak sandwich. More importantly, this place has a lot of drinks. Because it’s a bar.
If you’re meeting up near Midtown, don’t go to a pricey steakhouse or a place where the servers have excellent posture and pay a weird amount of attention to you. Go someplace casual, like Briciola. It’s a little spot from the same people behind Aria and Terra, and they serve pastas (all of which cost $14) that will keep you in a reasonably happy mood while your friend tells you all about a television show you’re too polite to say you didn’t like. Service is also quick, so you should be able to get in and out in under an hour.