You know that cold feeling in the pit of your stomach you get when you send a text about a person to that person, or you’re wondering if you left the stove on? You may experience something similar when a server says, “now let me explain how this works.” Because it means that server is probably about to tell you that all the plates are small enough to fit in an Easy-Bake Oven and that you’ll have to order at least three per person before you should start thinking about “the larger options.”
Sure, small plates are great for when you aren’t super hungry, or you want to feel like Pac-Man and eat a bunch of little things, but that’s not always the case. When you want to sit down somewhere and share a few dishes with your friends without having to pull out a microscope and scalpel, or just want to order one or two things and be able to call it a night, head to one of these places instead.
While you could just get a few appetizers to split, the real reason you’re going to Trattoria Contadina is to eat a massive bowl of pasta. It could be the only thing you get and you would still leave with a to-go box, which is exactly why we love this place in Russian Hill. It’s the perfect spot for when your entire extended family is in town, and if for some reason someone doesn’t want pasta, tell them to get the veal saltimbocca. It’ll keep them both busy and fed for the next few days.
One of the best things about Barzotto is that you can come here and get a big bowl of pasta and a glass of wine for around $25, which by SF standards is pretty great. All of their pasta is made in-house, like the snail shells with marinara and ricotta and the extra long noodles, and it’s good enough that if this was any other restaurant, they would charge you the same amount for much smaller portions of the same thing. It’s a perfect place for a casual early-in-the-game date, or to catch up with your traveling consultant friend who you never get to see. Make sure to get some soft serve gelato on your way out to eat on a walk around the neighborhood, too.
Nopa is an SF classic that’s perfect for nearly any scenario you can imagine, from a late-night meal at the bar to trying to impress your high school best friend/rival visiting from out of town. The menu is seasonal, but you can count on whatever you get - from the brisket flatbread to the porchetta that’s large enough to split with two other people - to be simple and creative. Nopa’s somewhere you’ll have to get a reservation at a month in advance, but if you’re willing to wait, you can put your name down at the beginning of the night and go grab a few drinks at Horsefeather or Fool’s Errand less than a block away in the meantime.
The only reason you’ll end up ordering six or seven things at Lers Ros is because you came here with six or seven people. This is one of our favorite spots to go for an impromptu group dinner because there’s never an issue getting a big table in a pinch, the food is great, and the portions are large enough to count as a second personal item on an airplane. Get the tom kha kai and the pad kra pow moo krob pork belly.
You could spend a lot of time at Bellota ordering a bunch of tapas, but it’s not really necessary. Instead, get some bellota ham and a tapa or two to snack on while you wait the necessary 45 minutes for the paella. We like the pollo version, but whatever you end up with will be a perfect giant platter of rice to tear through while you congratulate yourself on not filling up on small plates like you typically do.
Trestle takes all the guesswork out of ordering by only giving you two options in each section of the menu. If you’re here on a date, it’s even better because you can get one of everything if you each order different things, including their optional pasta course which you should at least get one of. At around $40 per person, coming here is also much more affordable than a lot of other options in the area. Plus, the portions are large enough that after your three-course meal, you’ll be thinking about taking a walk around the neighborhood or finding a good movie to watch instead of finding the nearest In-N-Out for a real dinner.
If you get the $25 all-you-can-eat option at Carbon Gill, you don’t have to worry about prices adding up from ordering a bunch of things. This Korean BBQ place feels like the model restaurant for a hopeful future chain or a low-budget workplace sitcom, but everything from the pork cheek to the lemongrass chicken thighs is worth trying and it’s a good spot for a low-key birthday with a lot of food and a lot of beer.
There’s so much going on at Farmhouse Kitchen every night that it feels like you’re somehow eating in the middle of a rehearsal for the Olympic opening ceremonies. There are lights, music, dancing, and costumes happening around you while you eat, and instead of distracting you or feeling like you walked into the wrong room, it just adds to the experience. Share a few small things to start, like the Thai sausage with ginger or the spicy mango salad before you order some large plates to split. The specials here are always worth ordering, especially if khao soi is on the menu, but we also love the fried chicken and the beef rib that are large enough for two people each.
Zuni Cafe is responsible for the way a lot of restaurants do things these days, but they’re not responsible for making everyone at your table juggle six plates in front of them just to make sure you eat half a meal. This place is legendary for being great at simple things, like a perfect roast chicken and a Caesar salad that deserves to be engraved on a coin. We like this place more for lunch so you can people watch out the giant windows facing Market Street, but for dinner, it’s a great place to bring someone you know respects the classics.
When you have a group, more options can mean more chaos, so we like to do what our third-grade teachers used to and get pizza for everyone. The wood-fired pies at Del Popolo are some of the best in the city, and you only need a few to feed a small group. Everything from the margherita to the sausage pie is worth going out of your way for, instead of ordering it from home while wearing those mysterious sweatpants that you don’t remember buying.
Dinner at House of Prime Rib is all about glorious excess. There’s only one thing to really order here - a prime rib dinner, which comes with a gigantic salad, creamed spinach, a baked potato Evel Knievel couldn’t jump over, and a Yorkshire pudding to mop up everything that’s left behind from one of the most fantastic meals you can have in this city. There are a million places where you can order a million small plates, but there’s only one House of Prime Rib.