by Chelsea Lin - 273 Reviews - 109 List
In a city that's only seven square miles, residents and restaurant owners alike have had to learn how to maximize small spaces--luckily for us, the results aren't always as awkward as your cluttered "live/work" room. As it turns out, tiny eateries often yield the most intimate dining experiences; for a dinner free of large, noisy parties, check this list of cozy restaurants out to prove that size really doesn't matter.
Updated: September 28, 2009
If anybody knows tiny kitchens and smaller dining rooms, it's Dennis Leary. The highly regarded chef can be seen in the infamously small kitchen of this Nob Hill restaurant (where reservations are a necessity and dinner's offered during three seating times only) and in his closet of a sandwich shop, The Sentinel, pumping out some of the best sandwiches in town.
The size of this way-Outer Sunset eatery isn't the only thing that makes it difficult to get into--it's also only open Thursday, Friday and Saturdays for dinner. Make a reservation, though, and you'll be happy you trekked out for the solid Louisiana fare: fried green tomatoes, barbecued shrimp and all sorts of stews and gumbos you can see bubbling away in the open kitchen.
Every inch of this pint-sized Inner Richmond resto is decked out in rock 'n' roll paraphernalia, a nod to the owner's hobby and passion but misleading of the Japanese-style grill menu. A few tables are available, but the best seats (as usual) are at the bar, where you can chow down on yakitori and katsu while chatting with the owners/cooks and hearing the stories behind the eclectic decor.
Brunch is king at this casual, French-influenced soul food joint on the edge of the Tenderloin, where diners are willing to endure long queues for the chance to sit at one of just a few tables and enjoy huge plates of grits, gumbo and the best beignets this side of New Orleans' Cafe du Monde. Go with a small group and prepare to wait--the sweet watermelon tea alone is worth it.
For those days before payday when you've got an empty belly, an empty fridge and less than $10 in your pocket, there is Yamo--a slightly grimy but delicious Mission restaurant churning out Burmese creations like tea salad, samusas and cold noodles to the 10 people who fit at the restaurant's counter stools at one time. You'll likely have to wait at prime meal times, but they're quick and you won't be standing long.
As far as little neighborhood cafes go, this Potrero Hill coffee shop and restaurant is about as cute as it gets--and when you can't get a seat at one of maybe 15 spots indoors, you can enjoy your thin-crust pizza and seasonally inspired salads al fresco. This may not be a city ideally suited for outdoor dining, but on a sunny day, it doesn't get much better than this 'hood.
What this Inner Sunset lunch-or-dinner destination lacks in space, it makes up for in variety--there are nearly more dishes on the menu than there are seats to sit in, and each of the items seems to hail from a different corner of the globe: noodles from the Philippines, Cuban-style fried rice, Thai curry and ratatouille straight out of France. A little incongruous, yes, but great fodder for an adventurous date.
This far-out Cuban cafe in the Mission is dripping with tchotchkes--bizarre photos, creepy dolls and knickknacks cover the walls and hang from the ceilings--making the small dining room appear even smaller. Cheap sangria seems to be the reason to go, but the food and atmosphere are also worth a visit.
With no delivery, no credit cards, no reservations and a meager four tables for dining in, this Richmond pizzeria may not be the most convenient place for pie in town, but it was one of the best long before the current wave of newfangled pizzaiolos hit SF. For thin-crusted pizzas topped with a weekly-changing assortment of seasonal ingredients and choice cheeses, head here--or better yet, call ahead and order yours to-go.