after-work eats in downtown SF
I'm looking for a fun, cheap and tasty place to meet a friend after work for dinner and probably a drink or two. Should be within reasonable walking distance of one of the downtown BART stations (Embarcadero to Civic Center). Somewhere not too crazy but not too quiet either, and good for folks with non-profit-salary-size budgets who like to eat well. Any suggestions would be great.
If you like oysters, and you're meeting your friend on a Monday or Thursday, go to Hog Island for their happy hour ($1 oysters, and good grilled cheese). Slanted Door also has a nice bar area, and you can eat the full menu at the bar (and in the tables in the bar area, you can eat all of the appetizers). I've found that when sharing food at Slanted Door, it's not that expensive at all, depending on what you order. Both are in the Ferry Building, so very easy to get to, but if possible, you should get to both on the early side.
Go to one of the places on Belden Alley (between Kearny & Montgomery, Bush & Pine). You'll be able to find something delicious and reasonable at B44, Plouf, Tiramisu or Cafe Bastille -- my favorite is B44, for wonderful tapas and paellas, but I'd be happy at any of them. Sit inside, or outside under the heat-lamps -- it's great for people-watching.
Some options around various BART stations...
Embarcadero - I like the Mexican food place "Mijita" for inexpensive dinners. You can have a beer and sit outside and enjoy a great view of the Bay or consider taking your food (great fish tacos and guacamole) into the Wine Merchant if you want more of a bar atmosphere. I've done this before and they encourage patrons to even bring cheese and bread from shops down the hall (another option, see their site: http://www.fpwm.com/wine_bar/index.html)
Union Square - I like Cafe de la Presse at Grant and Bush for small plates in the cafe area with inexpensive wines by the glass and great Parisienne atmosphere.
Civic Center (more Hayes Valley) - "Fritz" at Hayes and Laguna serves casual crepes, salads, focacia sandwiches and amazing Belgian fries - wine and beer - in hip art cafe setting with lovely garden seating out back.
A little more subdued, but good value and garden setting is "Arlequin Cafe" (basically the cafe of Absinthe restaurant next door) on Hayes at Gough - so pretty upscale cafe food w/ great garden in the back...for a great value, you can grab a bottle of wine at their wine merchant next door to have w/ your meal...or have select wines by the glass from the cafe.
For more atmosphere and lively setting, check out "Cav" wine bar on Market near Gough (near Zuni). Small plates are great and will keep the cost down (excellent cheese selection and don't miss the frito misto). Wine list is fabulous but will bring the cost up :-) -- they have full and 1/2 glass options so you can taste a variety.
I'd add Cafe Claude to the options noted above. It's a short walk from Montgomery BART on Claude Lane off Sutter & Kearny. I had a simple, satisfying meal there with a friend a few weeks ago - glass of sauvignon blanc, escargot, mixed greens, etc. that didn't break the bank. Their service also seemed a lot more courtous and attentive than I've recalled in the past.
Órale Órale on Sacramento across the street from 3 Embarcadero Center is good Mexican food for a gringo neighborhood. Has a full liquor license though I'm not sure if they stock anything besides tequila. Packed at lunch but quiet at other times.
Has anybody tried the new Osha Thai in EC4?
I recommend Bocadillos. I met a friend there a few weeks ago after work and we had fun sitting at the bar. It's beer and wine only but I really liked the Spanish whites I tried and the small plates are reasonably priced and good for sharing. Great fried calamari - try it with the albarino!
Eddie Rickenbacker's on 2nd St. between Mission & Howard is lively (but not too tumultuous), offers complimentary nibbles fresh out of the kitchen during happy hour, and has a full bar. Food is also pretty good. If you really wnat to keep food costs down, ask for the complimentary basket of crackers with the crock of spreadable cheddar. Addictive and filling.....
Easy walking distance from/to Montgomery BART station.