The restaurant question we get asked more than anything is definitely: "Where should we go for my friend's birthday party?" Generally speaking, the situation involves a party of 10, more than a party of 200, but this restaurant short-list can accomodate a wide scope of food preferences, ambiance and number of people. Since we're of the mindset that hard booze never hurts, we've put a star by the restaurants with a full bar. Go ahead now: Celebrate good times. Common!
Aziza* (Outer Richmond)
Chef Mourad Lahlou has made his Moroccan-influenced, one-Michelin-star restaurant into a true dining destination. Although the digs aren’t necessarily hip, the food is exquisite, from the more traditional basteeya and hand-rolled cous cous to the Spanish mackerel with vadouvan, potatoes and octopus. Three distinct dining rooms with three different make private events easy. Groups from 25 to 130 can be accommodated and tables of eight or more dine family style with a four-course prix-fixe menu.
Good for: Foodie friends; foodie parents; people who get excited by sous vide; people that want to hear each other speak.
Beretta’s concept makes for the perfect party triumvirate: rustic Italian small plates (including pizza), well-made cocktails and late-night hours. Although the appealingly cozy and dark space doesn’t work well for parties much over six, there’s a downstairs basement that can hold up to 44 people. Prices are reasonable and you’re only a few blocks from a good post-celebration Valencia Street bar crawl.
Good for: Hipsters (duh) and Marina-ites looking for some Mission action.
Dosa on Fillmore* (Lower Pacific Heights)
The one thing that the sweeping, bi-level Dosa on Fillmore has that most Indian (not to mention South Indian) restaurants do not? Cocktails. Dinner is also served family style, so you can pass around the fish curry with coconut rice, chicken and eggplant bharta, lamb biryani and of course dosas and uttapams.
Good for: Post or pre-concert dining (The Fillmore is a block away); food with some spice; dinner and a movie (the Sundance Kabuki theater is across the street).
Foreign Cinema* (Mission District)
Cloistered from the funk of Mission Street, Foreign Cinema continues to be one of our favorite spaces in the city with its roaring fireplace, exposed cement walls, light-strung enclosed patio (which shows films on the outdoor wall) and worn wood floors. The Zuni-esque menu is no coincidence as chefs Gayle Pirie and John Clark are alumns. Beyond the large dining room, there’s also the private West Gallery room that seats 72. Laslo, the bar affiliated with Foreign Cinema, seats 65 to 100.
Good for: Urbanites looking for oysters and Sancerre; a bloody-mary bridal shower; in-town visitors looking for a mix of grit and chic.
Kokkari* (Financial District)
This is the every person restaurant: Chef Erik Cosselmon’s Cal-Greek food has the likes of spit-roasted goat and headcheese (pikti) for the adventurous and chicken souvlaki for the more timid. The sweeping, comfortable, rustic but sophisticated space has a fireplace, full bar, two different private dining rooms and a handcarved, 20-foot long chef’s table that seats 24.
Good for: Visiting family; a suited-up Fi-Di crowd.
Osha Thai* (SoMa)
Low communal tables, complete with pillows, family-style eating (courtesy of Thai tradition), above average Thai food and cocktails to boot, are on offer at this sweeping branch of Osha branch, with exposed brick walls and wood floors. If there’s a wait for a table, there’s a bar.
Good for: An afterwork SoMa crowd; a group on a budget; a little Asian flair.
Oyaji (Outer Richmond)
Although there’s top-notch sushi to be had at this out-of-the-way izakaya restaurant, it’s the other parts of the menu—ramen, yakitori and dishes like monkfish liver with ponzu sauce and stewed pork belly—that sets it apart. That, and the fact that bawdy (ok, perverted) yet amusing sushi chef and owner is generally the drunkest person in the room and putting on quite a show. The sake flows here like a waterfall.
Good for: Small groups; people that want to go beyond sushi; people that like to drink (a lot).
619 Taylor St., 415-775-1028
With a 2 am closing time, this late night, subterranean Japanese restaurant is funky, casual and festive and has a semi-private room that with low seats that accommodates about 10 to 15 and can be reserved for your sake-laden celebration. There’s Sapporo on tap and the sushi is not bad either.
Good for: The post-concert crowd; off-work restaurant industry people; people that don't suffer from claustrophobia.
Velvet Cantina* (Mission)
Velvet is not about the best Mexican food in the city, but pitcher margaritas can start just about any party, especially sopped up with queso dip and chips. The vibe is festive (read: collegiate), the space is large and appropriately dark. Smaller parties can impromptu in the lounge; larger parties make a reservation at the restaurant.
Good for: Margs and guac with the girls, nachos and beer with the boys; parties of 19.
San Tung (Sunset)
1031 Irving St., 415-242-0828
You’re not at this Chinese-Korean restaurant for the mood lighting, but you’re definitely here for the good, cheap food, lots of Tsingtao and big round tables fitted with lazy susans that keep your food spinning. Order what everyone else is eating—platters of shrimp-and-leek dumplings, dry-fried string beans, sticky-sweet chicken wings and black bean noodles—and you’ll be set.
Good for: Family (including kids and babies); a big group of friends; impromptu dinner on a budget
Suppenküche (Hayes Valley)
With its communal, candlelit wooden tables, plates of bratwurst with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, and copious amounts of cold Doppelbock, this German restaurant is the perfect place for a hearty celebration. Note: There are two time windows for large parties here. At 6 pm, twelve people are the maximum, while at 8 pm, they’ll take 20. Three weeks notice is recommended.
Good for: Beer-aficionados, smaller groups, winter celebrations