5 SF Bay Area restaurants where you can actually talk, too

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Dinner table conversation has become a lost art, and not from any lack of witty repartee. No, it’s the noise —THE NOISE, I SAID, IN LOUD RESTAURANTS.

Like it or not, painfully loud restaurants are here to stay. That’s because architects are designing so many of them that way, with exposed ceilings, hard surfaces and floor-to-ceiling metal, wood or other minimalist design elements that don’t absorb noise. The sound just bounces, accelerating as voices rise to compensate. Soon, you’re shouting sweet nothings at your date.

While we can’t guarantee that the eateries on this list will never bustle with a few loud or large parties, we can say that they won’t reach decibel levels harmful to human ears (80, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

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Over the years, we’ve made much of restaurants such as Oakland’s Oliveto and Berkeley’s Comal, where substantial acoustic engineering keeps things serene at table level. There are other options, too. If you enjoy conversing with your dining companion, catch your next meal at one of these spots.

Market Tavern, Dublin

With ‘tavern’ in the title you’d think this new Dublin hot spot would max out the decibel meter, but Market Tavern took over a former Mimi’s Cafe, which means it’s big enough to offer several dining rooms and a separate bar, all of which cut down on the dining din. There’s no midcentury modern or minimalist decor, just booths, standard wood tables and chairs, and plenty of excellent New American food and drink options. Free purple pizza dough for the kiddos, too. 4775 Hacienda Drive, Dublin; www.markettaverndub.com.

Lao Tae, Oakland

This family-friendly restaurant in Oakland’s Montclair district specializes in the flavorful rice dishes, stir fries and meat salads of Laos. Open since January, the restaurant’s food is affordable (everything hovers under $20), service is fast and the restaurant is large and two-leveled, meaning the tables and noise are spread out, allowing for easy conversation even with big parties. 6516 Moraga Ave., Oakland; http://orderlaotae.com.

Menlo Tavern, Menlo Park

Our critic calls the newly revamped Stanford Park Hotel restaurant “the Peninsula’s new classic” for eating and conversation. Here’s why: Leather booths, instead of uncomfortable metal chairs, and area rugs covering the dining room’s tiled floors make for a cozy environment conducive to convos. The idea grew out of nearby Stanford University’s legendary “eating clubs,” restaurant management says. Add in their smoking option for classic cocktails — 10 seconds in the smoker box — and chef Jason Dalling’s less-is-more philosophy, and this spot has it all. 100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; www.menlotavern.com.

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