Photo Credit: Jenna Alcala
With so many amazing restaurants, it can be difficult to decide where to take that special someone out on a date. You want a spot that has great food and a lively atmosphere, but isn’t too loud and has a touch of romance. I’ve been living in San Francisco for nine years and that entire time I’ve been single, so I’ve had plenty of good (and bad!) restaurant dates. Here, I’m sharing ten of my favorite date spots. Whether it’s a first or seventh date, you can’t go wrong by taking her (or him!) to one of these eateries. However, it’s up to you to ensure that the conversation flows! Here are our top 10 awesome date night restaurants in San Francisco.
There are three Tacolicious locations in San Francisco, but the best one for a date is the Tacolicious on Valencia Street. It’s almost always packed, but there is an adjoining mezcal bar, so if you have to wait for a two-top or a spot at the bar, you and your date can do so while sipping a cocktail at Mosto. Tacolicious is casual, so it’s a wonderful spot for a first or second date. Order beers and a variety of tacos (the guajillo braised beef short rib is amazing!) and if things are going well, why not get a round of chupitos? These flavor-packed shots will get the party started; the one with passion fruit, lime, and habanero tequila is a personal favorite. There are plenty of bars in the neighborhood, so if you want to keep the date going just walk around Valencia until you find a good spot — perhaps the Hideaway at Dalva? 741 Valencia Street, San Francisco, (415) 626-1344
Cotogna, Michael Tusk’s wood-fire oven and pasta restaurant in Jackson Square, is an ideal spot for a third or fourth date. It’s upscale, but relaxed and there are both cocktails and beer and wine. Request a spot at the chef’s counter where you’ll sit side-by-side and be right next to the action. You’ll see the pizza maker at work as well as the chef that tends to the open hearth fire. If you feel an awkward silence coming on, simply comment on the pizzaiolo’s amazing ability to roll out the elastic dough. Cotogna’s signature dish, the raviolo di ricotta, is a must order. It’s filled with an egg yolk, surrounded by a pool of brown butter, and is basically the most delicious giant ravioli you’ll ever eat. It’s also perfect for sharing with your sweetheart. 490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, (415) 775-8508
3. Ryoko Sushi
If sushi is your jam, head to Ryoko in the Tenderloin. This dive-y little underground spot is open late and always crowded. Sometimes a DJ plays tunes, but the energetic restaurant with bar or low-to-the-floor seating always serves of wildly fresh fish. Ryoko offers a staggering assortment of rolls, from crab with asparagus to marinated tuna in spicy sauce with shiso and cucumber to deep fried shrimp with jalapeño, peanut butter, cucumber, and flying fish rose. Note that Ryoko can get somewhat loud, so if your date is sensitive to sound, you might want to go someplace else. Otherwise it’s an intimate, non-fussy eatery where you can focus on getting to know your date. 619 Taylor Street, San Francisco, (415) 775-1028
Located on Claude Lane in downtown SF, Gitane is one of the city’s sexiest restaurants. The two-level restaurant has a bar with hanging murals downstairs and an inviting upstairs decorated in dark wood with red accents and a large exposed brick wall. The food is Mediterranean with inspiration draw from the South of France, Italy, and Spain. The bar program has an extensive list of sherry, so if you’re dating a wine lover, consider doing one of the educational flights that Gitane offers. The charred octopus with fried capers and castelvetrano olives is an exceptional starter and steak lovers will savor the grilled hanger steak with papas braves, pimenton aioli, and pardon peppers. Yum! 6 Claude Ln, San Francisco, (415) 788-6686
Walk into Locanda, Craig and Annie Stoll’s Mission District tribute to Rome, and you can’t help but feel alive. Loud rap music plays, attractive professionals mingle, and scrumptious smells, like fatty pork, waft from the open kitchen. Pull up a chair at the massive bar that runs almost the entire length of the darkly-lit restaurant and sit arm and arm with your date. Order a round of Aperol Spritzes and a handful of antipasti to share. Actually, you’ll probably want to share the entire meal! Order a pasta like the classic bucatini all’amatriciana with guanciale, tomato, peperoncini, and pecorino, then split an entree like the lamb chops scottadito (grilled and finger-licking good) or the pancetta-wrapped chicken with polenta and grilled turnips. 557 Valencia Street, San Francisco, (415) 863-6800
Another impressive Italian restaurant well-suited for a date? A16 on Chestnut Street in the Marina. Wine director and owner Shelley Lindgren has curated one of the most interesting wine lists in the city, so if your date is into drinking vino, they will appreciate a meal at A16. Nothing on the menu disappoints — everything is absolutely to die for, from the pizza with clams, cherry tomatoes, and garlic confitura to the albacore tuna kohlrabi with loveage salsa verde and capers. A16 has an assortment of seating: sit inside at the bar that overlooks the bustling kitchen, at a cozy table opposite the bar, or outside in the charming covered patio. 2355 Chestnut St, San Francisco, (415) 771-2216
Over in Lower Haight is Maven, an innovative bar and restaurant that serves up a paired menu of cocktails and small plates. It’s warm and happening with lots of dark wood and a living succulent wall behind the bar. There’s also cheeky art that can inspire conversation between you and your date: “what do you think of the Snow White on the toilet piece?” There’s no bad seat in the place: sit at the bar and marvel as the mixologists whip up creative cocktails like the Let it Bee a concoction with gin, honey, lemon, and calvados mostarda; sit at the chef’s counter and watch as the team plates a succulent grilled pork chop with corn puree, shishto pepper, and loaded potato croquette; or sit at one of the long communal tables and eavesdrop on the conversation next to you. They could be on a date, too! 598 Haight Street, San Francisco, (415) 829-7982
For a lunch date on the weekend, you can’t beat Nopalito. There are two locations — one off of Divisadero and another in the Inner Sunset, but both places make a lovely date spot. The little Mexican sister to Nopa, Nopalito specializes in authentic Mexican cuisine and traditional tequila cocktails such as el Diablo and la Paloma. The vibe isn’t necessarily anything to write home about, but it’s no matter because you’re here for the tasty food and entertaining company. Start by sharing a plate of the totopos con chile, Nopalito’s version of chips and salsa. They take tortilla chips and soak them in a fragrant red sauce made from arbor chiles then cover the slightly softened chips in a heaping mound of finely grated salty cotija cheese. From there, you’ll have some tough decisions to make as everything on the menu is crazy good. There’s flamed queso with chorizo and seared cactus, a grass-fed beef filled oversized empanada, and crispy pork belly quesadilla — and we haven’t even made it to the entrees yet! 1224 9th Ave, San Francisco, (415) 233-9966
9. Bar Crudo
Seafood lovers should make a reservation for a party of two at Bar Crudo. The tiny moody restaurant on Divisadero Street in the Nopa neighborhood specializes in seafood. Oysters are believed to be an aphrodisiac, so order up a dozen raw oysters on the half shell. Continue your seafood feast with a sampler of crudo and if your date is adventurous, the uni toast with yuzu and avocado. You might be tempted to ask for a small bowl of the seafood chowder, but trust me, you’ll want to split a large bowl. Loaded with mussels, squid, shrimp, potatoes, bacon, and cream, it’s one of the best chowders in the city, if not the best. 655 Divisadero St, San Francisco, (415) 409-0679
San Francisco is full of foodies and if you’re going on a date with one and are worried about judging your restaurant choice, take them someplace new, hyped about, and happening. Someplace like Aatxe, the recently opened Spanish tapas joint from the Flour + Water and Bon Viviants teams. The food is transportive — one bite of the chanterelle croqueta (and it is only one bite as it’s a tapa) and you’ll instantly feel as if you are in a plaza in San Sebastian. Sit at the L-shaped marble-topped bar that overlooks the kitchen and you’ll feel as if you’re a part of the action. Your date loving the soundtrack? Impress her (or him!) by asking to speak with Aatxe’s Music Director, Megan Mayer. Ask first hand how she put together the playlist. 2174 Market St, San Francisco, (415) 471-2977
Want to visit multiple restaurants in the same evening? Join us for a Date night on one of our food tours. Come Eat with Us!