Here is a list of the best date night restaurants in the Bay Area, with emphasis on San Francisco city–solid choices that are sure to impress while tantalizing your tastebuds.
The restaurants that we’ve reviewed on San Francisco Food will be linked; otherwise, it’s a restaurant we have visited but just haven’t gotten around to posting a review yet. Since it can matter to many of you, I’m putting the price range via dollar signs after each write-up. This will be reflective of one bottle of wine with dinner between two people and 1-2 appetizers, two entrees and two desserts. For most of these places, if you do not consume that much, it will be significantly cheaper; some of these places are set prices, so consuming less doesn’t decrease the price.
While I am all for eating at cheap, cheap places–a real “date night,” at least for the intents and purposes of this list, won’t be at any place that is cheaper than the minimum price shown below.
*Keep in mind this list is in random order.
Much like visiting a quiet corner of Italy, Albona offers a secluded feel while technically being in the middle of North Beach. But because it’s off on a residential street, it feels extremely cozy and romantic. The service here is phenomenal, and the food impresses from start to finish. It’s about as authentic Italian as you will find in the city.
It’s not by chance that the top two listings are of Italian food. Overall, I think Italian food automatically extends an aura of romance to the dining experience while not putting much pressure on the wallet. Pazzia is more casual than Albona and due to its location and decor, it’s not quite as romantic either, but what it does do is offer superbly strong food and a fun wine list. Request a table on the patio during summer hours to enjoy the busy street traffic while watching the sun set together.
Chapeau is about as authentically French as you will get in terms of service and food in San Francisco. Chef Gardelle personally greets his guests–and the mood and aura remain extremely European through the dining experience–and they’re much friendlier than Parisians! With stellar seafood, meat and dessert dishes, this location offers privacy in wide booth tables and extends itself to being ideal for date night with your lady.
If you ask 10 random people on the streets of San Francisco which is the best restaurants in the city, about 7-8 of them will tell you Gary Danko.
I’ll beg to differ. Gary Danko is one of the more expensive restaurants in San Francisco, and the decor and aura is very elite. The food is quite delicious, but I can’t say it’s the best food in SF. However, if impressing a girl is your objective, there are only a few restaurants in San Francisco that will match up to the status of Gary Danko. Better food can be had for a lesser price, but stature counts for something, no?
Mr. K and my first date was at Saison but it was back when they had been open for a few months. Obviously, I wouldn’t take photos of my dinner during date, but going back to Saison is probably not going to happen since (1) I’ve tried it and (2) they have since nearly tripled their prices. This is simply because when I have the mindset to spend $1,000+ on a dinner, there are at least 10 places I’d go to before Saison. That said, at about the $500+ dinner I had, including a couple of special lobster and pasta dishes that were added by the chef, I thought it was exemplary. It was a tad too much foam for my liking, but all in all, between the delicious food and the generous wine pairings by the house sommelier, it was a great experience.
But now that they cost more than any other restaurant in California (and possibly the whole country), I don’t know that I would ever go back–not when I can have French Laundry for the same price. But if you’re out to impress with money…well, “He took me to the most expensive restaurant in California,” may just do that. And don’t get me wrong–the food is very, very good.
I will begrudgingly put Benu on this list.
On my last visit, with two bottles of wine for four people, it broke down to about $400 per person, which was fine. But as some of you may know, I’m Korean, and Chef Cory is Korean. Therefore, while I know many, many people who adore Benu, I’m afraid any Korean I know does not like the restaurant because it’s incredibly “fancified” Korean and Asian food. Sure, my pork belly, kimchi and oyster combination usually comes wrapped in red leaf lettuce–and at Benu, it’ll be served to you in a gorgeous edible sphere. It’s still bo-ssam, and it’s still cheap Korean food. I can gobble up 2 million Xiao long bao, but I’m so not interested in paying $4-500 for the opportunity when for nearly as good, I can go to Yank Sing.
But the restaurant should be on this list because it’s a beautifully decorated restaurant with great landscaping. Inside, it’s as beautiful as it is a little clinical with muted colors and minimalist designs. But along with the fascinatingly beautiful food comes awesome presentation, too. It’s not surprising Chef Lee was the head chef at The French Laundry.
If you’re not Asian, or if you can’t personally cook a ton of Asian food, Benu might be wonderful for you. It might even be the best (or at least fanciest) Asian food you’ll have access to in San Francisco. I never reviewed Benu because (1) all of my photographs were subpar in my mind, and (2) I think Chef Lee is amazing and have no desire to knock his skill, because he undoubtedly is a master in his field. What I don’t want to do is pay this much money for many dishes where I can come close enough to be happy eating at home.
This restaurant is so, so quaint. The food is very refreshing–at least in SF, we don’t have any Guam food that I know of, so Prubechu differentiates itself on that alone. It’s not a fancy restaurant; it’s very cozy with a chill vibe, an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs prepare your food, and to reflect this casual decor, prices are also surprisingly cheap for how much food you end up getting. Course after course awakens your palate and one can’t help but get into a good mood when eating at Prubechu. It’s ideal for a first date, in an atmosphere that is conducive to good conversation and happy eating.
I love this place. Lively and always busy, Bar Agricole is great for date night. With some fantastic cocktails to kick your evening off, the night is sure to get off to a great start. It can get a little loud in here depending on where you’re sitting. If the weather permits, I’d definitely recommend sitting outside on the fantastic patio.
I haven’t reviewed this place yet, but it’s coming up next. I took the photos on my last visit, and will write it up soon!
I would normally not think of Chinese food when it comes to “date night,” but Great China is an exception. The place is large and open, and in a great space. If you said it was fusion food or Italian food instead of Chinese, I’d believe you. So aura-wise, it works. But more importantly, the food is stellar! Order a couple of beers and start digging into some fabulous Chinese food. While completely authentic, it’s served up to look nice, costs are low and flavors are on point!
House of Prime Rib
Ahh, old faithful. This place is basically a landmark in San Francisco. If she likes meat, you can’t go wrong here. House of Prime Rib is probably the most consistently delicious restaurant in SF. With a dark, wood-paneled design throughout, it oozes old-school. You all but expect to see some mobsters sitting around dining. It’s a rather touristy spot nowadays (and I singlehandedly take many of my guests here) but with great wine and food prices and a nostalgic aura to the restaurant, House of Prime Rib is a classic date night location. With valet parking, and a great bar where you will undoubtedly wait despite a reservation, a visit here will consist of good conversation, delicious food and really great service from the old-school wait staff.
If you want absolutely elegant decor and pristinely prepared food, Spruce is at the top of the list. Chef Sullivan prepares some extrardinary food course after course, and I can still taste the carrot soup her prepared for us. Nobody has made the simple and regular carrot that delicious before in my life; check out the recipe in my book. With beautifully set tables, Spruce is a classic date night location where you will always be in good company. There will also be lots of business expense tables. It’s also the only place where ordering a burger is justified, as their burger is one of the best in the city. The wine list is fabulous–do not skip out on the wine pairings.
This place is like dimsum, on crack. But before the food, you will notice that the Spear Street location is very nice. While this is not a dinner “date night” place in my mind, if you’re on a brunch or lunch date, this place is king. It can get pretty noisy on the indoor patio outside of the restaurant, so request a table inside. Service is relatively friendly and quite formal if you keep in mind that it is, above all else, a Chinese restaurant. You can’t miss the xiao long bao here–Shanghai Dumplings.
Oh, my goodness…there’s very little in the city that will beat Acquerello for date night.
The food, the exquisite service and impressive wine list is sure to please your date on any given night. Read the review for my experience–but I’d bet that anyone can visit Acquerello and eat like a king, and come out feeling amazing. The service is that good. In fact, to date, I have not experienced better service than Acquerello inside city limits. Do not miss their foie gras pasta; in fact, order one for each of you because if you’re anything like me, you will resent your date taking any pieces of this magnificent dish. Definitely opt for the wine pairing–Acquerello has some amazing wines, though they have always been gracious about decanting my own with a modest corkage fee.
You can opt for the prix fixe menu (which I recommend) or order individually as well. When I go with Mr. K, I usually opt for one fixed menu and order an equal number of items off the a la carte menu to taste EVERYTHING!
Much like Pazzia, this one is not quite as fancy as the others in decor, but can you say “SPAGHITTUSU CUN ALLU OLLU E BOTTARIGA? and not feel happy? Can you eat it and not feel romantic? Answer: you can’t. This Noe Valley restaurant is small, quaint and cozy with a real family-owned atmosphere. The pasta courses are delicious, and their calamari–lightly cooked and drizzled in olive oil–is what dreams are made of. The owners are always present and put in great effort to take care of you. Reasonably priced and much like stepping into a small restaurant in Firenze somewhere, La Ciccia is a safe bet that could very easily become your favorite together as a couple.
This restaurant very well may be one of the most elegant in the city. The service is inconsistent–it depends on who your server is that evening. But to this day, Prospect serves some extraordinarily delicious appetizers. It’s been hit or miss with the entrees–not sure what the issue is, but the appetizers are incredible. They have a pretty good wine list and for dates, this place sort of rocks because of how nicely it’s done, the spaciousness and significant distance between tables to offer privacy. The waiting area has a large bar and ample seating, though sometimes, the place is full of “happy hour” folks getting a drink before going home.
This is a restaurant that would be nice for a date or a double date. It’s not quiet but it’s not loud either. With a strong wine list and a great selection of food, if you’re going on a date with a big-time and adventurous eater, Cockscomb is sure to please. While the chef is primarily known for his meat, I’d highly recommend you not miss any of the pastas that are offered and definitely consider the shared supper options. There’s a raw bar with oysters and other shellfish to kick off what will undoubtedly be a great evening. It’s not a romantic restaurant, per se, but with great food and great, you can’t go wrong here.
Definitely request a table.
In Napa Valley
The French Laundry
To date, as much as I have eaten out, there is no restaurant that compares to the quality and taste that TFL offers. While Chef Thomas Keller no longer cooks in the kitchen, and while on certain visits, I’ve had less than “perfect,” TFL has consistently offered at least a few things on every visit where I can honestly say that I had never had the best of _____ before. It goes beyond just cooking well; it’s a matter of cooking well ingredients that the regular person like you or I have not seen before. EVER.
I don’t think of this as a first date restaurant. But for special anniversary date nights—you can’t beat a quick road trip to Yountville to eat at The French Laundry.
Hmm…how do I put this…
You know how I listed The French Laundry above?
Well, if I could eat at TFL once a month, I would. But if I had to eat somewhere daily in our Northern California area, it would, hands down, be Ad Hoc. While Ad Hoc may have accidentally happened, you can think of it as the best chef in the world preparing homecooked meals for you in your own home. For dates, it’s fun and friendly, and while not necessarily romantic in aura, it’s always a real treat. Take a quick drive up to Napa and drop by a couple of wineries, and head straight to Ad Hoc for dinner. I don’t remember the last time I went to Napa for wine without dropping by Ad Hoc. With a different fixed menu daily, the portions are generous, the flavors are homecooked and so delicious, and the service is friendly.