Date night is (theoretically) a special night, but in Austin things are a little different. The overall “I’m never growing up,” non-committal vibe of the city as a whole has trickled down to the dating world too - things stay pretty casual around here.
But if you’ve established that you enjoy each other enough to sit at a real table across from one another, here’s a solid list of restaurants that will impress, without being too over the top. We’re still in Austin, after all.
When you haven’t reached the point where you’re traveling together, but you want to test the waters, go on a date to Fonda San Miguela in Allandale. It’s a colorful place that will make you feel like you took a mini vacation to Mexico. The chile rellenos, mole enchiladas, and ceviches are some of the best in the city, and after a few tequila and mezcal cocktails, you’ll probably be ready to get on a plane with this person.
In an ideal world, Mopac would never have traffic, summer nights would have at least a breeze, and we would live close enough to Clark’s for it to be our go-to date spot. Between the great wine list and patio, eating here always feels a little high end without being stuffy, and it’s a great place to grab some oysters and a drink and see where the night goes. If you find out too late that your date isn’t a fan of seafood, they make a great burger too.
You locked eyes with someone last week after they sang “No Scrubs” during karaoke, and you’re 80% sure you’re soulmates. Now you have to choose the perfect first date spot, even though you know nothing about this person. That’s where Hillside Farmacy comes in. This place has a ridiculous amount of charm, along with classic cocktails and an affordable wine list. And if dinner goes well, maybe you finally won’t have to sing both parts of “A Whole New World.”
When the last romantic thing you did for your significant other was set up the Apple TV, it’s time to reevaluate. Put on something nice, and then head downtown to Le Politique. When you walk in, you’ll be greeted by the friendly staff shucking oysters around a crowded bar, but you can go for a table outside if you actually want to be able to hear each other talk. The menu is mostly French classics, but make sure to get a cheese board and an entree to split, and talk about all the shows you’ll watch now that you have unlimited options.
Suerte is one of our favorite new places in the city, and since everyone in Austin agrees, you’re going to have to wait. But use that to your advantage and start with some cocktails and brisket tacos at the bar. When your table is ready, go for the bigger dishes like the carne asada or goat shoulder barbacoa, both of which come with tortillas made with house ground masa. Get a few vegetables to balance it all out - or to add to your tacos - and make sure you leave with enough room and energy for a nightcap at Whisler’s down the street.
We love Parkside for their crispy calamari and garlic fries and convenient location Downtown, but we sometimes forget it’s also a great spot for date night (probably because it’s on Dirty 6th). Its low lighting and modern look gives it some romantic vibes, without making you feel like you should have worn your Wednesday’s best.
Some couples plan elaborate cross-country road trips and others have had “do something fun” on a to-do list for months. If you’re more the latter and not the best planners when it comes to dates, Hopfields is a great place to go without having to make a reservation a week in advance. Just show up, order the mussels and fries and whatever else sounds good from their French-inspired menu, and have a casual night. It’s simple, easy, and way less stressful than picking a road trip playlist.
On the other hand, if it is one of those occasions requiring a full-on, maybe-not-jeans date night, Jeffrey’s will never disappoint. With a beautiful space that makes you feel like you might be in New York City, you’ll feel right at home when the martini cart comes around and asks for your order. You’re here for the steaks, but you really can’t go wrong with anything on this classic American/French menu.
Warning: once you break the seal on this Neapolitan pizza spot, it’ll probably become a regular date night destination. These are some of Austin’s best pies, and the atmosphere is bare-bones but still manages to feel pretty cozy (probably thanks to the pizza oven at the center of the room). Plus, now that there’s a second location off Burnet Road, your chances of getting in without a crazy wait are (somewhat) improved. And if you do encounter a long line at the original location? Wait things out at the cocktail spot Weather Up down the street.
Considering flip-flops are socially acceptable year-round and putting on a pair of jeans counts as dressing up, date nights requiring anything more than that are extremely rare. For the way more common casual dates, we like Takoba. It’s the ideal low-key, East Side spot to wipe the queso fundido off your date’s face and throw back a few margaritas. Most options on the menu are very sharable, and since you’re on a date you might as well go ahead and end the night with flan.
If you still haven’t been to Emmer & Rye, use your next date night to make it a priority. And even if you have, this place should still be at the top of your list. Our favorite way to do it is to snag seats at the bar overlooking the kitchen. It’s fun to watch the action go down - and if it’s an early-in-the-game situation, you know you have a conversation topic to fall back on.
Second or third date scaries? Head to Backspace. This little downtown pizza spot is conveniently located around the corner from 6th, which gives you the option to go to the bathroom and never come back - or keep the night rolling if things are going well. The space is quite small, so come early if you’re not down to wait.
Just like your date (hopefully), Lenoir is the complete package. For one, there’s the food - a prix fixe three-course menu made up of “hot weather foods” (translation: light and fresh, and overall excellent food). Then, the vibe - the interior reads like a modern farmhouse, but where you probably want to be is the back wine garden. Everything else about the place too, including the service, is pretty much perfect. Come to Lenoir once you’ve decided you really need to impress someone.
There are few problems in this world that can’t be solved by Olamaie’s biscuits and honey butter, which means they’re basically the safety net of your date night. Beyond the biscuits, this beautiful white house on the edge of campus has just about everything you need for an ideal date night - an upscale (but not at all stuffy) ambience, great wine, excellent service, and an even better back porch.
This place might look kind of like a closed-down fish market on the outside, but DK is the hidden gem of sushi spots that’ll show your date you know where to find such places. You might even see an appearance from DK himself (the owner). Spice things up a bit and come on a Thursday at 7:30pm - karaoke will really test the limits of your new/old relationship.
Tiny Boxwoods would be a great date spot for its patio and diverse menu alone, but their freshly baked cookies are what make it a no-brainer. This Rosedale spot gets mobbed during brunch, but it’s much calmer for a weeknight dinner date, so it’s a good place to bring someone you actually want to talk to. If you’re not trying to go all out, share one of the pizzas and a few starters, then put all of that saved money towards cookies. Order at least two and then get a few to go for your “friends” at home - or realistically for you to share in the car in the parking lot.
Maybe you need to have an important conversation. Maybe you need to make up for that stupid thing you said last night. You’re looking for somewhere quiet, low-key, and intimate - and L’Estelle House is here to serve. This is a wine bar/French restaurant with an excellent back patio, and it’s an under-the-radar pick for date night. Plus, it’s right on Rainey, so if you get sick of wine you can head to any of the bars within steps for something a little bit stronger.