Date night is (theoretically) a special night, but here 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.
We love Parkside for their crispy calamari and garlic fries and convenient location on Dirty 6th, 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.
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 this menu are very sharable, and since you’re on a date you might as well go ahead and end the night with flan.
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.
A few glasses of wine, bruschettas to share, and floor-to-ceiling glass windows make up the kind of date night you get at North in the Domain. This place is a longtime favorite for modern Italian in North Austin. You might have some difficult decisions when it comes time to order, but when in doubt the meatballs and grilled garlic bread won’t disappoint.
Another excellent choice for modern Italian food, you’d have to be kind of heartless not to be at least a little charmed by Winflo’s location in a restored old craftsman. Take your pick of a house-made pasta and maybe a calamari and burrata to share and you’ll be in for an excellent meal, even if your date does turn out to be heartless.
Second or third date scaries? Head to Backspace. This cute little 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.
Boiler Nine’s multiple levels make for a choose-your-own adventure kind of night. Maybe you’ll start at the rooftop deck for sunset cocktails, then migrate to the dining room for some beer bread and grilled brisket. Then you might as well just do the whole thing and go down into the Boiler Room basement for yet another cocktail. Look, now you’ve had yourself a three-in-one date - very little planning required.
We’ve all been there. You’re on your third round of watching all ten seasons of Friends from start to finish. You go to the same two bars five weekends in a row because they’re just easy. And you’re on a consistent rotation of tacos, pizza, and pasta for date nights. It’s time to mix things up and get out of your rut. And when that time comes, you have Barlata Tapas. Come here to share a bunch of different things like papas bravas, mussels, shishito peppers, and paella. And resist the urge to go home to watch the one where Ross and Chandler get in a fight.
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.
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.
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 a quiet, low-key, intimate vibe - 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.
Easily one of our favorite places to open this year, 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.
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.