Guide

16 Great Valentine's Day Restaurants For People Who Aren’t Really Into Valentine’s Day

Romantic-but-not-cheesy NYC spots where you can probably get a table for Valentine’s Day, despite not caring about the holiday very much.

Times have changed since Dennis from 3rd Grade “forgot” to give you a Snoopy valentine despite “remembering” them for the rest of the class. For one thing, Dennis is divorced. Also, you now get to celebrate Valentine’s Day however you damn please. 

For anyone looking to avoid an over-the-top adherence to Hallmark-approved occasions, this guide should be your speed. All the restaurants listed below are charming and romantic—but not so romantic that Cupid takes meetings there. Every spot on the guide is offering their run-of-the-mill menu just like every other night, and they either have available reservations (at the time of writing) or a walk-in only policy. Happy Valentine's Day or whatever.

A Valentine’s Day-appropriate story: Bunny is operated by a husband-wife duo from Istanbul and Hamburg respectively, and every night at this Bed-Stuy spot the couple plays records from their personal collection. The menu here blends Turkish and German cuisines, with dishes like filo cigars in a sweet, zingy Bavarian mustard, and schnitzel the size of a large oven mitt. You won’t find the restaurant clogging Instagram feeds, and that’s all the more reason to visit. If you’re sick of a certain flashy Brooklyn scene that runs on Resy alerts and Aesop soap, DM Bunny's account on Instagram to make a reservation.

Usually, we aren’t inclined to assume that the reader (you) will be swapping spit with their dinner partner. But this isn't just any guide, so now we’re here to encourage you and your valentine to communally salivate via Awash’s sampler combo. The meat option comes with your choice of four Ethiopian stews for $20, and there’s also a vegetarian sampler with your choice of five stews for the same price. Awash makes our favorite sambusa in NYC—a crispy triangle filled with ground beef and onions that’s been fried to golden perfection—as well as some crunchy steamed collards that have the ideal level of acid. Of Awash’s two locations, we slightly prefer the Manhattan Valley spot since it’s cozier than the East Village.

Planning Valentine's Day dinner in the West Village is a demoralizing activity. Unless, of course, you have an assistant to take care of that sort of life admin (or you started scheming a month in advance). In case you don’t, try your luck at Tartine, the West Village’s best walk-in and BYOB restaurant. This place has been around for decades, and it’s a classic French spot that’s somehow absent of any pretension. Put your name in with the host and pass the time at the equally-unpretentious dive Johnny’s Bar before escargot and steak frites. (FYI, Tartine used to be cash only, but now they accept credit cards.)

The secluded back garden at this fantastic Burmese restaurant in Crown Heights feels a bit more romantic than the stool-clad indoor space. So if _setting the mood_ is important to you, make a reservation for a heated outdoor table. Prioritize Rangoon’s braised pork with garlic sauce and sweet potato as well as the mohinga. This bowl of fish and lemongrass soup (which happens to be the national dish of Burma) will warm you up to the point that you’re able to forgive the Hallmark Gods for deciding that Valentine’s Day should happen in the middle of stupid February. 

If you love seafood and trying unusual wines, you’re the ideal candidate for Valentine’s Day at this Cobble Hill restaurant. Saint Julivert is from the people behind La Vara, a great Spanish restaurant that happens to be right next door, and the menu here is mostly dedicated to shareable stuff inspired by what you’d find in coastal Portugal or Spain. It’s romantic inside (but still casual enough where you’ll be sitting on a stool), and the outdoor heating situation will keep you comfortable even in 20-degree weather. 

If you’re looking for an upscale dinner in Flushing, Daxi Sichuan on the second floor of the New World Mall is one of our favorites. It’s decorated to the nines, with gold walls, lantern-like light fixtures, and upholstery with bird patterns. We’d recommend the Tibet-style spare ribs served in a gilded birdcage as well as the house special rice with cured meat that comes in a giant cast-iron crock with a handle. But be sure to strategize your ordering around the brown sugar glutinous rice cakes for dessert. They're similar in shape to mozzarella sticks, and, technically speaking, work as aphrodisiacs.

Whenever we recommend Le French Diner, we always add the caveat that you should only bring someone you’ve already seen naked before. Only 15-ish people fit inside, the wine list is written on a chalkboard, and the classic French bistro food swims in butter. The whole place has simply got the je ne sais quoi of a horny little Lower East Side restaurant. Our order typically includes Le French Diner’s octopus grilled to suction-cup-chewing perfection and the hangar steak served with a side of crispy-creamy scalloped potatoes. But the escargots and grilled rabbit are just as perfect for a big date night. An important note: LFD doesn’t take reservations, and we assume you won’t be the only one with this Valentine’s idea. So head here early or late, or be prepared to drink somewhere nearby while you wait.

Not unlike a Frank Ocean song, this Greenpoint spot is sexy in a comfortable, journal-before-bed sort of way. There’s a wood-burning stove and a tiny kitchen in plain sight, plus great cocktails and food that has no business being this good (considering the place is technically a bar). You’ll find a rotating menu of vegetable-focused snacks and usually some oysters, too. The portions aren’t huge, and things can get pricey, so we’d recommend starting with a couple dishes and seeing how you feel after that.

This is a dark French bistro that serves things you can share like cheesy croquettes and escargots (both of which cost less than $15). If your Valentine’s Day aspirations mostly just include some good red wine and French food you can share, Tournesol is the best you’re going to do around Long Island City. See if there’s a comedy show happening at Creek & The Cave nearby, and make it a double-header.

We eat at MáLà Project roughly every month or so—but we still think about coming to this East Village Sichuan restaurant for all of our special occasions. That’s because there are 1.5868181e+12 different dry pot combinations you could get here. (Yes, we did the math.) Bring a valentine, start with some extra-garlicky eggplant, and then concoct your own dry pot bowl with soup-filled beef balls, chewy tofu skin, rice cakes, lotus root, and shrimp balls. You can get white or purple rice on the side for two dollars, but we usually like to add glass noodles in the dry pot itself for our starchy component. The long, brick-walled space will probably be full of dates splitting bottles of wine and groups happily lounging around circular tables as if they all just got notified about rent stabilization in their apartments.

If you’re looking for the whole candlelit-table-red wine-pasta scenario in Washington Heights, try Saggio. This place specializes in handmade pasta, with a rotating list of options so you’ll never get bored. In the past, we’ve had squash and ricotta ravioli with glazed pumpkin seeds as well as some rigatoni with slow-cooked ragu. In case the small, dark dining room is full, they also offer seating in the covered backyard. Both work well for a night of enjoying carbohydrates in all their glorious forms alongside big $10 glasses of Italian wine.

This Vietnamese restaurant in Bushwick existed for years before an ex-Blue Hill at Stone Barns chef took over the kitchen in the fall of 2020. Since then, they’ve switched to serving a list of sub-$30 dishes that range from a spicy green curry with seasonal vegetables to inventive fine dining food that doesn’t exist elsewhere in NYC, like cabbage charred braised in chicken phở and confit duck neck in an umami-rich sticky sauce. If your friend’s apartment looked like this place—white brick walls covered in vinyl albums, a lounge area with coffee tables made from tree stumps, and monstera plants with sweeping leaves—you’d invite yourself over for dinner parties as often as possible.

Leyla is a Turkish restaurant in the bottom of a townhouse on 74th Street, and it very much feels like the kind of nice neighborhood place where people stay out later than they normally do on the Upper West Side. Hang out in the narrow dining room in the back, and drink some good cocktails with your significant other while you catch up on all the things that happened in the six hours since you saw one another. The menu is split up by pide (Turkish flatbreads), mezze and hot appetizers, and main courses that all fall within the $25 range. Whichever main you go with, split a pide as well. Each comes with a ton of cheese in a little boat shape.

We can’t think of too many places in NYC where you can drink super dry, full-bodied sake and eat creamy cod roe spaghetti while watching someone play jazz on the cello. That’s what makes this tiny basement Japanese spot on East 53rd Street an especially good choice for Valentine's Day. It’s sexy here, mostly thanks to some distinct Jazz Dungeon energy. Tomi Jazz hosts live music every night starting at 6pm and 9pm (and only charges a $10 cover on Friday and Saturday). You could come to Tomi Jazz just for drinks—they have enough whisky and sake options to warrant a Dewey Decimal System—but you’d be missing out if you didn’t at least get a snack. All the seating is first come, first served, so we’d recommend arriving early.

If you’re coming into Manhattan from a quaint, rural town like Hoboken or Huntington, proximity to NJ Transit or the LIRR might be part of the equation when determining a spot for Valentine’s dinner. This charming Uzbek restaurant doesn’t feel like it’s anywhere near Penn Station. The menu is extremely meat-heavy (with excellent Uzbek plov, manti, and lamb dishes), so this isn't the best place for vegetarians, but as long as that’s not an obstacle, you’ll love it here.

We see two reasons to spend Valentine’s Day at this classic diner on the Upper East Side. The first is to be cute and unpredictable, not unlike Meg Ryan in any movie Meg Ryan stars in. Another perfectly compelling reason? To protest the traditions of a holiday created to push candy and make single people feel like they have the sex appeal of a toaster oven (we’ve all been there). Either way, get the chocolate chip pancakes or a turkey club, and hang out in a booth until you’ve properly people-watched the room.

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