There are first dates. And second dates. And third dates. And then there are 20th dates. And 61st dates. And 111th dates. Are you even counting at that point? Probably not. But you still have to eat somewhere.
“Date night” can take many forms, whether you’re just getting to know someone, heading out for your weekly “we need to keep this alive” outing, or celebrating a special occasion like the anniversary of the time you first saw each other across a crowded bar 28 years ago. No matter what stage you’re in, this guide has some of your best dinner options in the city.
L’Artusi has been the ultimate Infatuation date night spot for some time now. Get bar seats and order pasta along with some excellent, well-priced wine. And then sit back, and let the service and atmosphere carry the evening. L’Artusi, simply put, is fool-proof.
Maybe you recently started dating someone, and you just got to the stage where you’re interested in sitting across from them for 60+ minutes while putting food in your mouth. A lot of places on this list could work, but if you’re in the mood for a classic spot where you can sit in a dark room and eat an excellent plate of chicken, go to Marlow & Sons. It’s a tiny spot near the Williamsburg Bridge, and we’ve been having date nights here since the M train was brown.
Ops is perfect for when you want to eat pizza in a setting that’s significantly more romantic than a living room or slice shop. This place has brick walls, a tiled floor, a rotating selection of natural wines, and some of the best pizzas in the city (especially the square pie). Also, the service is exceptionally friendly, and you probably won’t spend a crazy amount of money here. If your dinner goes well, there are plenty of spots for a nearby drink afterwards.
Much like an umbrella or a stick of gum in your back pocket, Mimi has the potential to save your date night. It typically isn’t too hard to get a reservation here (even last-minute), and it’s a dark, intimate space in Greenwich Village where you can eat some excellent and unpretentious French food. it’s on the expensive side, but you can show up in a T-shirt and not feel underdressed.
I Sodi is one of the best Italian restaurants in NYC, but it isn’t a place where you’ll feel like you’re on a prom date. It’s a simple little spot in the bottom of an apartment building in the West Village, and there are only about eight tables (plus a bar). Seeing as there isn’t much room, it can be tough to get a reservation - but if you want your date to experience a 26-layer lasagna and you don’t feel like making it yourself, this is the spot.
Hart’s is a tiny place in Bed-Stuy serving Mediterranean/American food, and you can expect some very good things like ricotta with stewed vegetables, clam toast, and grilled fish. There also tends to be a good soundtrack here (occasionally involving Ja Rule and Ashanti), and it’s a dim little space with a candle on every table.
Whether you’re just starting to really get to know someone or you’ve known them for a decade or two, you might be looking for a place where you can eat something new. So point your date night in the direction of Wildair. On first glance, it just looks like a casual wine bar - but the dinner menu happens to be pretty incredible. Get the fried squid, pork milanese, and crispy grain salad. And don’t forget to order the bread and olive oil (and a lot of wine).
The Four Horsemen might be a tiny room, but it’s the kind of space you walk into and immediately decide you’d be happy to stay a while. It’s a natural wine bar, meaning you’ll have no idea what any of the wines are. But this also means there’s a built-in activity: talking about, learning about, and drinking stuff you’ve never tried. On top of that, the food here is really impressive, and it’s fun to sample the small plates as you try funky wines.
Maybe it’s a first date, maybe it’s a first dinner date, or maybe you’ve been dating the same person for nearly a decade and you both want to get of your apartment and eat one of the best burgers in the city. Whatever the situation, Allswell will probably work very well. It’s a charming tavern-like spot on the main stretch of Bedford Ave in Williamsburg, and it’s decorated like the home you’d like to own in Woodstock. The menu has plenty of things besides the burger, like pasta, grilled chicken, and a whole trout.
Littleneck is perfect when you’re just looking for something that feels slightly more special than your typical Tuesday night go-to. It’s in Gowanus, the menu consists of a lot of seafood and one excellent burger, and the space feels like a bungalow on the beach where you’d give someone a promise ring. There’s also a solid cocktail list, and the place has significantly more ambience than the usual spots where you’d get a great lobster roll around town.
The essential Upper East Side date night restaurant, Uva won’t change your life, but it will provide you a nice, mildly romantic evening with some solid Italian food on 2nd Avenue. It’s also open until 2am most nights, so it’s ideal for when you’re sitting around your house at 10pm, get a little antsy or ambitious, and decide you want to go out and eat pasta with someone.
Fedora is on the pricier side, but it isn’t the sort of spot where you hide a wedding ring in a souffle and then sweat profusely. It’s more of a place you plan a date night once it occurs to you that you might one day want to share an address with this person. The little space is in the basement of townhouse in the West Village, and it has a long bar and a single row of tables. The food tends to be on the heavier side, so you should just make peace with that and order both the steak tartare and brussels sprouts with bacon.
Humans are born with the innate knowledge that secret things are cooler than non-secret things. So if you want someone to think that you’re at least a little bit cool, go to Karasu. It’s a Japanese restaurant and bar hidden behind an unmarked door in the back of Walter’s in Fort Greene, and it serves great cocktails in addition to food like steak, ramen, and some exceptional fried chicken. Just be sure to make a reservation.
If your idea of date night involves a relatively quiet room where you can look your partner in the eye and say, “Let’s split a burger to start,” Virginia’s is your place. It’s just off Avenue C, so it doesn’t get as packed as some other East Village spots - and after dinner, you can work that burger off with the not-short walk to the subway.
Toriko is a West Village Japanese restaurant where you can get a tasting menu that involves a lot of food on sticks. This place specializes in yakitori, and it’s one of our favorite spots to eat chicken in the city. Order the less expensive of the two omakase menus (which is $70), and you’ll get several small plates in addition to a bunch of different skewers. Try to sit at the counter, so you can watch as everything is prepared. It’s like dinner and show, except you only have to pay for dinner.
Il Buco has been around for a few decades, and it’s still about as romantic as a hot air balloon ride at sunset or a Nicholas Sparks novel printed on milk chocolate. You can also still get some exceptional pasta and risotto here, and, for a restaurant that’s been so good for so long, it isn’t as impossible to get into as you’d think. Plus, the space used to be an antique store, and it still sort of feels like one. Your date will probably find this charming.
Let’s say you have a somewhat important date, but you don’t want to eat at a place with white tablecloths and servers wearing nicer clothes than you. Book a table at Pasquale Jones. It’s a modern Italian restaurant in Nolita, and it has excellent food, an upscale atmosphere that isn’t too stiff, and a wine list that will help you choose something good even if you know nothing about wine. It can be tough to get a table last-minute, but you can always stop in and try your luck at the bar.
Much like Manhatta, La Esquina is an excellent date-night option for when you need to show someone you’re capable of doing impressive things - although it’s pretty different in terms of atmosphere. It’s a Mexican restaurant hidden below a taqueria in Nolita, and it’s where to go when you want to sit in a dark room, drink margaritas, and have a celebratory dinner that might involve a big sparkler in a dessert. Try it for a date night when fun is the priority, and be sure to order the queso.
Lilia is our favorite restaurant in Williamsburg for several reasons: stunning space, awesome pastas, fried cacio e pepe, great wine list, and soft serve ice cream with sprinkles on top. This restaurant just does it all right. We would usually tell you that the best way to experience a place like Lilia is to bring a bunch of people and try everything. But the actual best way to experience Lilia? Bring one other person and try everything.
Some small plates places are ideal for groups. Estela is not one of them. This a little room hidden up a flight of stairs on Houston Street - and while it can get a little cramped if you come with a lot of people, it’s ideal for date night. Bring someone who likes sharing, and cover your table with things like raw scallops, ricotta dumplings, and lamb ribs.
When you’re planning a date, you want to be 100% sure it’s going to be excellent - but you also want to avoid being too predictable. Al Di La hits the sweet spot: incredibly good, rustic Italian food, in a charming but not cutesy environment in Park Slope. Make it a one-two punch by heading over to Blueprint for a great nightcap afterwards.
If date night rolls around and you realize you have nothing planned, don’t panic. Just go to Sauvage. It typically isn’t too hard to get a table here, the dining room feels like a nice bistro you’d find in Paris, and there’s a lot of sidewalk seating for when it’s sunny out. As for the food, it’s good enough to keep you happy, but not so mind-blowing that you’ll forget to talk to each other. And if you if you want a burger, the one here is top-notch.