Are you sure this one’s the one?
Before you blow your paycheck on that forty-course omakase, take a step back and think. Is this person worth it? Are you going to spend the rest of your life (or night) with them? You two could wind up having wildly different opinions on Selena Gomez or the economic utility of deficit spending (or both), so maybe don’t take them to Masa. Or even Upland.
Still, you never know. Things might work out, so don’t be cheap. Find a middle ground. Try one of these places. They’re good enough to impress and affordable enough to visit on the regular. Make these your go-to spots for at least those first few dates.
Maybe there’s something gross about peeling garlicky shrimp with your bare fingers while going halfsies on a plate of taramosalata with someone you’re interested in doing mouth things with later. Maybe, but we just don’t see it. Go to Kiki’s for inexpensive Greek food in a hip, casual setting. Have a beer from Greece, and, afterwards, explore the bars of Chinatown.
Lighthouse feels like it should be stuffier. Actually, on second thought, other restaurants feel like they should be less stuffy. Lighthouse is great. The food’s healthy and a little adventurous, and most of the stuff costs less than twenty dollars. The windows are huge, so it feels more like a greenhouse than a lighthouse, but if they’re pushing for that whole nautical vibe just go with it.
Word’s been out on Aria for a while now. It’s always packed and for good reason. If you want some affordable Italian in a low-key, low-light atmosphere (and you don’t mind a little noise), check it out. It can get a little cramped, but the pastas are all twelve dollars, and three dishes are usually good for two. Also, everyone seems to be on a romantic outing here, so if your date doesn’t work out, maybe the next one’s sitting a few inches to your left.
If you do the math (French place plus West Village), Tartine should busier and more expensive than it is. What’s keeping it accessible is a nonexistent liquor license and their lack of interest in cooking trendy food. They make good, plain food in a good, plain setting; and if you want to BYOB, by all means do. That’s half the fun. Also, if you snag a sidewalk table before your date arrives, your likeability will increase.
The Smile is always filled with attractive people. So you’ll fit right in. The food is rustic and Mediterranean, and entrees max out at twenty-five dollars. The space itself is dimly lit and looks like somewhere you could go antiquing. Overall, this is a good, low-key place to bring a date in a neighborhood where restaurants tend to be uptight and pricy.
Mains cost a minimum of nineteen dollars, but hear us out: they come with two sides, and every side we’ve had is spot-on. Mr. Donahue’s is a throwback to the lunch counters of the early twentieth century, and the food is old school Americana. If you can snag two (of the very few) seats, it’s the closest you’ll get to time traveling on a date. For dessert, order the root beer float and ask if your date wants to go steady.
Think of it like this: getting your date to Tacoway Beach is the easy part; showing them a crappy time, once there, is what’s hard. Sure, you have to take the A train to a surf shack in The Rockaways, but it’s guaranteed to be memorable. Last we checked, a subway ride was only (insert current subway fare), so suck it up and travel a bit. Order the plantain chips and fish tacos, and spring for that guacamole. Look your date in the eyes and tell them they deserve it.
Say you know nothing about this person you’re going on a date with. Fine. Take them to Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint. Because there are tons of vegan options and even a few gluten free ones, and if they go for either you’ll immediately know that it’s not going to work. We’re kidding. But seriously, if they don’t like pizza... it’s not going to work.
We’ve heard of people getting out of here for thirty dollars a head, so we know it’s possible. To get out cheaply, you have to make like Indiana Jones when he’s picking the holy grail; choose wisely, and your face won’t melt off when you see the check. Stick to reasonably priced items like the thrice-cooked bacon and the Kung Pao pastrami. The space is also fun and filled with shiny things, and the cocktails are something to talk about - try the General Tso’s Old Fashioned.
If a place has ramen, poke, and Miller High LIfe, it’s probably a place you want to be. Suzume has all three, and they all clock in at under thirteen dollars. (Guess what’s cheapest.) Even better, the space is dark and intimate and ideal for a date. Order a spread of small plates and snack your way to an hour when it’s appropriate to settle into a couch at Night of Joy up the street.
Look deep into our eyes, and tell us that you don’t want to sit on a patio in Brooklyn and eat a pork-loaded something called Tater Tatchos. We don’t believe you. How about a burger and a hot fudge sundae? That sounds like a date. Even better, it’s affordable. Go to Rose’s already. If you’re lucky, you’ll make it out in time for trivia at Pacific Standard down the street.
Supper isn’t trendy or expensive, so no one’s going to feel pressured to have a good time. That’ll come organically. The chandeliers will help, and so will the homey hardwood decor. Get a reasonably priced homemade pasta, and resist the urge to ask your date if they have any siblings. Because that isn’t good conversation.
Slowly, date night options are improving on the Upper East Side. Consider Eli’s Night Shift. It’s a daytime cafe that, come evening, turns into a casual beer/cocktail bar with space to spread out and some multi-ethnic comfort food. At Eli’s, nothing’s too expensive, and the crowd stays manageable. We can think of many places downtown that are much worse for a date.
If Balthazar had a cooler, younger brother who lived in Greenpoint, that cooler, younger brother would be Cherry Point. The menu isn’t huge, but the details impress. Their charcuterie is a must, and maybe try whatever a Pork Scrumpet is (it’s eleven dollars, and it comes with apple ketchup). The vibe is neighborhood bistro, and the place to sit is at the bar.
King’s County Imperial looks like a barbershop that’s been converted to a speakeasy, where they serve Chinese food. The food is substantial and delicious, with plenty of vegetarian options and even some solid dim sum. Few items cost more than fifteen dollars, and it’s walking distance to the Commodore, where you can drop by afterwards and order two pina coladas (and whatever your date wants).
Tygershark is a Korean-inflected, seafood-oriented Prospect Heights restaurant tucked into the back of a surf shop. The food is fun and flavorful, and the whole setup will give you something to talk about over dinner. The dishes, most of which are around or under fifteen dollars, are both tastier and larger than you’d expect.
The menu at this retro Boerum Hill cocktail spot is small and encourages snacking. Claim two bar stools and place a king crab leg in front of your date as a display of your ability to provide. Start at different ends for a Lady/Tramp scenario. Split your costs between food and cocktails, and good times will follow.
If it’s raining, find a booth inside. If it isn’t, get a table on the patio and impress your date with your ability to make good things happen. Either way, go for the dips (artichoke and French). This Williamsburg brasserie is warm, welcoming, and an excellent place to have a few cocktails and a piece of grilled meat with someone you could see yourself caring about.