Scheduling date nights is crucial at any stage of a relationship. From that pivotal first date to the 251st time you have dinner together, you want to make it special. And whether you’re trying to impress a potential partner or agreeing that your joint Seamless account deserves the night off, here are our favorite spots for a romantic meal for two.
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Throw some string lights in a garden just about anywhere and we’re confident it’ll be a great date spot. But the cheese selection, long wine list, and rotating menu of seasonal, produce-heavy dishes make Talula’s one of our absolute go-tos for dinner with someone you like. And even if there’s no room outside, or it’s 19 degrees out in January, the dining room is perfectly nice, too.
After bar hopping around Queen Village, Royal Sushi & Izakaya is where you should go to cap off the night. They don’t take reservations for regular dinner service, but the kitchen’s open until 1am and they make some of the best sushi in the city. If you’re celebrating something special, call ahead (like four to six weeks ahead) and reserve seats at the private omakase counter in the back. You’ll have front row seats as the chef prepares your food, so it’s basically dinner and a show.
Thanks to the internet, first dates are often the first time you actually meet a person, and after you’ve exchanged messages about how you both like Van Morrison and prefer crunchy to creamy peanut butter, it’ll be time to meet. Suggest Mission Taqueria, where the drinks are strong and there are plenty of shareable food options if you extend things past the first drink. Get the ceviche sampler or some churros served with Mexican chocolate and dulce de leche.
On any given night, you’re bound to pass at least three first dates happening outside of Pub & Kitchen. It’s close to Center City, Graduate Hospital, and Point Breeze, which makes it an ideal “let’s just meet in the middle” spot, and they mix great cocktails. Split some oysters if you want to class things up a bit, and while the burger is also a good bet, it’s notoriously messy, so you might want to save it for a fourth or fifth date.
If you’re taking someone to Union Transfer, you know the list of food options nearby is short, but that’s why there’s Osteria. This spacious Italian spot on North Broad has a great covered patio and a long bar, which makes it an easy place to drop in before a show. The pastas and cocktails are all excellent, and we’re also big fans of the wood-grilled chicken if you want something that won’t weigh you down once the show starts.
Audrey Claire is an open-air, Mediterranean BYOB in Rittenhouse that’s always crowded and will remind you how much better your dining room would look if you bought fresh flowers regularly. This place is ideal for any kind of date and they also have outdoor seating in case you want to bring your dog, too. They only take reservations on weekdays, but there’s a great bottle shop across the street if you need to kill time on a weekend night while you wait.
Sometimes you don’t want to invest in a full meal with someone, but after missing lunch, you want to make sure you’re not solely drinking on whatever you had for breakfast. When that happens, suggesting going to Tria Cafe. The Spruce Street location has our favorite outdoor seating in the area and is comfortably away from the chaos of Center City. Split some wine and cheese and if you need something to go with a second glass, the truffled egg toast is excellent.
Depending on the time of year, Noord is good for a few different situations. When it’s warm, they open up the large windows in the front, which gives this Dutch cafe and BYO a nice airy quality to it. And when it’s cold, it’s a great place to eat dishes reserved for months when you’re trying to stay warm, like fried pork croquettes and shellfish stew. It’s always pretty busy, but just grab a cocktail nextdoor at ITV while you wait.
When you’ve exhausted the scene on Second Street and you’ve aged out of the Piazza, Bardot Cafe is here for you. This place is a little more grown up, from the candle lighting and leather booths to the pots of mussels you’ll be eating, but it’s still a fun spot where you can either have a chill dinner or a big night. If food is more a bonus than a requirement, stick to drinks at the bar during Happy Hour, which features half-off draughts and $5 bar snacks.
Finding the right one-two punch for dinner and drinks can sometime end up feeling more like an SAT question than anything resembling fun. Make things easy and share some Ethiopian food at Abyssinia before you head upstairs to Fiume. This tiny dive bar specializes in rare beers and whiskey and feels more like you’re drinking in a friend’s apartment than an actual bar. If you’re looking for the rare one-two-three punch, they also have live bluegrass on Thursday nights.
The two of you aren’t quite ready to take a trip abroad, but you want to eat somewhere that feels like you had to fly across an ocean to get there. When this happens, have dinner at The Dandelion. This Center City spot looks a bit like an English country house mixed with the pub that’s around the corner from your imaginary apartment in Dublin, and they serve great versions of British classics, like fish and chips and Welsh rarebit. They also have a nice fireplace, which is the perfect place to have a pre or post-dinner pint.
Meeting someone who has a membership to Palizzi Social Club is a bit like hitting the dating lottery, just with fewer impromptu jet ski purchases immediately afterwards. This Italian spot in South Philly looks like the place where time stopped circa 1960, complete with old portraits and the same wood paneling your grandparents had in their basement. Have a few cocktails, get the rivolo vasto and spaghetti with crabs, and ask your date how they scored a membership. Or just try to convince them to bring you back again.
Sometimes a romantic night isn’t planned. So when you find yourself wandering down East Passyunk with someone you like, go to Barcelona Wine Bar. Unlike many of the smaller, more intimate places in the area, Barcelona is pretty spacious with plenty of bar seats. It’s the kind of place where you can post up for a few hours, drink some sangria, and split some bacon-wrapped dates and tuna tartare while you decide how to spend the rest of the night.
Through some twist of fate, you and your date happened to share a free lunch hour in Center City. This never happens, so when you want to eat something a little more special than another $12 salad, Barbuzzo is where you should go. Sit towards the back, order the charcuterie board and some pasta, and start devising a plan where neither of you go back to the office.
There are some dates where you want to go somewhere well lit, get to know each other, and call it a night. Other times, you want to drink strong cocktails in a dark bar and see where the night goes. The Ranstead Room was designed for the latter. This semi-hidden speakeasy is known for being kind of hard to find and making great drinks, and while they serve food too, that’s not really why you go here. Order whatever your favorite classic cocktail is, or go for the Bartender’s Choice. Either way, it’ll take a few minutes to make and be one of the best drinks you’ve had in a long time.
Once you’ve made it past the early phases of dating, the truth tends to sneak out. Maybe you’re not a huge fan of his tendency to sing along with every rap song in the car. Or it comes out that you prefer Zoolander 2 to the original. Maybe someone reveals they’re not even an Eagles fan. Instead of pointing fingers, just get a reservation at Amis, where you can both agree that there are few things better than a few shared pastas and a bottle of wine.
In a neighborhood full of bars, La Calaca Feliz is the perfect starting point for the classic one-two punch. If you’re not interested in making moves, the margaritas at this Fairmount spot can stand up to any cocktails in the area. Food-wise, focus on the fish tacos and the enormous portions of guacamole, which you can add things like crab, fig, and bacon to.
If your date’s the type that does all of their shopping at farmers’ markets and always talks about wanting to “explore bee keeping,” then there’s a good chance they’ll like Pumpkin. This small BYOB’s menu changes daily based on what’s in season, but if you see any type of crudo on the menu, make that the first dish you order. It’s cash only, so hit the ATM before you go.
You’ve reached the sweet spot in early dating where things are still new and exciting, but you don’t get that nervous pit in your stomach before every outing. This is when you should go to Burg’s Hideaway, a small bar in Point Breeze where the menu reads like a slightly upscale seaside snack shack (think miso salmon, rice cakes, and sake-steamed mussels). The cocktails are strong and affordable, the lighting is dim, and they’ve got a weekend brunch if you’re looking for a day date.
The rooftop panorama from Bok Bar is one of the best views in the city, which makes it a great place to do something super romantic, or just have a few drinks and scout out where the two of you could never afford to live. Unfortunately, they’re only open from May to September, but it’s a great place to kick off a summer fling, or discuss getting more serious as the temperatures begin to drop.