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.
The Good King Tavern manages to be both a casual spot to go with a few friends for a Sunday night dinner, but also quiet and dark enough to be the perfect place for a mid-winter date. Make sure to get the duck wings, but you really can’t go wrong with any of their small plates. Afterwards, head upstairs to their wine bar, Le Caveau for a nightcap of natural wine and chocolate mousse.
If you’ve been to Res Ipsa for a breakfast sandwich or workday lunch, you might not think it’d be a good choice for date night. But at 5pm, the all-day cafe turns into a full-service Italian BYOB. For dinner, they have a pretty small menu that’s heavy on pasta (our favorite is the spaghetti alle vongole), and everything is surprisingly good for somewhere you would normally just visit for a quick lunch. Since this place is so small and quiet, it’s the perfect spot to bring a date and a bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a romantic night.
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 February, the dining room is perfectly nice, too.
Much like a Tide to go pen or a stick of gum in your back pocket, Jaxon has the potential to save any date night. It typically isn’t too hard to get a reservation here (even last minute), and, during the summer, there’s a bunch of sidewalk tables sitting under a string-lit awning. Plus, if you’re running late for your date and show up in a t-shirt, you won’t feel like you’re underdressed. The menu is always excellent no matter the season, with heartier dishes like lamb tikka masala in the winter and watermelon salad in the summer.
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.
June BYOB is a tiny French restaurant on East Passyunk that only has about 10 tables - most of which are two-tops where couples split bottles of wine and plan what they’re going to name their children. The menu is pretty short and split up between appetizers - like seared scallops in a grapefruit vinaigrette - and bigger plates like a roasted cod and a $42 trio of duck that’s especially excellent. Since some of the entrees are on the pricier side, we like June BYOB best for a date night when you’ve got something important to celebrate.
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. 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.
Let’s say you have an important date, but you don’t want to eat at a place with white tablecloths. Book a table at Cadence in Fishtown. The food is excellent, the atmosphere feels upscale but not too stiff, and it’s a BYOB with its own curated collection of wine at the Bottle Bar East just shop down the street. You could go a la carte here, but we recommend going all in with the $65 pre-fixe menu. Just make sure to choose the Alina duck as your entree. You’ll get both the breast and a leg served with sichuan pepper and tomatillo, and it’ll easily feed both you and your date (with leftovers).
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.
Via Locusta is one of the better places to go on a date in Rittenhouse, and it should be at the top of your list if you haven’t been yet. The small pasta spot is full of two-tops, and there’s a long bar where you can order cocktails with all the other people on first dates. Almost half of the menu is pasta, and while they’re all great, the porcini and black truffle agnolotti that you eat with your hands is a must. The rest of the menu is just as good too, from fluffy focaccia with sweet and salty honey butter, to romanesco fritto in a pool of creamy goat cheese.
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.
You won’t find dimmed lights or vases of roses on the tables at Sakana. It’s just a simple white room with a 12-seat counter, a BYOB policy, and two chefs serving some of the best raw fish in the city. What makes this a great date spot, though, is that you can get a high-end omakase dinner for just $59 per person. That means that, instead of saving Sakana for an anniversary or your dog’s golden birthday, you can bring your partner here on a random weeknight when you want some excellent sushi but aren’t trying to spend a ton.
Hiroki is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Sakana. It’s somewhere to save for a big date, like a Valentine’s Day dinner or National Fruitcake Toss Day (it’s real, look it up). This omakase-only spot consists of one small, dark room where you’ll get all 20-or-so courses piece-by-piece straight from the sushi chef. At $135 per person, it’s one of the most expensive meals in the city, but everything - from soy-marinated wagyu steak to thinly-cut raw fish, makes it overwhelmingly worth it.
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 next-door at ITV while you wait.
The best place we could send you for a date would probably be a cute little cafe on a side street in Paris. But since flying there just for dinner is something only Jeff Bezos would do, Forsythia is your next best option. It’s a small French restaurant in Old City that looks like a Parisian cafe, and it works well for both a dinner date or if you’re just grabbing drinks. In the front of the restaurant, there’s a long bar that’s great for sipping on a cocktail with chili and chocolate bitters or splitting a bottle from their great natural wine list. The menu here is made up mostly of small plates like the creamy, salty corn and ham hock beignets and a citrusy mussels escabeche.
Both the Rittenhouse and Kensington locations of Helm work for dates, but the Kensington one is essentially made for them. It’s a BYOB with string lights draped around the chalkboard menu, and a majority of the people here are past their 100th date talking about how their friend’s new baby looks like an alien. The food changes often, but the majority of the dishes are small and easy to share - like oxtail polenta and short rib with mandarins.
Finding the right one-two punch for dinner and drinks can sometimes 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.
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.
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.