Yes, we’re talking about blind dates here. But now that we make more eye contact with our phones than we do with the other people, we’ve started getting dates from swiping left or right, rather than being set up with a friend’s boyfriend’s coworker on a whim. Going on a date with someone you haven’t met yet comes with some challenges though. You want to make a good impression, but you’re also looking for subtle hints to suggest if this person is worth moving out of your rent controlled apartment for.
When planning one of these dates, you need a place that’s quiet enough to hear each other’s questions about your siblings, but interesting enough that you can smile and say “cool place” whenever there’s an awkward silence. Most of these spots will allow you to bail after half a glass of wine if necessary, or share some food and hang out for a few hours when you discover a shared passion for staycations. Here are 14 places that get the job done.
Running out of things to talk about is a first date nightmare, and resorting to ranting about your favorite HBO sci-opera means that you’ve downgraded the conversation to high school reunion-level banter. With fun drinks, tasty Jamaican food, and old movies playing in the background, Kaya is a good place to avoid that. Plus, it’s in Civic Center, which makes it a good stop for after work.
A lot of the seating here is communal, so if you don’t want to feel stranded on a desert table with this person, Bodega is ideal. At the same time, it’s usually filled with people on casual dates and small groups of 20-somethings dreaming that coming to a little place like this is part of their everyday routine, so keeping to yourself won’t be a problem either. Bodega has a large list of wines by the glass and small bites like fancy tacos and mushroom toast. If you finish your wine and want to keep the night going, take a walk around Washington Square Park across the street.
Flores is always packed with groups and is just loud enough that it won’t make you feel like you’re drowning in silence. Their cocktails can help you get your own conversation started, and while the portions aren’t huge, you can still test your date’s humanity via their willingness to share some of their duck enchiladas.
Between working 70 hours a week to try to make your minuscule amounts of startup equity worth something and not wanting to waste a precious Saturday night on a dud date, meeting at Biergarten during the day is a great option. It’s usually packed, but it’s easy enough to ignore the people around you, unless you quickly run out of things to talk about. You could even have a few friends “happen” to be on the other side of the yard in case you need a bailout. But if things go great, you can continue the night nearby with dinner at Barcino or Domo.
Cotogna is on the higher end of places on this list, but if you’re there for some shared food and some cocktails, you won’t walk out broke. The wood-fired pizzas are delicious and will give you at least fifteen minutes to get to know the person sitting across from you. In that amount of time, you should know if it’s worth ordering anything else when the pizzas come, or if you should eat and Lyft home to some leftover Indian food you’ve got waiting in the fridge.
Getting sushi can be good for a first date because if you like the person, you can keep ordering. If not, at least you still got to go out for sushi. The menu at Domo is pretty concise so you won’t get stuck in that awkward struggle between trying to choose what to eat and not losing track of the conversation. Plus, after you’re done, you can walk through Hayes Valley together and make up fake names for the dogs you see passing by.
It’s not like you matched with this person because their name randomly shot out of the Goblet of Fire. You matched with each other because you have some shared interests (which may or may not include Cedric Diggory conspiracy theories). If you’re feeling really good about this person, skip the small plates and go to Trestle for their $38 prix fixe. The service is pretty quick and you can add a pasta course for $10 too. If it goes as well as you hoped, you can sit, enjoy the rest of the bottle of wine you ordered, and discuss what your patronus would be.
There are a lot of reasons why pizza is such a quintessential date night option - it’s highly shareable and you can learn a lot about someone from the toppings they choose (especially onion people). A16 is no exception, and they turn out some of our favorite pies in SF. They give you scissors to cut your own slices too, so you can dole out that responsibility as democratically as you see fit.
Grabbing bar seats at Causwells is like wearing a pair of 70s tennis shoes to work. It’s casual, but just dressed up enough to show that you’re putting in a solid effort to impress. Drink a glass of wine and have a burger while you talk about things beyond other horrible Tinder experiences you’ve had. And if you’re nervous about making eye contact, you’re sitting on bar stools so it’s OK to pay attention to your food instead.
This spot is good for a charcuterie board date, giving yourself an exit once the meats and cheeses have come and gone. If they don’t hog all the manchego, and you’re both willing to stay and let your inner child out a bit, either order the grilled cheese or get a scoop of ice cream from Swenson’s next door and walk down Polk to choose your next stop.
If your Hinge profiles both list “What You Wish You Knew More About” as being “wine,” meet for flights at Maritime Wine Tasting Studio. They start at $16, which is a heck of a lot better than the $60 you dropped on one tasting the last time you were in Napa. Plus, you and this person are both admittedly ignorant on the difference between beaujolais and Bo Jackson, so there’s nothing to be nervous about. Just relax and figure out if it’s worth buying a whole bottle to split with them or if a taste was all you needed.
You find out in your brief chat that this person likes to keep on the healthier side, but you don’t want to go full salad mode for a first date. Gardenia’s makes lighter, vegetable-focused French food that’s probably a wiser choice than letting them know up front what happens when a bowl of pasta is put in front of you. Split a good bottle of wine and discuss which of SF’s amazing views you’re going to hike to on the second date.
Yeah, you come here a lot for brunch, but going on a brunch date is pretty weird - especially when you’ve never met - and drinks and snacks at Outerlands is still a solid bet. The restaurant’s wood paneled interior is enough to spark conversation about how you feel like maybe you’re in an old ship, and if there’s still a lull, no one would look at you funny for constantly munching on their incredible housemade bread.
When you pull your first date pants out for the first time in a while and a wad of cash falls out of them, Bar Crudo is the place to go. Talk about your favorite trips you’ve ever taken as you try oysters from the different oceans you’ve both been to at different times. If you’re more in the mood for something cooked and less about sharing, they also make some of our favorite chowder in the city.