There are a few ways to end up here. You could have been so excited to get a date on the books that you completely forgot to set where it would actually happen. You may have had these plans for weeks, but the “three Thursdays from now” snuck up on you way faster than you thought it would.
Whatever happened, you need somewhere to go, and it needs to be a place that you can actually get into on short notice. Somewhere you won’t have to wait two hours, or slip in the service entrance and hand every employee between you and your table $20 on the way. Most importantly, it has to be somewhere that you’d bring this person if you actually had thought it out ahead of time. Here’s 17 spots where you can do just that.
A glitch in the universe is probably what makes it so easy to get a table at the always crowded Flour + Water Pizzeria. This place makes some of the best pizza in the city, with great toppings like corn, speck, and smoked mozzarella. But the pies aren’t the only highlight of an evening here. If you’re lucky, you can snag a seat at the counter and watch the pizzaiolos do their thing. Afterward, get some of their incredible soft serve before a walk around the Mission.
If you really want to impress your date, go to Moongate Lounge in Chinatown. The room is one of the prettiest in the city with tall, velvet booths and a giant neon skylight, and the drinks are incredible. Each cocktail is made from ingredients like burnt corn husks and brown rice powder, and even if your job requires wrangling alligators, these cocktails will be the most interesting thing you talk about tonight. The bar is first-come, first-served, so you can drop in whenever, but there are somehow always reservations available for seats in the lounge area - snagging one of those will make a last-second scramble look like something that took a lot of planning.
Barzotto makes some of the best pasta in the city, and sharing a big bowl of the radiatore with pecorino, black pepper, and a soft-cooked egg is a great way to get someone to like you. But what makes this place great for an impromptu date - aside from the food and affordable wines by the glass - is that Barzotto is a casual counter-service spot. All you have to do is find a night when both of your schedules are miraculously open, make sure to wear your favorite date-night outfit, and meet them there.
Louie’s Gen-Gen Room
Walking into Liholiho Yacht Club and hoping that a few bar seats open up is a bold move, and if you’re lucky and get them, more power to you. But if you’re like the other 92.23% of people who try with no luck, you can go downstairs to Louie’s Gen-Gen Room where you’ll be much more likely to get a table. A lot of the menu down here is waffle-based, but they’re good waffles with things like bone marrow on them that go well with their cocktails, and this was a last-minute decision anyway. Own it, and order some beef tartare, too.
Even if it’s crowded, it never takes long to get a few bar seats or a high top at Comstock Saloon. This place is primarily a bar, but they have some of the best bar food around. Go for something small and shareable like their crispy brussels sprouts, or if you’re both actually hungry, get their fantastic burgers. Meanwhile, grab a few old-school cocktails and find out your date’s stance on music festivals while you listen to the jazz band that plays on the balcony.
While Flores does fit in well with the lively pre-game restaurants around it, it’s also a good spot for an impromptu date. This place always has a good buzz, but you’ll still be able to focus on each other or at the worst, have to lean in a little to hear what they’re saying. Get a few margaritas and some tacos and enchiladas to split, and then go to Loving Cup for dessert afterwards.
The cocktails at True Laurel are great and the food will allow you to test your date’s capacity for sharing. You can choose from a variety of small plates, from oysters to a patty melt, so you’ll both be able to find something to eat.
Yes, you should make reservations for a table at Nopa pretty far in advance, but that’s why we like sitting at the bar, which is first-come, first-served. Grab a few cocktails while you wait for a spot to open up, then split a flatbread and order some duck or pappardelle. When you’re done with your meal and happy that you made it into one of the most classic SF restaurants around, pay, and let the couple behind you take your seats next - it’s the circle of life.
Neighborhood restaurants are great for last-minute dates, and if you’re in Russian Hill, Cocotte should definitely be on your short list. This French spot is small, dark, and has a good buzz going, and the menu is full of dishes like coq au vin. Make sure you also order the cauliflower gratin to split.
Aside from making very good crudos, Bar Crudo also has a stellar raw bar, an oyster Happy Hour, and a lobster burrata salad that’s hard to forget. You can almost always get a last-minute reservation, and if you can’t, bar seats only involve a short wait. Horsefeather, right nearby, has great cocktails and is a solid way to turn your evening of eternal contrition into a successful One-Two Punch
Going out of your way to get to A16 is worth it for the margherita pizza and ragu pasta alone. Besides, you’ll impress your date by showing them your dedication to the evening. You probably won’t be scoring a reservation, but bar seats are first-come, first-served, and turn around pretty quick. You can post up with a starter and a bottle of wine in the front window area and start plotting your order.
B44 Catalan Bistro has Spanish tapas like albondigas and patatas bravas, and the portions are pretty generous for what you pay. Get the gambas al ajillo, but make sure to keep some of the bread from the beginning of the meal to sop up the oil under the shrimp.