Maybe you and your significant other need to make appointments for date night, and are organized enough to get reservations weeks in advance. Maybe the dishwasher is just broken, and you figure it’s a good enough excuse to be romantic.
However much planning you like (or don’t like) to do, date night should be fun, at least a little bit special, and not too stuffy - because it’s hard to relax and enjoy yourself when the food is stupidly expensive or the waiters sneer at your pronunciation of Beaujolais. (We pronounce it “That one” - points finger at wine list.) Here are our picks for the best date night spots in SF.
Sushi date night doesn’t have to mean ordering in and trying to figure out what the hell is going on in the world’s latest binge-watch obsession while eating out of plastic containers. It also doesn’t have to mean spending all your money on 10 pieces of fish. Robin, in Hayes, is our new favorite spot for sushi that’s definitely upscale but won’t cost you a month’s rent. The least expensive omakase here is $79, and absolutely worth it - or you can go a la carte. There’s a long sake list, and the low-key ambience makes this a great choice for a date night that feels effortless and cool.
Uma Casa feels like a vacation from the city. It’s a neighborhood Portuguese spot with the ambience of something you might find in Lisbon, even though it’s actually in Noe, and it’s definitely a step up from most of the other options nearby. The seafood-heavy menu here is good for sharing - we particularly like the octopus, gambas, and pork and clam stew.
This very dark, very old-school Cow Hollow spot has strong cocktails and quality French-American food. It’s basically the exact opposite of a place with mantras on the wall in neon lights and deconstructed avocado toasts on the menu. It’s more like a trip back in time to old San Francisco, and if you enjoy classic dishes like escargot and filet mignon, and/or not seeing anyone else you know, you won’t be disappointed.
If someone suggests FiDi for date night, you might assume it signals strong workaholic tendencies. But come to Leo’s Oyster Bar once and throw that potential red flag out the window. This place is colorful and very attractive, in a fancy-’80s-banker-throwback kind of way, and the seafood on the menu holds up. Just know in advance that it’s pretty pricey. Start with some oysters and the hamachi crudo, and go from there.
This little restaurant in Hayes is a top contender for best date night in the city, provided you’re willing to do some planning several weeks in advance. You’re here for a five-course, $95 (tip included) French-inspired dinner that is guaranteed to impress your date, as long as said date eats seafood. The dishes you’ll have here, like grilled trout, might sound a bit basic - until they get to your table and you realize they’re incredible. As a plus, all the food here is relatively light, so your night won’t be cut short with a butter-induced coma.
Minimal lighting and top-notch Mediterranean food can be counted on to make an evening more romantic. Throw in a lot of wine and good service and we are fully sold. Terzo is consistently underrated and hence consistently easy to get into. Keep it in the rotation for spontaneous date nights. Also, get the hummus.
It’s a bar, yes, but The Alembic serves some incredible food as well. The cocktails are strong and delicious, and the food is way better than your average bar wings and sliders. Sit in one of the leather booths and order some house ricotta, bone marrow, and jerk spiced duck hearts. If you’re both equally happy with all that, you’re clearly soul mates.
You’ve probably walked by Gardenias a million times and never noticed it. Now you know to keep an eye out. We like this French spot just off Fillmore in Lower Pac Heights for its very fresh-tasting dishes, made with more vegetables than your typical bistro food. The dark space feels a little like an old ship, and it’s a great, not-too-well-known spot to check out when you’re looking to drink a bottle of wine, catch up about your days, and eat like moderately health-conscious French people.
Outerlands is most likely a haul from where you live, but that just makes a date here even more of a special occasion. You may even feel, for a few short hours, like you’re on a romantic vacation somewhere near the beach. Most people know this place has a fantastic brunch, but coming at night is a great stealth move - it’s much less crowded, and the food is just as good. Just don’t go in thinking you’ll be avoiding carbs, because the bread is unreal.
Frances is great. We know this, you probably know this, and everyone else knows this, too. So when you have a date coming up in three weeks and have the time to strategize, keep this place in mind. Come here to feel like a grown-up while you eat some fantastic food like steak, duck, and/or chickpea fries.
Fiorella brings a fresh (a.k.a., not designed in the 1970s) look and very good Italian food to the Richmond. If you live in the area, it’s one of the best places you can go for date night. Whether it’s an early-in-the-game situation or a mandated bi-weekly date to escape your children, Fiorella’s got you, and it’s also got some pretty amazing pasta/pizza. Don’t miss the cacio e pepe.
Special occasion date nights require a little bit of planning. Like, making a reservation planning. Mister Jiu’s, on a side street in Chinatown, is absolutely worth a little preparation and then some. The modern Chinese food is exceptional - you can order a la carte or do a seven-dish, $69 tasting menu - and sparkly views out over the Financial District don’t hurt. If you’re the kind of person who likes to drop hints about where your partner should plan future dates, we endorse mentioning this place quite a bit.
Lots of bar seats and lots of seafood is what you’re signing up for at Bar Crudo. Oysters, crudos, and some stellar uni toast should all be on your table. It’s dim and cool and always a good time. It’s a good first or fiftieth date night spot.
On a night when you’re looking for a relaxed place with excellent food and also maybe some fresh air, Foreign Cinema’s got you. It’s classic, it’s beautiful, and it’s in the heart of the Mission, which means you have plenty of options for post-dinner cocktails. It’s surprisingly not impossible to get reservations here, and you should take full advantage of that fact.
Early-in-the-game dates should be equally easy to exit or extend. Alta is perfectly located for a quick drink after work that can turn into a full dinner. Or a dinner date that can turn into cocktails and dessert after dinner. Or a just-one-drink-get-me-out-of-here-immediately-please night. You have the power to make Alta what you need it to be. Also in your power: ordering the burger, the roast chicken, and some fancy soft serve for dessert.
Aster is an ace up your sleeve when it comes to date night. This place serves some gorgeous and very, very good food (at $75 for a four-course menu), in a kind of off-the-beaten-path section of the Mission. You’ll look like you’re in the know, and that never hurts. Definitely keep it in your rotation for nights when you’re looking to impress, or really have something to celebrate.
When your heart says tasting menu at Flour & Water but your wallet says $5 foot long, Trestle is here for you as a healthy compromise. The under-$50 American prix fixe is affordable but still classy, and it’s a great spot to go with a date you want to spend a good chunk of time with.
For stellar Italian food in a low-lit room, Cotogna is an obvious choice. This place feels timeless - refined but not stuffy, energetic but not too loud, and consistently excellent when it comes to pasta, pizza, and meat dishes. If you can tear your eyes away from each other long enough to watch what’s going on in the kitchen, try to sit at the back bar and do that.
Waterfront restaurants that aren’t serving plastic-wrapped, E. coli-bathed crab rolls are few and far between. Coqueta is on the completely opposite end of the spectrum, serving some of the best tapas in the city in a very upscale space. It can definitely be a bit touristy, but it’s still a fun spot that’s probably not in your usual rotation. On a nice night, the outdoor area is the best place to be while you wait for a table to open up.
Akiko’s Restaurant (not to be confused with Akiko’s Sushi around the corner) is one of the best sushi spots in town. The fish is phenomenal, and the small space is very sleek. Know in advance that this is going to be a pricey meal - but at least your money will be going toward some seriously high-quality food. The omakase experience, like a not-terrible date, is leisurely and full of surprises.
At Cala, you’ll feel like you’ve escaped to some kind of magical garden in Mexico City for the night. The food here is upscale but not pretentious - it’s all simple, fresh, and light-tasting. It’s easy to miss that there’s no beef, pork, or chicken anywhere on the menu, but that’s also a good thing to remember in case you’re looking for someplace to bring a vegetarian or pescatarian date.
If you love saving the environment as much as you love your significant other, we have some incredible news for you. You can go out, eat great food, drink delicious cocktails, and also fight the good fight against global warming. The Perennial is all about sustainability, and we support that. They are less into sustaining your bank account, so be warned. This is a great spot to hit last minute, without a reservation, for a drink or two that can turn into dinner or snacks.
A 16 is neighborhood spot that everyone wishes was in their neighborhood, because it happens to be one of the best pizza/Italian food places in the city. If you’re Type A, make a reservation 30 days in advance. If you’re not, roll up to the bar, grab a glass of wine, and wait for some seats to open up. The seats in the back looking over the kitchen are our favorites. Party of two, a bottle of wine, and a pizza to share is a superb way to spend a night.
We love this space, with the bar overlooking the huge pizza oven, and we love the pizza itself even more. It’s a great spot for a date when you want to get dinner and hang but aren’t trying to pull out all the stops. If your date doesn’t like pizza, this is also a great weeding-out strategy.
Keep Bar Agricole in your back pocket for a spontaneous date. Ran into someone on the street and fell head over heels? Drag them to Bar Agricole for some oysters and charcuterie. Need to spice up your life and not order delivery for the fifth time this week? Pop into Bar Agricole and get something that doesn’t come in a takeout container. The space is sleek and cool and has an awesome outdoor area, and the food is well-executed every time.
Noe Valley doesn’t exactly have a wealth of romantic spots. More a wealth of screaming three-year-olds and tech buses. But Contigo is an exception. This place has strong tapas, an even stronger wine list, and a cool space that’s energetic without being too loud. When you need a night away from your own screaming three-year-old and something (much) more exciting than chicken nugget scraps for dinner, this place is here for you.
Bellota is in a bit of a strange spot (in one of the AirBnB office buildings), but it’s absolutely worth the trip for their intensely good tapas and paella. All the Spanish small plates here are amazing, especially the vegetable ones, and there is a lot of good wine to be had as well. Take your time on the ordering, and post up at a corner table or the bar for a clear date night success.
Yes, you are drinking in a basement, but no, you’re not back in high school. You’re right below one of our favorite spots in the city, Liholiho Yacht Club, and you’re in for great cocktails and interesting food, like savory waffles topped with bone marrow butter. Even though Louie’s is a bit easier to get into than Liholiho, you’ll still need a reservation. But if you can maintain a functioning relationship, you can most likely also use the internet to secure one of those.
Go big or go home. Lazy Bear requires a lot of planning, but once you have it set, it’s a date night that will go down in the books. It’s a many, many course menu, at a communal table in a super-cool space. Yes, it will set you back some dollars, but it will also be one of the more fun dinners you’ll probably ever have. If you want to get super intimate and not socialize with anyone else, try to get seats at the end of the table.
Ignore the fact that everyone else here will likely be with a group of friends drinking too much wine. This place is great anyway, and it’s a good spot for a date. Especially if you and your significant other have an open relationship with cheese. The burrata and prosciutto are both spectacular.