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 there are a bunch of people hitting on each other around you. Here are our picks for the best date night spots in SF.
If you’re the couple that doesn’t have to go to the newest place with the flashiest dining room to have a good time at dinner, head to Zuni Cafe. This place is about as classic as it gets with their menu of insanely simple things like roast chicken and burgers on focaccia that couldn’t be made better if their competitors got a MacArthur genius grant to try to take them down.
Instead of booking a table more than a month in advance, sometimes it’s better to just walk around until you find something that sounds right. And if you’re in Noe Valley, you should definitely take a look at Saru Sushi Bar on 24th St. This place serves simple and great sushi, and since they don’t take reservations, there’s usually a line. But that’s OK - just flip through old pictures while you wait and try to convince your partner to go back to the haircut they had in 2002.
La Ciccia is one of our favorite neighborhood spots in SF. Their handmade macaroni with sea urchin is something we’d cross the city for alone, but all of the food at this small Sardinian restaurant is fantastic, from the spicy octopus stew to any of their other pastas. This is one of the rare places where you’ll actually want to split things 50:50 instead of just trading bites because it’s all that good.
Thanks to meetings, deadlines, and a million other things that we can’t see in our crystal ball, the time you both leave work is now generally a rough window between 5pm and next Tuesday. But regardless of when that is, you can always walk in at Verjus. This wine bar in the Financial District doesn’t take reservations, so you can stop by whenever, and they have a good menu of things like duck confit and some of the best dessert french toast you’ll ever have if you get out too late for a real meal. You can also just buy a bottle of wine here and take it home with you to watch in front of the TV - there’s less of a chance of waiting that way.
Sometimes you get so used to seeing each other in sweats that you have to flip through old Facebook pictures to remember what you both look like dressed up. When that happens, it’s a good time to make a reservation at Che Fico. This Italian restaurant in Nopa has one of the coolest dining rooms in the city, with wallpaper that looks like it got pulled out of a Roald Dahl book and it’s one of the few places where people sporting Patagonia vests and Allbirds is actually rare. But if you’re not that concerned with what everyone else is doing, just focus on all of the fantastic pasta and pizzas.
If you want something a little more low-key, skip the circus upstairs and just go to Che Fico Alimentari instead. The pasta here is just as good, but aside from that, the main focus of this place is small plates of things like cured meats and mozzarella that are perfect for splitting over a bottle of wine.
Even if you both forget to make a reservation at Rich Table, they take walk-ins at the bar where it’s easier to look toward the kitchen and have dinner double as entertainment for the night. This is one of our favorite restaurants in the city, and even though the menu always has a few greatest hits on it, like the Douglas fir levain and porcini donuts, the rest of the food is always unpredictable and just as good as our favorites.
Cow Hollow is less of a neighborhood for romantic nights out and more of a playground for people to drink too much and forget that they have jobs to go to the next day. Then there’s Kaiyo, a Japanese-Peruvian place on Union Street. This place has great small plates like scallops in leche de tigre and some of our favorite sushi rolls around, as well as larger things like stone pots full of crispy rice. The cocktails are some of the best in the area, too.
Violet’s is a small spot in the Richmond that’s never too difficult to get a table at. It’s a good place to come on a random weeknight and sit at the bar when neither of you feels like trying to make a meal for two out of the seven random things in your fridge. They make excellent cocktails, and all of the food leans toward classics, like a fun take on chips and dip and one of the better pork chops in the city.
Robin is where we go when casual sushi nights start to feel as mundane as trying to find the one missing sock from laundry day. Between its cool design and mid-century furniture, it feels a little like you’re getting dinner in a club that you don’t know about, but one with actually good food. It’s all omakase here, and there’s no menu. Instead, a server comes and has a conversation with you about how much you’re looking to spend, but you can expect to pay around $85 without sake, which you should definitely order from their good list.
Uma Casa is a neighborhood Portuguese spot that feels like somewhere you’d find on vacation, even though it’s actually in Noe, and it’s definitely a step up from most of the other options nearby. Their seafood-heavy menu is good for sharing - we particularly like the octopus and the gambas.
With a five-course tasting menu that’s $105 per person, Petit Crenn is a great place to come for a special birthday when one of you is over getting together with a million friends. The restaurant is seafood-only, and while some of the dishes sound basic like a simply grilled trout, everything you eat here will be incredible. Plus, all the food is relatively light, so if there really is a surprise party after dinner for that birthday you “don’t want to celebrate,” you’ll still have the energy to go.
Some places are good for a first date, some are good for date number 44, but then there’s the rare one that’s good for date number 755. That would be Gardenias, a French restaurant in Lower Pac Heights. This food here is mostly vegetable-focused and French, and all of it is simple and good enough to make you want to start watching old clips of Julia Child to learn to do it yourself. This place is small and generally quiet, easy to get a reservation at, and a great spot to split a bottle of wine and be happy that you don’t have to try the most insane new place all the time with this person.
Aside from looking like the lower deck of some sort of old ship built by tattoo artists and flannel aficionados, Outerlands makes some of the best food in the Sunset. It’s always packed with small families and groups of friends catching up, but once your at your table, you won’t care and it’ll be just as romantic as if you had the place to yourself. From simple bread and butter to whole roasted fish, it’s all fantastic and worth the trip, even if you don’t live close to this place on the edge of the city.
Fiorella is one of the best options in the Richmond for date night. It’s casual enough to feel like a good mid-week escape, but nice enough where it won’t seem like you’re phoning it in. The pizza and all of the pastas are great, but don’t miss the cacio e pepe.
Mister Jiu’s is where we go when we want to feel like we’re back with someone on date number three. It’s one of the only restaurants where walking into the dining room feels like you’re making an actual entrance and the room itself, with its great view of Chinatown and big gold chandeliers, looks like it was taken out of the scene from any Bond movie where he finally meets the girl. Aside from that, their Chinese-American food is incredible with things like Dutch crunch pork buns and Peking duck with peanut butter hoisin.
The Mission never gets as cold as the rest of the city, and that’s something we’re big fans of - especially on date night. So when we want to eat outside, we head to Foreign Cinema. This place has been around for a while and their open back patio, with string lights and old movies projected on the wall, is still one of the best in the city.
If you’re still waiting on your company to IPO, you can go to Trestle and feel like you’re on one of the more expensive dates in the city. They serve four-courses for $38 per person, and anything on their regularly-changing menu - from crispy-skin trout to cauliflower soup - is fantastic. Also, get the optional pasta courses because they’re always the best things on the menu.
When you go to Cotogna on a weekday, you’re bound to see a few Salesforce and Google backpacks, but it’s not packed with people slamming back drinks after work to blow off steam from constant sales calls all day. Instead, it’s full of people finding first refuge away from the Financial District over great pastas and Italian small plates. Aside from the food, this place is always lit like there were a hundred candles around you even though there aren’t, but still, according to every Mariah Carey music video we’ve seen, it’s the most romantic amount of lighting.
Thanks to movies like A Cinderella Story and Star Wars: Episode II, we associate being in gardens with romance, and because of that, we love going out for date night at Cala. This place isn’t fully outside, but it’s in a big white-walled warehouse with lots of plants that makes it feel like you’re at a large, covered garden party with lanterns that look like stars. Plus, their Mexican food, including the trout tostadas and charred sweet potato tacos, is some of the best in the city.
A 16 is a restaurant you can make reservations at a month in advance, but it’s much more suited for showing up and snagging a few bar seats as they open up. Once you sit down, split a few pies and see if you trust the other person enough to cut the right size slice of pizza with the provided scissors.
Make-your-own pizza night is something that all couples should try at least once. And after it fails horribly and your entire building is evacuated from the smoke, just make a deal to go to Del Popolo next time. Sit at the bar and watch people who are good at making pizza do what they do best, drink some wine, and do the one thing you didn’t get to when you tried to make pizza at home - actually eat dinner.
Bar Agricole is one of the few places where you can show up for an impromptu date and still have it feel like you’d been planning it all week. If you get there relatively early, you can get a table instead of having to sit at the bar. The charcuterie board is significant enough to actually count as most of a meal before you cave and order a few things off the rest of the menu. We like the flatbreads.
There are a million places to get small plates around SF, but Bellota has some of the best tapas in the city. Even though we could sit here and eat pan con jamon Iberico all night long, it’s the paella that’s really worth going out of your way for. All of their versions are great, and if you can’t decide on one, they do half-and-half pans.