The Best First Date Spots In SF
photo credit: Sarah Felker
First dates can change your life, but most of them will just teach you how to flirt with a kind stranger you met online. To give yourself the best chance of hitting it off with someone, it’s important to pick the right place.
All of these spots are relatively casual (so it won’t look like you’re trying too hard), but they’re also impressive enough to make you seem like an adult person who’s capable of making good choices. A lot of them serve food, but you don’t necessarily have to eat a full meal. And they’re all perfect for either a 20-minute meet-and-greet or a three-hour date that you'll need a PowerPoint to debrief later.
ABV in the Mission hits all the marks of a great First Date Bar. There's plenty of room to move around, the noise levels inside aren’t too loud, and they have a great cocktail and beer selection. And depending on whether you’re looking for a light bite or a full-on meal, you can order burgers or beer-battered cauliflower to share. Just know that this spot can get busy—so maybe roll up for an early date if you want to guarantee a seat.
One thing we look for in a first-date spot is somewhere that’s low-key and chill. So head to Ungrafted. The wine bar in the Dogpatch is located in a warehouse-like space that’s light-filled and massive. And coming here means you can order a glass of your favorite drink (they have cider and beer, too), and get to know someone without having to shout. But really, come here for their impressive wine selection, and consider getting the za’atar bread with labne, everything-spiced fries, or other small plates to share if the conversation gets flowing.
Love beer, or pretending you love beer because you’re meeting up with someone who homebrews? Cellarmaker House of Pizza is the spot for you. The lowkey Bernal Heights beer bar has a lengthy list of beers on tap and a bar where you can cozy up and brush knees with your date. And because you’re very interesting and likable, “grabbing a drink” will probably transition into dinner. So grab one of Cellarmaker’s excellent Detroit-style pies, available whole or by the slice.
Prubechu is one of our back-pocket restaurants that’s perfect for any scenario, but it’s especially great when it's time to have a quality meal with someone you've had days of flirty banter with via voice memo. Their parking lot-turned-patio feels more like a cool, casual backyard with its colorful floral tablecloths and a great playlist going. Order the tinaktak—a creamy dish with handmade egg noodles, cherry tomatoes, green beans, and coconut beef—and the tender, juicy ko’ko’ wings with a tangy lemon fina’denne sauce. They also have an extensive selection of beer, wine, cocktails, and sake.
“I know the least-boring wine bar food in town” is one foolproof way to answer a Hinge prompt. When it inevitably draws in record-breaking likes (thank us later) and a match, take them to Cantina Los Mayas. The Richmond wine bar serves exclusively Mexican wines alongside a menu of Yucatecan dishes that stand on their own. Think panuchos loaded with saucy cochinita, seafood skewers atop a spicy papaya and pineapple sauce, and mole-covered chicken so good it’ll take up at least five minutes of conversation.
It’s never stressful to get a table at this Richmond cocktail bar and restaurant, which is a built-in plus. This spot looks like an Airbnb in the Hamptons crossed with an apartment staged by HGTV with cozy leather booths and sexy dim lighting. And sharing the well-executed California-Mediterranean plates, from seasonal crudos to rich white bolognese, is a nice way for you to suss out relationship compatibility—if your date isn’t into the caesar salad loaded with fried prosciutto, consider it a red flag.
For excellent cocktails and snacky plates that can be finished relatively quickly (you know, in case your date starts spouting Avril Lavigne conspiracy theories), suggest meeting up at True Laurel. The Mission cocktail bar incorporates things like snap peas or redwood tips into their delicious drinks, and has an occasionally changing food menu of small dishes like crispy mushrooms, a great patty melt, and more. Depending on which direction the night goes, you can either throw back a drink and be out of there in less than 45 minutes, or run up your tab and stay for hours.
Dinner at Nojo is a casual-yet-cozy way to spend a night with someone you might like. The Hayes Valley spot is where to find some of the best ramen in town. Chicken-based broth is rich and creamy, and the noodles are always perfectly bouncy. Slurp down a bowl from a booth in the tightly packed in space while calculating whether or not you should suggest going for a drink after.
If your walk along the Great Highway was actually nice and you want to keep things going, head up Judah to Sunset Cantina. The Mexican restaurant is a great, casual spot to grab a drink with someone and discuss what you’re watching on Netflix over frozen margaritas or micheladas (or, if things go extra well, Jell-O shots). Walk up for a seat on their parklet or back patio, and share a few things like carnitas flautas and tacos.
This cocktail bar in the Mission has a hyper-’60s aesthetic and is where to go when you want to channel your inner Mad Men—or go on a first date. They also happen to make amazing cocktails, which you should order alongside light bites like french fries, sandwiches, salads, or a cheese plate as you internally overanalyze your date's body language.
You can learn a lot about someone’s character by sticking them in a room full of arcade games. Are they the overly competitive type who will chuck a drink at the Pac-Man machine if things don’t go their way? Find out at The Detour. This Duboce Triangle bar has everything from Skee-Ball and Tetris to Super Smash Bros. tournaments on Mondays. Asian-influenced snacks like popcorn chicken, lumpia, and adobo wings are on hand when all that gaming makes you hungry.
The Alembic is one of our favorite bars in the Haight—it’s got the cozy feel of an old-school, neighborhood spot, and has consistently great drinks. Boozy ice cream floats and bar snacks like potato leek fritters are there for you as you field questions like "Reading anything good right now?" or "So...do you have siblings?"
The NoPa cocktail bar should be high on your list of top first-date spots, mainly because there really is no downside to coming here. This place makes great drinks, and serves both snacks and full plates for whenever your (hopefully) not awkward conversation makes you work up an appetite. And since Horsefeather is open by 2pm most days and has a big skylight that floods their semi-outdoor atrium with a ton of natural light, this spot is an excellent call for a day drinking or late afternoon date.
If you’re going out with someone who calls themselves a “plant parent” in their bio, take them to Macondray. The New England-inspired bar in Russian Hill is filled with leafy plants from floor to ceiling, and plush seats that make the room feel vintage. In addition to beer and colorful, fruity cocktails, they also have a lot of food options, like fantastic deviled eggs and a Maine-style lobster roll.
If the big neon “wet your lips” sign in the back of Bodega doesn’t set the tone for a fun and flirty night, nothing will. The wine bar in North Beach is an easy spot to grab a glass of wine with a person you could potentially spend the rest of your life with (no pressure). The white-walled space is decorated with plants and antlers hanging on the wall, a great opportunity to find out how your date feels about taxidermy. Snacky plates like burrata and crispy potatoes also come out quickly, but we think you should keep the rosé flowing and stay a while.