First dates technically have the potential to change your life - but most of them will probably just teach you how to flirt with a kind stranger you met on an app. And as we approach Hot Vax Summer, you might be realizing that it’s been a while since you’ve gone on an actual, real date. If you’re feeling a little out of practice, we’re here to help.
This list has 17 of the best first date bars and restaurants in the city. All of these spots are relatively casual (so it won’t look like you’re trying too hard), but also impressive enough to make you seem like someone who’s capable of making good choices. They also serve food (you won’t necessarily have to eat a full meal at any of them), and are all perfect for either a 20-minute meet-and-greet or a three-hour date that could be the starting plot of a Hallmark Channel movie.
ABV in the Mission hits all the marks of a great First Date Bar. There is plenty of room to move around, the noise levels inside aren’t too loud (however, they’re temporarily only open outdoors), 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 hot dogs or beer-battered cauliflower to share. ABV has a big parklet and isn’t taking reservations. So maybe roll up for an early date if you want to guarantee a seat - this spot can get busy.
One thing we look for in a first-date spot is somewhere that’s low-key and chill (asking a date “so, what do you do?” through a mask is tough enough). 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, salt and vinegar fries, or other small plates to share if the conversation gets flowing.
Like Olivia Rodrigo or the casting directors of Legally Blonde: The Musical, Nopa does not miss. The menu at this laidback SF staple is seasonal and simple - every dish uses high-quality ingredients and is done to perfection. From the saucy wood-baked butter beans topped with feta and pesto to one of the best burgers in town, you’ll definitely leave here happy, even if your Hinge date doesn’t comment on the outfit you meticulously curated days beforehand.
Prubechu is one of our back-pocket restaurants that’s perfect for any scenario, but it’s especially great if you’re trying to impress a date. Their parking lot-turned-patio feels more like a cool, secret backyard party 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.
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 candied nuts, cornmeal hushpuppies, 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 30 minutes, or run up your tab and stay for hours. True Laurel has a few reservations available online, or you can walk up for a table.
Toyose is known as a late-night hangout spot for Korean pub food and drinks, but we also think the casual restaurant is a great first date spot. They have cozy nooks inside the dining room, which is housed in a converted garage, and picnic tables out on the covered parklet. No matter where you end up sitting though, you’ll probably have a good time - and get to learn about the person you’re with over incredible fried chicken wings, kimchi pancakes, boiling hot pot, and spam stew with ramen noodles.
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 well, Jell-O shots). Walk up for a seat on their parklet or back patio, and share a few things like carnitas flautas, tacos, and churro bites.
Want a guaranteed conversation starter? Eat at Besharam. Each dish that hits the table at this Gujarati restaurant in the Dogpatch is a showpiece, from the blue cheese-stuffed paratha to the fiery charred eggplant stew to the drunken pani puri, semolina puffs filled with crushed peas and doused in an herby lemon-tamarind-mint-and-gin water. The menu is served tapas-style (ordering theplas to sop up all the sauces from the various dishes is a must), the atmosphere is laid back, and the restaurant has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Long story short, you can’t go wrong on a date here.
Every time we go to Violet’s in the Richmond, we always leave satisfied. At this neighborhood spot, you can order cocktails or a glass of wine to go with a few small plates, like chips and dips, brussels sprouts, and sweet and sour wings. Or if this date seems like someone you could commit to a full meal with, get their perfectly-grilled pork chop and stay awhile.
Wood-fired pizza, cacio e pepe, and wine is one foolproof combination that ensures at least an above-average first date. Which is why you should book date night at Fiorella in the Richmond (they also have a Russian Hill location). Everything here is easily shareable, like pizzas with light, airy crusts, and golden-brown arancini. And if you run out of things to talk about, just play Where’s Waldo with the wallpaper, which is covered with illustrations of famous Bay Area locals, like E-40 and Alice Waters.
Any date night in the Castro should start at Santería. More specifically, with one of their cocktails. The lively, colorful margarita bar/restaurant has an extensive list of agave-based spirits, margaritas, and other drinks like frosé and sangria. If the conversation is trending toward pleasant, or even downright enjoyable, extend your stay and order some food. They have everything from octopus al pastor and flautas to chips and guac with chicharrones.
Whether you’ve been DM-ing this person on and off for months or were set up by a mutual friend, you’re probably still wanting your date to go well. So, increase your chances of that happening by meeting at Beit Rima. Both their Castro and Cole Valley locations have the laidback energy you want as a backdrop for the night - it’s not stuffy, and is quiet enough that you’ll actually hear the other person talk about the many cousins they have on their mom’s side. Plus, there’s fantastic food. Order the mezze sampler (it comes with hummus, baba ghanouj, lebna, and muhammara), the crispy whole-fried branzino, and their puffy, za’atar and sumac-covered bread.
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. Grab a booth on their covered parklet with your date, and field questions like “how was your quarantine?” over potato leek fritters, grilled artichoke, or a boozy ice cream float.
If you’re meeting someone who gets excited about tasting notes, hit up West Coast Wine & Cheese. The Cow Hollow spot only serves wine from California, Oregon, and Washington, so it’s an excellent place to geek out over local vineyards and winemakers. They also have a great menu of things like cheese and charcuterie boards served with Jane the Bakery bread, plus other shareable plates like salmon crudo, spinach gnudi, and gnocchi alla bolognese.
This Chinese restaurant in Hayes Valley is a great option if you want a place that’s easygoing and laidback, but will still have great food. Grab a seat in the dining room or on their outdoor parklet, and marvel at their perfectly crispy pan-fried, soup-filled shengjianbao. Dumpling Home also does excellent xiao long bao, garlicky green beans, and green onion pancakes.
Beretta in the Mission always delivers with excellent small plates and burrata that we’d suffer through at least 10 bad dates for. This Italian restaurant also has an intimate dining space - inside is dimly lit, or you can sit in one of their cozy parklet booths. Chat with your date about the kittens they fostered last year while splitting a margherita pizza (with burrata, of course) and Dungeness crab arancini. For something even more casual, stop by for Happy Hour featuring $6 spritzes and glasses of wine, and small plates like eggplant caponatina or meatballs. They also have a second location in NoPa.
If you’re going out with someone who calls themselves a “plant parent” in their Tinder 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 will make you feel like you’re in a vintage living room. 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.