Are you sure this one’s the one?
Before you blow your paycheck on that forty-course omakase, take a step back and think. Is this person worth it? Are you going to spend the rest of your life (or night) with them? You two could wind up having wildly different opinions on Justin Bieber or the Second Amendment, so maybe don’t take them to Canlis. Or even Shiro’s.
Still, you never know. Things might work out, so don’t be cheap. Find a middle ground. Try one of these places. They’re good enough to impress and affordable enough to visit on the regular. Make these your go-to spots for at least those first few dates.
You might know about Artusi, the sister spot to Spinasse (our favorite Italian restaurant in town). You might also know that they make excellent homemade pasta and bar snacks like meatballs and arancini. But what you might not know is that they have a special on Sundays and Mondays where you can order two pastas and an entire bottle of wine for $40 total. Since this is an outrageous deal, expect to wait a little while for a table, but you can always just head to Poco for a cocktail while you wait.
Because of the quaint wallpaper and wall molding, Homer looks like it could be the lobby of a luxurious bed and breakfast in The Hamptons. But actually, it’s a restaurant. Pita smells come from the big oven in the back, and there’s a great lineup of mezzes and bigger meat dishes to pick and choose from. If there’s a wait, start with a cocktail, or show your date that you’re spontaneous and have dessert before dinner from their soft serve ice cream window by the front door.
Casco Antiguo checks all of the boxes for an affordable but successful date. It’s upscale but not stuffy, the on-tap margaritas come at single-digit prices, and the portions of excellent Mexican food are pretty generous for what you pay. Split a black bean empanada to start and finish strong with some enchiladas or puffy baja fish tacos.
If you plan a date at Pizzeria Pulcinella, the only thing that’s going to go south is your car, because it’s in Rainier Beach. The Neapolitan pizzas here range from $11.50 to $17 and are big enough to share. End things with some spumoni ice cream and two spoons.
You want to be careful with Plenty Of Clouds because it’s entirely possible that your date will love the Sichuan pork dumplings more than they will ever be capable of loving you. As long as you understand that we warned you, you’re going to have a great time in here eating Chinese stir fry and drinking purple champagne sparklers.
If your idea of a great date involves fried stuff and beers in a dive bar, Sisters & Brothers is your spot. The Nashville-style hot chicken here is seriously good, and you should probably get it on a bun or with a side of mac and cheese. The place is decorated with Pac-Man arcade machines and portraits of ice queens and unicorns. We know the whole operation sounds pretty casual, but there’s still a candle on every table. Technically, that’s romantic.
Speaking of chicken, you can get a whole roasted one at Cafe Presse for $28. Add some fried potatoes, a green salad, and two glasses of wine, and it still won’t set you back that much. If things go extremely well, see if you can get into Canon across the street for a nightcap.
Joli is one of those feel-good places that’s worth braving the rain for just to have a meal with someone you might never see again. Maybe getting cozy in a booth underneath a quaint painting of a mountain has something to do with it. There are small bar bites like fried olives, rillettes, and flatbreads if you’re looking to mix and match, but you also can’t go wrong with the burger or a $19 piece of fish that comes with a couple of carbs on the side.
Come here if your date has no idea that Harry’s Fine Foods exists, because there’s something wildly impressive about this standalone spot in a residential pocket of Capitol Hill. The dining room feels like a cross between an antique parlor and an old-school grocery market, and everything on the menu is typically under $20. Have some crudo and lasagna, or cut the delicious burger in half. Either way, make sure you order a couple of seasonal negronis.
This spot is technically a bar, but they happen to make some serious Mediterranean food in a lively space with plenty of comfortable booths. Beers on tap are only five bucks each, and the menu of things like hummus, Turkish wings, and shawarma wraps is affordable, too. We suggest splitting the lamb burger (which comes with tasty fries) along with some mezzes and calling it a night.
List has a very dark, moody atmosphere and reasonably-priced fancy food. We might even call it sexy. In order to pay the least amount of money, the hack is to come during Happy Hour when a large portion of the dinner menu is half-priced. That means you can get a plate of truffle gnocchi for $9 and some bottles of wine for $19. That also means there’s no reason you shouldn’t bring every person who says “yes” to going on a date with you here. Just hope that they don’t all know each other, or you’ll become the protagonist in a real-life version of John Tucker Must Die.