Dating is like tequila: either you love it, hate it, or agree to put up with it if margaritas are involved. Regardless of where you fall on the love/hate spectrum, these spots are sure to make the experience memorable for all the right reasons – whether you decide to take the relationship forward or whether you think it’s best to just remain Snapchat friends.
The folks at Kyirisan could probably stop selling itself as a small plates place: the portions are the sizes of appetizers and mains, and you can definitely tell which are which from the prices – so you won’t have to worry about this being one of those places where you only get two bites of some croquette. This is a sexy, sleek spot where you’ll get to try some unusual flavor combinations like pan-seared scallops served with basil ice cream and coconut risotto – a dish we promise we didn’t just make up to underscore our point. For the less experimental, the crème fraiche chicken wings are a hit, and the sea bass is basically a giant, delicious ceviche.
We promised margaritas in the intro, and this place delivers them, in both the classic style and in varieties like lychee and ginger-hibiscus. The tacos here have been known to impress even the snobbiest of Californian expats, whose “I know real Mexican food” you can sometimes make out even over the roll of their eyeballs. Because the space does tend to get a little loud, we don’t recommend it for a first or second date unless you’re seeing a lobbyist who can keep up with the volume.
Ghibellina is that neighborhood Italian spot you want in your back pocket: it’s suitable for first dates, double dates, special occasions, and everything else in between – like the two-year anniversary of your first unsuppressed burp (April 4th). The pastas are great and the portions don’t make you feel like a bloated parade balloon. If you’re keen on sharing, we like to order one of the brick oven pizzas as a starter for the table.
Maketto is a capital “E” Experience, with a spacious café upstairs, an intimate dining room on the ground floor, and a retail area selling clothes and accessories, because why not? Maketto can work as either a food or coffee date – should you choose the latter, the café actually serves a hefty Asian menu in addition to coffee and pastries. But if you’re really ambitious, you can hit up the café first, comb through the clothing racks after, then kill time before your dinner reservation with a few rounds of mini golf and skeeball at H Street Country Club down the block. When you come back, don’t miss the cumin lamb or massive fried chicken. Orders are meant to be shared and go down great with a gin Rickey.
There’s no better place to feel like a local than at Nido, a cute, bright neighborhood spot right on the Northeast border with Maryland. Besides proving to your date that no one knows the nooks and crannies of DC like you do, you’ll want to hit up Nido for its Mediterranean small plates. If the trek got you hungry, though, they also offer a seafood stew and a bone-in ribeye with a whole roasted garlic on the side.
The spacious sister to Daikaya, this ramen bar is pretty trendy but its prices won’t force you to skip drinks when you catch a movie next door at the Landmark theater – where you should obviously go for Act Two of your date. No one looks very cute getting their slurp on, but what better way to cut the BS? Order up a spicy shoyu ramen (not that spicy), skip the mapo tofu poutine (it tastes as bizarre as it sounds), and save room for popcorn (see above).
Open for dinner and weekends, this new spot features an outdoor “cider” garden, a long bar with seating inside, as well as a romantic upstairs dining room. The pintxos and small plates are light and good for sharing, and the bar has more ciders than you probably realize existed, including Spanish drafts the menu says to pour from a height. (We’re not sure why this is, but there’s a 12 percent chance your date will be impressed if you do it.) Sit upstairs for a traditional date experience or pop a squat at the bar and let the charismatic bartenders third wheel. In the event you’re dating a gluten-free person and have no idea how to impress them aside from cooking some brown rice pasta, bringing them to a cider-focused place is a good move.
Including this spot on the dating guide is like including underwear on a packing list: implied common knowledge, but better safe than sorry. Fainting Goat has the first date market cornered. The vibe is nice but casual, and not only is the menu good, it’s also succinct – making it easy to eye over quickly without pausing the natural flow of banter. For a less date-y scene, stop by for brunch.
If you accidentally blew your travel budget on national conference fees and fancy business cards, consider Compass Rose a substitute for actual jet setting. Inspired by street foods from all over the world, this menu is a leap of faith, serving kefta and poké from the same kitchen. Perfect for testing the waters on a second or third date, try the khachapuri (a cheesy Georgian bread bowl that you have to Instagram as a rite of passage), and stay for the bright colors and prints.
Just a ten-minute walk from the Convention Center (and like a bajillion law firms), this upscale Italian restaurant tends to fill up with suits, so if you’re trying to play grownup, you’re in the right place. Centrolina has a changing menu, but you can always count on handmade pastas and other Italian classics like crudo, octopus, burrata, and branzino. If things are going well, make your way through CityCenter’s pretty lights to the Dolcezza gelateria after dinner. If your date’s too full, he’s not the one.
If your real date activity is at the Verizon Center, this is the perfect spot to grab dinner before or after. Alternatively, if dinner is the main event, Graffiato works great for a first or second date – you can order quick and easy small plates and leave it there or, if things go well, upgrade to larger dishes. The aesthetic is industrial and cool, but what we love most is that they serve mule cocktails in proper metal mugs.
While the original location on Florida Avenue doesn’t allow alcohol, the second installment of Thai X-ing (just a few blocks away) offers both a full bar and a BYOB option. We like the prix fixe ($30-$40/person) dinner they do every night. You’ll get five to seven preset courses, including the awesome pumpkin curry. For picky eaters who hate surprises, you can order a la carte at the bar, and be sure to date all your vegetarians on either Tuesday or Sunday nights when the restaurant goes meatless.
Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s boat (no, really), this is a cool spot to check out with an English major – or even an econ major who studied abroad in Spain six years ago and still insists on sporting a man bun and packing his own cigarettes. Bar Pilar is a restaurant up top and a bar below deck – so you can stick to just drinks or have yourself a real dinner. With small plates consisting of meat, fish, and vegetable options, the menu has something for everyone – and the cocktails are nice and boozy, making this place an ideal first stop before setting out for a night on U Street.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: you don’t have to leave Iron Gate feeling like you’ll never afford anything other than Cava ever again. Ditch the $90 prix-fixe menu in the separate dining room and take advantage of the romantic fire-pitted outdoor patio or bar area. Both are really nice settings for a second date, especially if you’re still doing the whole “just drinks and appetizers” thing because you’re not ready to shell out all of your hard-earned pizza dollars on internet strangers.
Etto is a casual spot to grab wood-fired pizzas and drinks. If you’ve already had one solid date and now work and travel schedules are posing a challenge for date number two, this is the place to schedule a low-key Sunday night hang to keep the momentum going. While the pizza menu remains consistent (save a few seasonal rotations), most of the appetizers and charcuterie options change daily so we hope you can bear the suspense. If your date is more of the Netflix variety, Etto also offers its full menu for takeout after 5pm.
This Latin American wine bar offers plenty of appetizers and small plates, but much to our pleasant surprise, large plates and tortas (AKA sandwiches, if you took Latin in high school to pass the SATs) as well. Ruta does wines by the glass and bottle, and the staff is super friendly and helpful. Should your date insist on whipping out the camera roll to show you other people’s babies (AKA nieces and nephews), we recommend asking them for their strongest bottle.
A coffee shop serving breakfast classics by day and a Colombian restaurant by night, The Royal is an intimate, trendy spot you wish fewer people knew about. Because this place is pretty tiny, you’ll likely have to put your name down and then bide time at a nearby bar, so save this place for a later date with someone you feel comfortable sustaining more than a hour of conversation with. Once you’re seated, we vouch for the arepas and cocktails.