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 Instagram friends.
There are a lot of reasons to take a date to The Red Hen, like the open kitchen and stacked firewood that make the space feel a little bit like that cabin you’ve been eyeing on Airbnb. Or the menu, which includes very good Italian food, cheese, and meats that are perfect for sharing. Make a reservation or come early, but if you’re stuck waiting, grab a drink from the bar and discuss how many pastas you should order.
This Shaw spot has a great patio, which is partly covered by an old greenhouse and has heat lamps for the nights when a low of 70 mysteriously becomes 50. If the conversation starts to lull, order some cocktails in Capri Sun-style pouches and talk about how much you miss the 90s. And if the opposite happens and you want to turn a quick drink into an actual meal, the small menu has plenty of shareable options like mac and cheese and hummus.
Rasika is an Indian fine-dining restaurant in Penn Quarter that’s a great alternative to your usual spots for a big night out. While you don’t need to wear a suit, use dinner as an excuse to get a little dressed up and finally break out the shirt that’s been living in the back of your closet for months. There’s something for everyone on the menu, regardless of whether you’re vegetarian or a devoted carnivore. And if you’re using tonight to celebrate something really big, go all out out with the tasting menu and wine pairing.
When your date complains that you haven’t traveled together yet, ease into it by going to Le Diplomate, which is about as close to Paris as you can get without leaving DC. Everything on the menu is consistently good, but the steak frites and the trout amandine are two of our favorites. While you won’t have to sell your future first-born to get in, it will take some advance planning, as reservations are usually booked a couple weeks in advance, but that just means you’ll get credit for thinking ahead.
Adams Morgan isn’t the first place you think of for a nice night out. Thankfully though, Tail Up Goat is a few blocks north of where you’d worry about running into the interns from your office. Their menu is a little all over the place, but in a good way, with some Italian dishes, like the stracciatella, and a few pastas, alongside plenty of grilled meats and seafood. The space is small and dimly lit, and lies in between casual and white tablecloth, so you can get great food without having to get too dressed up. And they have a great bar where you should grab a drink while you wait for your table.
Mola is a low-key neighborhood spot in Mount Pleasant that only seats 45 at a time, with space for 10 at the bar. It’s perfect for when you’d like to be able to hear your date, as you discuss whether you should get another couple tapas to share (you should). The menu is broken into four sections - snacks, vegetables, seafood, and meat - and while most of the plates are small to medium sized, they do serve a few larger dishes that you can share, like the honey BBQ quail and the roast pork shoulder with paella. Also, make sure to get the fried goat cheese with honey, which tastes exactly as good as it sounds.
When your date suddenly tells you they’re going vegan this week, take them to Fancy Radish. While some vegan places rely too heavily on meat substitutes, here it’s all vegetables, all the time. The seasonal menu changes regularly, but the fancy radishes, dan dan noodles, and rutabaga fondue are three dishes we hope are available when you go. Everything on the menu is $12-$20, so you won’t feel too bad ordering one of their unique cocktails (made with things like olive oil, yuzu, and kombucha) that almost taste healthy and pair well with all of the vegetables you’ll be eating.
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 revealing you go by your middle name (April 4th). The pastas are great and the portions don’t make you feel like a bloated parade balloon. If you’re into sharing, get 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? It works for 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 street. 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.
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. Order the 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 place features an outdoor “cider” garden and 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 head to the bar and let one of the friendly bartenders third wheel. If 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 one of you will want to take a photo of), and stay for the bright colors and prints.
Just a ten-minute walk from the Convention Center (and about 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 or she’s not the one.
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 dinner ($30-$40/person) they do every night, which includes 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 good 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.
A coffee shop serving breakfast classics by day and a Colombian restaurant by night, The Royal is an intimate 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 can vouch for the arepas and cocktails.