The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco’s Best Restaurants, Bars, and Cafes for Dates

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If you’re dating in San Francisco, chances are your experience will be fraught with equal parts awkwardness, dread, and joy. If you’re starting a new relationship, you might be stomping your way through town as we talk, exchanging shy, loving glances at crudo and pet nat. If you’ve been lucky enough to hold on to a long-term partner — maybe you’re moonlighting on OKCupid as a “happy, poly couple,” no judgment there — you might want to mix things up. things from time to time. One thing is certain, however: the city has no shortage of good nightspots.

Of course, romance can mean a lot of things to a lot of people – from the whimsical moods and settings that invite an impromptu subscription to Rent the Runway, to the just-right mix of darkness, good music and strong drinks. Or maybe it’s a dimly lit, delicious and affordable restaurant that makes for a great weekday outing. Either way, our ultimate dating guide — featuring some of the newest names in town — has you covered.

These restaurants have great lighting

Buddy’s interior in the Mission.
Albert Law

San Francisco has a penchant for spot lighting. In addition to making food photography difficult, overhead spotlights are hardly flattering – and everyone wants to look good on a date. At Boulevard, the historic institution recently renovated by Ken Fulk, everyone does indeed, thanks to a clever mix of Tiffany lamps and small brass light fixtures on the tables, arranged at different levels.

Then there is Lord Stanleywhich currently hosts a series of pop-ups called Turntable, where the lighting is designed to highlight the best features of each: the beautiful glow is achieved through various lights of different shapes and textures, which blend nicely with the pink neon lights framing the take-out display. Zuni Cafe always has impeccable lighting; head upstairs for a more secluded feel. And to the newcomer of the perpetually full Mission Boyfrienda mix of soft sconces and dark overhead paints everyone in the perfect peach hue.

Here are some chic (but affordable) dinner options

Hilda and Jesse’s colorful dining room in North Beach.
Patricia Chang

Dating in San Francisco can quickly get expensive. Sure, a $295 ticket meal is nice for a very rare occasion, but for those planning multiple outings in a month — and splitting the bill — finances matter. And yet, a date sometimes requires a sparkling atmosphere, an aura of occasion. How to reconcile the two? To get started, go to Hilda and Jesse Monday night, where an affordable three-course dinner for $45 (or a five-course culinary adventure for $75 per person) pairs well with the whimsical interiors and prime location around the corner from Washington Square Park.

For excellent people-watching and beautiful scenery, The Madrigal — walking distance to the San Francisco Ballet and Opera — looks and feels a lot more expensive than it really is (a cocktail and appetizer will set you back around $30). In the marina, Flores, festive and adorable with murals and chic design touches, is great for a night of inexpensive apps and a shared margarita pitcher. And there’s something about Easel — is it the brick wall, perhaps? – that still feels special without breaking the bank.

Try These Not-So-Obvious Cafes

For a casual day out, nothing beats a coffee. But where to drown first-date scares in high-quality beer and hopefully not meet your whole group of friends? Try The coffee movementa must-see spot in Nob Hill, with a perfectly located outdoor bench that you and your date can share.

On the other side of town, Coffee Center is easy to like. Located on the edge of South Park, it feels romantically European and gives the date an unexpected twist of novelty. Alarm Clock Coffee in Mission Bay is tucked away and looks great. But the most unique option of all? Smooth cooperative cafe inside La Cocina Municipal Market. Choose a sunny spot, browse cookbooks together, hide your embarrassment by people-watching – nothing bad can come out of this scenario.

Really sexy bars for a cocktail date

A look inside Cold Drinks Bar, China Live's stylish lounge bar in Chinatown.

A look inside Cold Drinks Bar, China Live’s stylish lounge bar in Chinatown.
Patricia Chang

When it comes to bar dates, there’s a delicate balance. Too rowdy, and the date could go wrong. Too boring, and the whole point of a sexy, booze-fueled moment is missed. But in the following places, everything is fine. To take ChezChez for example; Although it’s not “sexy” in the textbooks, its effortless vibe, cozy lighting, and sweet vermouth cocktails will lend a light and chic touch to any date.

There is also something sensual Arcana, a Mission newcomer with lots of plants, cozy nooks, and live musical performances. To Millay, the small bottle shop and the bar, the atmosphere is always there and the noise level allows for intimate communication, but not too excruciating. But sexy does not mean understated. A place like Cold Drinks Bar, neatly tucked away in Chinatown above China Live, offers an intentionally plush atmosphere and the opportunity to splurge on top-notch whiskey cocktails while comfortably seated on a leather sofa.

Where to stock up for an outdoor picnic

The well-stocked shelves of Tahona Mercado.

The well-stocked shelves of Tahona Mercado.
Tahona Market

When the weather warms up (but before San Francisco’s notoriously cold “summer” sets in), dining alfresco is a fun, low-stress option for a date, whether it’s the first or one of many. Would you like to present your gourmet chops as you take them? Then head to the little Alimentari Aurora to stock up on snacks, cheese and canned fish – taking on the challenge of opening it without splashing oil all over the place can be cute! – and Potrero Hill is full of charming places to consume the wares.

At sunset, queens is a popular destination for its interesting salads and cool new drinks, all ready to take to Golden Gate Park. New Tahona Market makes picnic shopping a breeze; the adorable self-proclaimed “Mexicatessen” offers pastries, chocolate, chips and salsa. For something more substantial, consider takeout at Square Pie Guys in Soma. Their brand new Souvla collab is a great conversation starter about your date’s fast and casual dining preferences.

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