Going out to eat with your honey is probably one of the best date ideas in NYC. And not all of the most romantic restaurants in the city are pricey and hard to book—there are just as many budget-friendly first-date restaurants as there are splurgeworthy dinners for an anniversary, birthday or just a special Saturday night out. Use our guide to find the most romantic restaurants for you and your boo, then grab after-dinner drinks at one of the most romantic bars.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in NYC
Most romantic restaurants in NYC
Many people consider the River Café to be the best restaurant in Brooklyn, and it is probably the most expensive. The romantic waterside eatery, which could easily skate by on its gorgeous views of downtown Manhattan, has spawned a long roster of great chefs, including Charlie Palmer (Aureole), David Burke (davidburke & donatella) and Rick Moonen (RM, Oceana). Current chef Brad Steelman lives up to his predecessors with two exquisite prix-fixe menus: three courses (you choose) or six courses (he chooses). Stellar dishes include fresh oysters with lemon pepper granita, rack of lamb or lobster specials. For dessert, few can resist the chocolate marquise Brooklyn Bridge, shaped like its sparkling namesake.
Chef Dan Barber’s upstate branch of his Manhattan eatery is a locavore's mecca—anyone who professes an interest in where their food comes from needs to make a pilgrimage there at least once. Situated on an expansive working farm, the restaurant features produce and meats that come directly from the surrounding fields: Pigs that graze just outside the window arrive on the table in preparations fine-tuned to the seasons. They may appear as sesame-coated strips of pancetta wrapped around deep-fried asparagus stalks, or perhaps as meaty cuts with a bright and sweet carrot sauce. Don't miss the vegetable-driven cocktails, such as a verdant margarita that's tart with pureed sorrel, and be sure to reserve enough time to explore the property.
New York’s haute French dinosaurs (including Lutece, La Cote Basque and La Caravelle ) have basically gone extinct over the past few years. La Grenouille, which opened in 1962, is the last survivor, a window to when stuffy waiters and chateaubriand were considered the highest form of dining. It doesn’t get much snootier: jackets are required, cell phones and kids forbidden, and the electric red décor, full of mirrors and flowers and deco details, has the feel of a Mad Men power lunch. That said, La Grenouille endures for a reason: the execution, whether tender, fried sweetbreads, buttery Dover sole with a mustard sauce or five types of pillowly soufflé, remains near flawless. You pay for the flashback—at $95, the three-course prix fixe runs what a full-blown tasting menu does at other top spots, and that’s before numerous insulting supplements and the heavy-hitter wine list. Living history comes at a price.
White brick columns, vaulted ceilings and chandeliers dripping with lamps—Le Coucou is a dramatic and gorgeous showstopper from restaurateur Stephen Starr (Buddakan, Morimoto) and chef Daniel Rose. Share an intimate meal of celery-root remoulade, lobster américaine or rabbit cooked three ways over a tall candle set right in the middle of the table.
An upmarket shrine to the simple pleasures of the Italian coastline, the project is a gutsy gamble from a chef with bravado to burn. Marea features an enormous menu, daunting prices and almost maniacal optimism (is there another spot in town offering Petrossian special reserve caviar at $385 an ounce?).
It is said that the French invented love. And Augustine from Keith McNally (Balthazar, Cherche Midi) is mighty French. Decorated with floral murals and chandeliers, it’s a rococo dream in the new Beekman Hotel restaurant. Enjoy the steak tartare or rotisserie chicken under the warm lights and weathered ceiling.
The placement of Dominque Bistro looks like something out of a movie. On the picture-perfect, curved intersection of Christopher and Gay Streets in the West Village, the French sleeper hit has floor-to-ceiling windows, a long bar and an elegant neighborhood feel. Try squid ink linguine with peekytoe crab or steak frites with whole grain mustard for a satisfying meal. Or skip the meal in favor of a bottle of Côtes du Rhône to feel truly Parisian.
Strictly speaking, the mash-up of restaurant and retail food shop makes sense. You pop in to browse, and you stick around for a meal. But in New York, the combination has been an awkward fit. Il Buco’s casual offshoot—one part winecentric restaurant (Vineria), one part gourmet food pantry (Alimentari)—pulls off the combo more elegantly. The two halves of the former warehouse space share a single uncluttered aesthetic. The retail portion is artfully curated like a miniature Dean & DeLuca, with dangling hams and bespoke hunks of cheese, high-end sauces and condiments arrayed on antique shelves like interior-design baubles. Though the fancy provisions are separated from the dining room by a wall of Modena vinegar barrels, the open kitchen’s wood-burning aromas still consume every inch of the place. In the evenings, when votives flicker and classic jazz serenades on the stereo, there are plenty of inducements to abandon shopping for dinner at a big wooden table or the marble-topped bar.
After reinventing itself, this French bistro in Williamsburg now serves even more affordable classics, like cassoulet and bouillabaisse, than it did when it first opened. In the back, a nineteenth-century–style wine lounge with antique furniture and a functioning fireplace opens onto a small garden space.
The dining room at Peasant, one of downtown’s most celebrated Italian restaurants, is equal parts rustic and urban chic. Cement floors and metal chairs give the place an unfinished edge, while the gaping brick-oven and lengthy wooden bar provide the telltale old-world notes. Dishes that emerge from the fire are particularly good. This includes gooey speck-wrapped bocconcini (mozzarella), which arrive at the table bubbly and molten. Choose the succulent proteins, like the fork-tender porchetta or gamey lamb with smooth polenta, over the disappointingly gummy gnocchi, dressed with an otherwise pleasant creamy rabbit ragù.
Looking for Valentine’s Day date ideas?
Empire Steak House – East
For the classic New York steakhouse experience, look no further than Empire Steak House. Start with an hors d'oeuvre like jumbo shrimp cocktail ($21.95), a Maryland crab cake ($18.95) and French onion soup ($8.95). Carnivores might have a hard time deciding on a main course, though—choices include a Kobe burger ($28.95), dry-aged emperor’s steak for two ($129.95) or a twelve-ounce Wagyu ribeye ($275). Chilean sea bass ($35.95) and spaghetti with lobster ($36.95) might tempt seafood lovers, too. There are plenty of steakhouse sides to go with your meat, like truffled mac and cheese ($15.95), creamed spinach ($10.95) and a jumbo baked potato ($6.95). If you somehow still have room for sweets, the dessert menu is also quite extensive, with treats like apple strudel a la mode ($13.95), chocolate lava cake ($10.95) and creme brulee ($9.95).
Venue says: “Host your private event in our upstairs mezzanine with a full bar or downstairs in our private wine room.”