There's a wide spectrum when it comes to defining a romantic restaurant in San Francisco. For new couples (and those who haven't had "the talk" yet), a cheap date featuring affordable grub and tea lights might be all that's necessary to get the heart racing. For others, white tablecloths and a prix-fixe meal might have you playing footsie all night before looking up the nearest luxury hotel. Whether the mood calls for a place that's classy and comfortable or a special-occasion splurge, we found a few romantic restaurants that cover every scenario—all you need is your appetite.
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Romantic restaurants in San Francisco
This Michelin-starred Mexican spot is sleek, but unfussy, from the mirrored, unmarked facade to the neon art in the restroom. With its black walls, low lighting, and vibrant art, the decor matches the food: splurgy and surprising. Slip into the leather banquette or snag a spot at the bar for a view of the open kitchen. Chef Val Cantu’s decadent, 16-course tasting menu changes seasonal—expect heart-stoppingly rich dishes like lobster tacos, wagyu steak, and foie gras-garnished churros. Splurge for the beverage pairing, which typically includes wine, beer, and cider.
This modern-Italian restaurant lends a feeling of throwback glamour, with gleaming tin ceilings, white tablecloths, and deep scarlet banquettes. The horseshoe-shaped bar up front is a great place to start, serving booze-forward, creative spins on classic cocktails (try the Rockefeller, made with scotch, Alessio Di Chinato, and allspice dram). Though the vibe is upscale, the menu runs the gamut, from homemade pastas and fish to a standout burger.
Want a whimsical twist on dinner and a movie? Though Foreign Cinema has been a Mission standby for nearly two decades, it remains one of the most stunning restaurants in town. The seasonal California fare is sourced from farms in Bolinas, Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Olema, complemented by an impressive 2,000-bottle wine list. Inside, you’ll find an elegant expanse of marble, stone and exposed beams under 18-foot ceilings. But the real draw is the outdoor patio, warmed by heat lamps and twinkling with string lights. The “cinema” comes in the form of the huge projector screen, where classic and contemporary movies play nightly.
This hip newcomer serves contemporary, local omakase in a bright, chic setting—from the fuchsia and rose mosaic tiles behind the bar to the camel-hued leather seats and watercolor blue wallpaper. Chef-owner Adam Tortosa trained under Katsuya Uechi in Los Angeles and previously worked at Akiko’s. The seasonal omakase-style menu progresses from lean to fatty fish; guests can expect standouts like starry flounder served with Meyer lemon, shiso, and blood-orange kosho and a bluefin shoulder marinated in poblano soy. The fish is interspersed with more hearty dishes like hand-pulled noodles covered in shaved black truffles and Japanese chimichurri and a milk bread toast topped with uni, uni butter, smoked maple-soy, and citrus.
This California-Italian hybrid is everything you want in a date-night spot (consider it the cool younger sister to chef Tusk’s fancier counterpart, Quince). The interior is industrial, but warm, with exposed brick walls and steel beams, a slatted wood ceiling and large picture windows. The entryway offers a glimpse of the wood-fired oven, usually packed with an array of tantalizing pizzas. The menu is rustic, but refined, including a daily-changing menu of spit-roasted meats, grilled fish and handmade pasta.
If you’ve only been to Manufactory for the line-out-the-door brunch, you’re missing out. In the evening, after the crowds die down, the ambiance turns downright dreamy. Designed by architect Charles Hemminger—the genius also behind Progress, Cala, and State Bird Provisions—the wood-on-white space is somehow both chic and calming. Giant orb paper lanterns glow overhead, glinting off the white Heath tiles and Doug fir beams. The menu consists of upscale comfort food, from roast chicken and fresh pasta to deftly dressed veggies and a daily-baked array of breads.
Since its opening in 1979, Zuni has developed a dedicated following as a destination restaurant that helped define fresh regional Northern California cuisine. Open for lunch, dinner and deep into the night, Zuni’s modern classics include their signature Caesar salad and brick-oven roasted chicken for two. The light-filled, glass encased dining rooms and sidewalk seating when the weather cooperates still makes this space the place to see and be seen, especially before and after symphony and opera events.
With its roaring fireplace, dark wood detailing, and uncommonly gracious service, this renowned Greek spot feels luxuriously old-school. Kokkari’s inventive brand of Hellenic cuisine hits the mark in their quest to create the “food of the gods.” Begin your meal with mezethes (small plates) like marithes tiganites (crispy smelt with garlic-potato skordalia and lemon, also affectionately referred to as “fries with eyes”) or some of the best grilled octopus in town. Once you’ve plowed through those, dig in to Kokkari’s traditional moussaka—a rich, creamy baked casserole of eggplant, lamb ragout and béchamel—or their famed lamb chops. For dessert? Various iterations of baklava and loukoumades, Greek donuts with honey, cinnamon and walnuts, round out the menu.
In 2015, Del Popolo upgraded from mobile pizza kitchen to permanent pizza purveyor in lower Nob Hill. Though they can still be found hocking pies out of their repurposed shipping truck, Del Popolo’s brick-and-mortar dining room, arranged around a green-tiled kitchen island and massive wood-fired pizza oven, offers something the truck can’t: wine. On the menu you’ll find a variety of small plates like house cured king salmon with apple, caper and horseradish to complement modern Neapolitan-style pizza classics like the “summer peppers” featuring cacciovalo and beef salami. Plus, the decor is swooningly Instagram-worthy, from the black walls to the gallery wall of oil paintings.
Serpentine is classic Dogpatch: artsy and industrial-cool. Though the beloved neighborhood spot underwent a renovation in 2017, the dining room is largely unchanged, recognizable by the same polished concrete bar, exposed brick walls, and soaring ceiling. The best seats in the house are the roomy leather booths up front; request one in advance. The fare is elevated American, including handmade pasta, grilled fish, oysters, and a standout fried chicken.