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Foreign Cinema
Photograph: Courtesy Foreign Cinema

The 16 most romantic restaurants in San Francisco

Head to the most romantic restaurants in San Francisco to keep the spark alive

By Lauren Sheber and Virginia Miller

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 idea featuring affordable grub and tea lights might be all that's necessary to get the heart racing. For others, white tablecloths and an affordable tasting menu 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 in San Francisco that cover every scenario—all you need is your appetite.

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Romantic restaurants in San Francisco

Beef fat waffles at Nightbird
Photograph: Virginia Miller

1. Nightbird

Restaurants Californian Hayes Valley

At Kim Alter’s tasting-menu-only Nightbird you and your date can relax while savoring fine-dining-worthy courses like "meatloaf” beef tartare or Hokkaido scallops layered in paper-thin matsutake mushrooms. Impress bae by starting or ending the night in Nightbird’s hidden back bar, Linden Room

Foreign Cinema
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Dave Whelan

2. Foreign Cinema

Restaurants Californian Mission

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. 

Zuni Café
Photograph: Flickr/ Derrick S.

3. Zuni Café

Restaurants Californian Hayes Valley

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 permits) makes this space the place to see and be seen, especially before and after symphony and opera events.

Photograph: Flickr/Dale Cruse

4. Cotogna

Restaurants Italian Jackson Square

This California-Italian hybrid is everything you want in a date-night spot. 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.

Photograph: Flickr/GmanViz

5. Trestle

Restaurants Californian Downtown

For couples on a budget, it’s hard to find a better deal than Trestle, where a high quality 3-course dinner costs just $38 per person. You can expect exceptional ingredients, a smart craft beer and wine list and skilled service in the intimate North Beach space. Dishes change regularly with the seasons, but the add-on pasta course (just $10 more) is often the highlight of the meal. 

Petit Marlowe
Photograph: Aubrie Pick

6. Petit Marlowe

Restaurants French SoMa

Petit Marlowe feels like a tucked-away Parisian bistro where they happen to have NorCal seafood on the menu. Share an intimate moment over raw bar delicacies and impeccable shellfish and seafood platters. Also on the menu: braised short ribs, pressed sandwiches and French onion soup with wine, ciders and sparkling wines to wash it all down. 

Pläj Scandinavian Restaurant & Bar
Photograph: Courtesy Pläj


Restaurants Hayes Valley

Looking for something a little adventurous for date night? Book a table at Plaj for new Nordic cuisine in a cozy setting. Chef Roberth pulls from his native Sweden for rarities like aged matjes herring, beet cured gravlax with sea buckthorn sorbet or Swedish meatballs. Finish with a shot of house-infused aquavit by the fire.

Photograph: Flickr/T.Tseng

8. Avery

Restaurants Western Addition

Avery is tiny and warm with decadent dishes like sea urchin and caviar and savory pecan cheese buckwheat tartlet and poached oysters with chorizo, meyer lemon and cauliflower. Upping the romance quotient, the restaurant also boasts a Champagne-only pairing showcasing France’s vibrant wine range, from sour natural beauties to refined brut rosés.

Bix bar
Photograph: Flickr/Jeremy Brooks

9. BIX

Restaurants Californian Jackson Square

Hidden down a FiDi alley, Bix has been bringing 1930s-themed supper club romance to SF since 1988, complete with live piano jazz and martinis shaken tableside. Helmed by chefs Emmanuel Eng and Bruce Hill, the food is classic but not dated, whether you opt for caviar and blini, a la minute (made-to-order) ceviche or their beloved chicken hash.

Photograph: Flickr/ Premshree Pillai

10. Firefly

Restaurants American Noe Valley

Brad Levy and Veva Edelson opened this tranquil Noe Valley gem in 1993 and it’s been the poster child for an ideal neighborhood restaurant ever since. For romance of the homey kind, Firefly’s comfort food delights, whether you order the signature fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, to more creative changing plates like Japanese sweet potato tostones in a spicy pomegranate-ginger glaze. Save room for heartwarming desserts like apple galette with brown sugar sour cream ice cream.

Photograph: Flickr/Lou Stejskal

11. Californios

Restaurants Mexican Mission

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 every season with rotating dishes like lobster tacos, wagyu steak, and foie gras-garnished churros. Splurge for the beverage pairing, which typically includes wine, beer, and cider.

Sushi at Robin in Hayes Valley
Photograph: Ana Kamin

12. Robin

Restaurants Japanese Hayes Valley

This hip spot 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. 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.

Soft serve ice cream at Tartine Manufactory
Photograph: Ana Kamin

13. Tartine Manufactory

Restaurants Bakeries Mission

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. The wood-on-white space is somehow both chic and calming while giant orb paper lanterns glow overhead. The menu consists of upscale comfort food, from roast chicken and fresh pasta to deftly dressed veggies and a daily-baked array of breads.

Del Popolo
Photograph: Liam Passmore

14. Del Popolo

Restaurants Pizza Lower Nob Hill

Del Popolo’s brick-and-mortar dining room, arranged around a green-tiled kitchen island and massive wood-fired pizza oven, offers something the famous food 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. 

Kokkari Estiatorio
Photograph: Courtesy Kokkari Estiatorio

15. Kokkari Estiatorio

Restaurants Greek Downtown

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. 

Photograph: Flickr/Caroline Pardilla

16. Serpentine

Restaurants Contemporary American Dogpatch

Serpentine is classic Dogpatch: artsy and industrial-cool with a 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.

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