There's a wide spectrum when it comes to defining a romantic restaurant. 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 hotel. We found a few romantic restaurants that cover every scenario—all you need is your appetite. From a French bistro to a pitch-black dining experience, these amorous eateries will make you swoon with every bite.
SF’s most romantic restaurants
This small Italian restaurant offers an ambiance to rival any Roman trattoria. Situated in the Potrero Hill district, Flour + Water is filled with googly-eyed diners gazing at each other in the candle light. The margherita pizza here is a back-to-basics must, but veterans know to splurge by upgrading to the mozzarella di bufala. Their pasta is also renowned, with varieties like fennel frond pappardelle, artichoke triangoli and green garlic cavatelli with braised tripe, pancetta and breadcrumbs. And of course, if you’re really feeling the love, don’t skip dessert. The chocolate pudding with espresso cream and sea salt will have you melting into a puddle.
If your significant other is a film buff, Foreign Cinema is an optimal date spot. With a Hollywood-esque vibe, this gourmet eatery screens movies like Rebel Without a Cause and Her in its outdoor courtyard beneath strings of glowing lights. The menu features seasonal California fare, including an urban picnic section with appetizers like a Monterey calamari with red Oaxaca mole and Santa Barbara smoked salmon with grapefruit, trout caviar and creamy celery root sauce. Foreign Cinema also serves brunch, featuring their acclaimed flakey, organic rhubarb and pear pop tarts. Swoon.
When your sense of sight is deprived, taste, smell, touch and sound are all heightened. That’s the idea behind Opaque’s unique dining in the dark experience, where blind and visually impaired waiters help diners enjoy a prix-fixe, three-course meal. Between courses, guests can sneak a game of footsie with each other under the table and imagine the seductive looks your dining companion is shooting your way. And the food? Apparently, the tuna tartare appetizer tastes even better when you close your eyes.
Dance with your sweetheart and nibble on tapas on the top floor of the classy Mark Hopkins hotel. Both the bar and restaurant are lined with massive windows, providing gorgeous, expansive views of the city and the Bay Bridge. The crowd here leans towards the older set, but that doesn't mean the dancing is any more subdued (live music starts at 8pm). Menu items include small plates like cheese platters, Dungeness crab bites, sliders, tacos and deviled eggs, and a martini menu that will give you good reason to clink glasses long into the night.
Miss Paris? Step into Chez Maman, a French bistro with simple decor and sumptuous food. On a warm night, diners sit at tables on the sidewalk and sip glasses of Bordeaux, or get cozy inside at the lengthy bar. Inspired by the nostalgia of a French mother’s kitchen, the menu is stocked with comfort food and classic dishes like mussels and fries, which are offered in a variety of styles: Provencale, Poulette, Mariniere and Thai. Dishes also include beef tartare, endive salad and flat iron steak. Feel free to impress your date and practice your French on the waiters, many of whom are native speakers.
If you’re dying to splurge and spend more than a Franklin (or two) per person, this incredibly indulgent spot is the place to go. A stone’s throw from Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, Gary Danko is where locals and in-the-know visitors alike come for special occasions. The restaurant is lined with mirrors, stocked with beautiful art and sprawling, vivid flower arrangements lit to perfection. At night, the lights are turned down low to make diners feel like they’re in a world all their own. Real foodies looking to indulge go for Danko’s five-course tasting menu; a recent version included glazed oysters with osetra caviar, salsify and lettuce cream followed by a seared beef filet with potato gnocchi and a cheese plate and dessert course.
You may not be able to experience the balmy winds of the Hawaiian islands firsthand, but Liholiho Yacht Club lets you have all the hard-to-find island cuisine you’ve been dreaming about. Tuna poké, twice-cooked pork belly with pineapple and Thai basil, fried rice with bay shrimp, spam and abalone mushrooms—all your Hawaiian favorites are here, many with a fresh twist. The exposed brick and breezy decor combines with great lighting and a fun, social vibe to make this a light-hearted first date spot.
Beautiful and folksy, this whimsical, traditional take on a German eatery has something for everyone. It’s all in the details here: the hand-written chalkboard menus, paper cut-out swallows that hang from the ceiling, a wood enclave with Christmas light-wrapped branches above and framed photos of traditional scenes from the motherland. The “Gemischter Salat” salad is a rainbow-colored delight and the potato pancakes with homemade applesauce are delicious. But the menu also features unique dishes like pickled herring with onions, apples, pickles and potatoes, as well as a winning wiener schnitzel—just like grandma used to make. If you have to wait to be seated, you and your date can share one of those boot-shaped glasses of Oktoberfest-worthy beer.
It’s hard to imagine North Beach without Tommaso’s, a staple of authentic Italian cuisine that’s been feeding lovestruck diners for around 80 years. Sit between nostalgic Italian murals in cozy, white tableclothed booths and start your meal with table wine and antipasti, then move on to the house specialty: freshly baked coo-coo clams. Meat-eaters will also be happy here with veal rollettini and baked chicken, along with divine pizzas to share with your sweetheart.
Emmy’s is Italian romance with a sense of humor. From the cute, hand-colored menus to the mish-mashed decor that combines animal print, faux taxidermy and a clothesline laden with laundry, all of it is mercifully lit by the soft glow of Christmas bulbs. With its back-to-basics menu, this spot is a place for lovers who want to bask in the kitsch and not take themselves too seriously. As the name suggests, pasta and meatballs (served family-style and preferably eaten in the style of Lady and the Tramp) is the main draw, along with classic Caesar salads and garlic bread. But they also have some unexpected dishes, like a cheese-stuffed, roasted Portobello mushroom appetizer, prawn Habanero risotto or zoodles (noodles made out of zucchini).