Most bad dates would be excusable if they came with a great meal. I haven’t gone on hundreds of them, but I did a representative sampling of first dates during my return from a long period of singledom and I went on a lot of outings with boyfriends (pretty sure those count as dates). My sole gap in dating knowledge is those planned “date nights” that married people arrange in order to give the impression that they are still just as in love as they were when they first met.
My first dates consistently included anxiety, alcohol, and patience. Watching a man quaff copious amounts of beer and talk about his dysfunctional family for four hours often made me less giddy and girlish and more curious about seeking a degree in psychotherapy (I am clearly a wonderful counselor). Dates with boyfriends varied, but generally centered on pub food, good local beer, and, in the case of one boyfriend, a visit to every playground roundabout in Portland. Sadly, the luxury table linens, expensive wine, gourmet meal route is where I’m not as well traveled. In hindsight, had it been, I like to think I would have made a lot fewer bad decisions.
When we asked a group of exceptional chefs to name a restaurant with the best date night offerings, some went the fine dining route and some stuck to places that held special meaning or that serve as the locale for their current date nights. These are the sorts of meals that would make you happy to counsel a stranger about his mother’s inability to love. Read through the responses, think about taking someone on a date, and hop into the comments to tell us about a memorable romantic meal.
4 Charles (New York, NY)
Chef Anne Thornton — Executive Chef, 33 Greenwich (New York, NY)
I generally like to try new places with dates, but one of my favorites is 4 Charles. It is the coziest, most beautiful space on Charles Street; you feel like you’ve walked into the most perfectly curated mahogany library. The burger is to die for, and the ice cream sundae comes plated on a silver tray with little candies you can add yourself, a fun way to end the date. Beatrice Inn is a very close second.
Departure (Portland, OR)
Chef José Chesa — Chef and Co-owner, 180 and Ataula (Portland, OR)
My wife and I always have a great time when we go, and the food is perfection! I always feel like a great husband when I take my wife or the family here! We eat like kings; I order rice, curries, sushi, wings, salad. I mean I always eat more than I need to, but it’s just one of those places I can’t get enough of.
Felix Trattoria (Venice, CA)
Chef Julio Hawkins — Executive Chef, Fly-n-Fish Oyster Bar & Grill (Newport Beach, CA)
The ambiance is fun, hip, not too loud very well-crafted cocktails, and there’s a pasta room that if you’re lucky enough to sit in front of, you’ll see Chef Evan Funke rolling pasta. A big thumbs-up to Chef Evan Funke as he’s created the closest to traditional rustic Italian cuisine. Everything was incredible! Some of my favorites include the focaccia, squash blossoms, grilled octopus, and the rigatoni with guanciale. This place is a true gem!
True Kitchen (Pasadena, CA)
Chef Melissa Rosen — Chef and Co-owner, Locali Healthy Convenience (Hollywood, CA)
For a date night, I am a sucker for True Kitchen. Their food is made with clean ingredients with an emphasis on health, but the flavors are powerful. They also have fantastic cocktails and hand-crafted non-alcoholic wellness beverage concoctions. The lighting is romantic at night and the service is always impeccable. I love to start any meal there with their edamame dumplings. The white truffle oil broth used in the recipe gives any meal at True a sexy start.
NOBU Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
Chef Nick Kayser — Executive Chef, Vesta (Denver, CO)
My favorite date night spot has to be NOBU Hong Kong. Chef Sean Mell is truly a master behind the sticks in the kitchen there, and as we all know there’s more to a dining experience than the food. There’s the beverages, the service, the tastes, smells, textures… and the setting. NOBU, perched right on Victoria Harbour in the Intercontinental Hotel in Kowloon, boasts unparalleled views at night that are just the right counterpoint to the sleek, clean and soothing interior that’s designed to recall the Japanese countryside. On a really special date night, you gotta go there — nothing sexier than the full-ride experience at NOBU.
Mais Arepas (New Orlean, LA)
Chef Isaac Toups — Chef and Owner, Toups Meatery and Toups South (New Orleans, LA)
Amanda (Toups) and I have date night every Tuesday night. It’s essential when you not only work together, but have two kids and two restaurants together. Seventeen years in and we are still going strong. Having said that, we like to go pretty casual for date night. We dine out frequently, so when it’s date night we don’t usually want to be fussed over. We are just looking to be together and not overanalyze the food or service. One of our favorites is Mais Arepas. It’s a great Colombian restaurant in Central City, New Orleans. They know us there and take great care of us but in a super casual way. The food is amazing, especially the ceviches and obviously the arepas. They have a great appreciation for pork belly so I relate to that.
Vincent’s Italian Cuisine (New Orleans, LA)
Chef Carl Schaubhut — Chef and Co-Owner, DTB (New Orleans, LA)
My favorite date night place is Vincent’s in New Orleans. It’s a go-to, no brainer for my wife and I. It’s old school Creole-Italian and the ambiance and nostalgia is unbeatable. As a chef, it’s important that I take the time to be with my wife and focus on her and not critique the restaurant that I am dining in. The restaurant seats about 50 people and is usually absolutely packed. It’s one of those places where the staff knows you by name. It’s always perfect and the dishes are real delicacies – veal, pasta, crab meat and more.
Brigtsen’s Restaurant (New Orleans, LA)
Chef Cody Carroll — Chef and Co-Owner, Sac-a-Lait (New Orleans, LA)
The ultimate date night experience is undoubtedly at Brigtsen’s in New Orleans. It is the one true restaurant that completely encompasses and expresses everything romantic about our city. Chef Frank Brigtsen pulls something off there that many chefs strive for but always come up “short”: relaxed yet impeccable service (which immediately sets the mood), perfect execution of REAL New Orleans cooking (which will have your date culinarily revved up) and personal touch (which will hopefully transfer in your favor later in the night). You’re welcome.
Café Roval (Miami, FL)
Chef Santiago Gomez — Executive Chef, Cantina La Veinte (Miami, FL)
Café Roval, located in Miami’s Upper East Side, is the perfect spot for a date night. Inside a 1923 old coral house you will find the perfect atmosphere for a romantic dinner. I recommend sitting outside to enjoy the lush garden view and pond. It has a bistro-driven menu complete with mussels, oysters, octopus, fish, meat and other options. I love it!
Yakko-San (Miami, FL)
Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli — Executive Chef, Glass & Vine (Miami, FL) and Owner/Chef, Eating House (Miami, FL)
Date night to me usually means lots of small plates to encourage sharing and conversation. My go-to spot is Yakko-San in North Miami.
Christy’s Restaurant (Miami, FL)
Chef Raul A. Del Pozo — Executive Chef, Lightkeepers (Miami, FL)
With so many to choose from, I’d have to say Christy’s in Coral Gables, Florida. The live jazz piano, warm wood tones, amazing artwork, and dim lighting definitely set the tone. Start with an amazing bottle of wine from their cellar and pair it with the house escargot and beef carpaccio – it’s absolutely to die for! The steaks are cooked to perfection. You definitely have to finish the night with a French pressed coffee and a Baked Alaska.
Bazaar Mar by José Andrés (Miami, FL)
Chef Alex Q. Becker — Executive Chef, Kuro at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Bazaar Mar by José Andrés is a great date night spot. From the décor to the menu, it’s a perfect place for my wife and me on those rare nights out. We particularly like the uni soufflé with the soy caramel and sansho peppercorn.
Jo’s Sushi Bar (Pleasant Hill, CA)
Chef Oscar Cabezas — Executive Chef, Teleferic Barcelona (Walnut Creek, CA)
My perfect date night would be at Jo’s Sushi Bar in Pleasant Hill, riding between makis, sushi and hot Sake drinks. The reason I love the bar is because they give a more casual setting and compel you to socialize with the environment, giving rise to an unpredictable scenario. Jo’s Sushi bar is a temple of education and sybaritic people: the conception of space is a veneration to the product of quality and a personalized service. At Jo’s there are no flourishes, tendencies, or artifices; there is only sincerity, service and product. At Jo’s there is no product or obligatory dish except the one that is coolest and tastiest: thus it is impossible not to hit!
Mastro’s Ocean Club (Newport Beach, CA)
Chef Nathaniel Nguyen — Executive Chef and Co-owner, Jinny’s Pizzeria, Paloma’s Paletas, Rooster Republic and Milk Man Ice Cream (Santa Ana, CA)
My boyfriend and I went on our first date together at Mastro’s Ocean Club in Newport Beach, CA. This restaurant checks everything on the list for a perfect date. Great food, a beautiful ocean view backdrop & impeccable service. You could say it worked because we are still together!
5th & Taylor (Nashville, TN)
Chef Garrett Pittler — Executive Chef, City Winery Nashville (Nashville, TN)
The best date night place ever…and I need to think of what my wife would say because if I name a place I’ve never taken her before I’m in trouble…would probably be 5th & Taylor in Nashville. The food’s great, and going there makes my wife really happy and date night should be all about making your significant other happy. If it was up to me, we’d go to Five Guys on date night.
Frascati (San Francisco, CA)
Chef Andrew Greene — Executive Chef, Duchess (Oakland, CA)
My favorite date night spot to take my beautiful wife is Frascati located on the corner Hyde and Green street in Russian Hill. This restaurant makes you feel like you have been transformed to France or Italy. Beautiful and honest food as well as great service. I love to sit upstairs and stare out at the beautiful alley outside creating that amazing feeling that you are someplace other than SF.
La Folie (San Francisco, CA)
Chef Yosuke Machida — Executive Chef, Chambers Eat & Drink (San Francisco, CA)
La Folie on Polk and Green, I used to work at that restaurant. I have a lot of great memories of that place — beautiful, romantic, and elegant, real French Cuisine with a lot of love made by Chef Roland Passot. You must try the pig feet!