Ever since this Oaxacan spot got a Michelin star, your girl can’t even get a seat at the bar. I’m not mad, though, since the accolade is well-deserved. The space is dark and intimate, the food is consistently delicious, and the bartender’s always ready with an excellent recommendation. The small menu ensures that every item is recommended: order the tongue, or the goat, or the pork cheek. It all pairs perfectly with the mezcal selections that’ll make your mouths taste like smoke when you kiss at the end of the night.
Lower East Side
This oyster bar is always packed and noisy, so you’ll be huddled close together while you slurp ‘em down. Lots of small plates -- calamari, pâté, tartare -- allow you to share the love while sipping on your (extremely Instagrammable) pisco sours or pink negronis. This spot’s a little more relaxed than some others known for romance, so you can enjoy the oysters and ambiance without feeling anxious about spilling mignonette sauce all over your clothes.
French food is romance, and Le Coucou does it up decadently. The restaurant itself is dim and hushed -- ideal for declarations of love. With candles on the tables and caviar in Champagne beurre blanc, it’s the place to pick for celebrating, apologizing, or just showing off. Vegetarians may find it hard to order, as “tout le lapin” (translation: all of the rabbit) and pigeon are both on the menu. Some New Yorkers, however, will relish the opportunity to exact a brief, sweet revenge against pigeons.
Park Slope, West Village
If French food is romance, omakase is sex. Rich, slippery uni; fat pink tuna; the taste of the ocean in a scallop, urged open. Omakase, roughly translated, means “I leave it to you,” and Sushi Katsuei does the prix-fixe, chef-directed menu right, with an affordable-ish menu ($72/pp in Park Slope, $87/pp in the West Village) of sushi and sashimi. You can order à la carte, too, but where’s the spontaneity in that? If you’re still hungry after, do what my husband and I do: Stop by the closest pizza shop for a couple of slices and scarf them down on the street.
It doesn’t get more classic than dinner-and-a-movie, and Alamo combines the two. Choose a romantic movie, order from their legitimately good menu, and let date night begin. Make sure to get the truffle Parmesan popcorn -- there’s nothing like the high school thrill of your fingers meeting in the bottom of the bowl. You can order a pretty solid Old Fashioned or a can of Tecate “Wild Style” (with hot sauce, salt, and lime) to work up the liquid courage to put your arm over your date’s shoulder.
Located inside the Greenwich Hotel, this rustic Italian restaurant has long tables, a stone fireplace, and lots of opportunities to eat black truffles. Get a seat by the huge windows looking out at the courtyard and pretend you’re in Italy, not downtown Manhattan. The vibe at Locanda Verde is pretty relaxed, considering the prices ($72 for a chicken for two), so go ahead and loosen your tie. If all goes well, there’s always the possibility of hotel sex: so many mirrors!
This 20,000-square-foot market in Industry City isn’t a sit-down restaurant, but it’s still one of the most romantic places to share a meal. With takoyaki and udon stalls, fish and meat vendors, and a grocery store full of Japanese treats, it allows you to wander together, sampling new or familiar things. Take turns choosing, load up your arms with your haul, and share it in one of Industry City’s courtyards. The place is always bustling, but that just means you’ll have to hold hands.
One if By Land is on every Most Romantic list, and for good reason: If you’re looking for a spot to drop a diamond ring in a champagne flute, you’ve found it. With a tasting menu, white linens, and an almost-guaranteed front row view of proposals, One if By Land screams romance. The carriage house-cum-restaurant is allegedly haunted by former owner Aaron Burr, so if you can score tickets to Hamilton after your reservations, you’ll have successfully pulled off the Best Date Ever.
I happen to believe that John’s has the best slice in the city, which already pushes this pizza shop into aphrodisiac territory. Add in the smell of burst tomatoes and small wooden benches carved with countless names, and you’ve got real affection without all of the fuss. Bring a pen knife to carve your initials (just don’t get caught, and if you do -- you didn’t hear it from me). If you go on a Saturday night, you might have to wait in line, but why not make a little time for love in the middle of the week?
Upper West Side
Head down the rose-petal-strewn stairs and into Shalel Kitchen’s cave-like dining room, which is lit with candles and red lanterns. Try the baked dates, stuffed with almonds and bacon, and the firm, salty halloumi. It’s a little on-the-nose, romance wise, but that’s part of its charm. Lean into the feeling, order a Scheherazade -- with rye whiskey and peychaud's bitters -- and start spilling your most intimate secrets.
This authentic red sauce joint has been open since 1958, and it shows. It’s got white linen tablecloths, flower arrangements on every table, bowing waiters, and Amore piped into the bathroom stereo. Is it cheesy? Yeah, maybe, but it’s also eye-wateringly delicious and romantic in an old-fashioned sort of way. It doesn’t have square ice cubes or expensive light fixtures, but it inspires real closeness with your companion. Order off the huge list of specials or split a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, Lady and the Tramp style.
Romance can be found in Aquavit’s formal dining room, where the prix fixe starts at $115 per person, but it’s even more romantic at the bar. There, cozy Norwegian hygge has been foregone in favor of dark wood, high seats, and a handful of tables for two. The bar menu is à la carte, letting you eat your way through Scandinavia with gravlax, shrimp skagen, and marzipan-laced princess cakes. Order a glass of mulled glögg or a flight of three house-made Aquavits -- the Scandinavian spirit the restaurant’s named for -- and pretend you’re in the frozen North, where the only thing to keep you warm is each other.
Lower East Side
If you’re ready to say “Let’s make love” but you’re not quite ready to say “I love you,” head to Mister French for a night of French-ish cuisine, bonkers cocktails, and burlesque. Stick to the sharing menu, where you can linger over duck with kumquat and hot honey, wagyu tongue with truffle celery, and bacon au poivre with uni. If it all sounds a little over-the-top, that’s very much the point -- knock back a sparkly Veuve ”Champagne Pearls” cocktail or, if you’re really trying to impress your date, some Louis XIII cognac at $90 per half-ounce. There’s burlesque on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, so plan accordingly if you want to -- comment dites-vous? -- ah, oui! -- set the mood.
Housed in an old warehouse (in this case, the former sculpture storage facility for MoMA), with white brick walls inside, Faro is Extremely Romantic: The wood-burning oven sends warmth through the space, and the open kitchen produces pasta dishes that can stand up against the best of Manhattan. Order more pasta than you think the two of you could possibly eat -- they’re all served in small portions to encourage tasting, swapping, and tasting again. It’s right off the L train at Jefferson, but if you’re going for a night of romance, you should probably spring for a Lyft.
The Brooklyn Ikea is like New York Presbyterian for committed relationships. You go there to die, or -- miracle! -- to be born. Take the ferry to Red Hook, make out on a couple of mattresses, and feel superior to the couples who are whisper-arguing about whether the Fjӓllbo will fit in their living room. When you’re finished, eat some sweet-ish Swedish meatballs (they really are good, and flecked with lingonberries) and some of the fussy pink almond fondant cakes. After, take a long stroll by the water before popping the question: Will you delete your dating apps with me?