Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet Omar Khayyam once said, “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou” -- and while we can't speak to the erotic powers of bread, it's true that few things spark passion quite like a meal with someone you care about. Maybe that means white tablecloths and tuxedoed waitstaff, or sipping wine in a candlelit bistro, or watching the sunset in a beachside mansion; whatever your romantic culinary fantasy, San Diego can satisfy it. Whether you're heading out on a first date, celebrating an anniversary, or going rogue on an impromptu date night, you're bound to find a perfect evening at one of these 10 spots.
Middletown A chic supper club with bold cocktails Slip through the iconic hexagonal entryway and into one of the luxurious black leather banquettes at Starlite, Middletown’s retro-cool hot spot since 2007. The twinkling starburst over the rectangular bar and strategically lit stacked stone walls cast flattering light over everything; it’s just dim enough to cover a stolen kiss or two. The signature mules are popular choices from the solid cocktail menu that leans towards the strong and spirit forward. Late diners find a haven here, with comfort food like mac and cheese, a juicy burger and crispy shoestring fries or lush roasted bone marrow available until midnight.
Harbor Island Spectacular views and upscale Latin cuisine on the water Floor-to-ceiling glass, an expansive patio, and dazzling city views day or night make Coasterra perfect for a romantic date night (or morning-after brunch). Chef Deborah Scott’s upscale takes on traditional Latin dishes make fine use of her proximity to fresh seafood, and shine in her Mexican paella for two that includes a full quiver of shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, Mexican chorizo, and bomba rice steamed in aromatic saffron lobster broth. Margaritas are the obvious beverage of choice here; there’s a dozen unique versions to choose from, including tableside pitchers for the extra thirsty.
Coronado Island An elegant destination mere steps from the beach Enjoy world class sea-to-table cuisine in Serēa’s airy, sophisticated dining room; the cleverly raised floor in the main dining area means that everyone gets a great view of gorgeous sunsets, whether you’re seated inside or on the multi-level outdoor patio. This is the place to splurge on that expensive seafood tower, served either icy cold or lightly wood roasted and beautifully composed by Chef Jojo Ruiz, a James Beard Smart Catch Leader recipient in both 2019 and 2020 for his commitment to sustainable seafood practices. Pair your meal with a selection from the eclectic wine cellar or a luscious hand-crafted cocktail.
Del Mar Contemporary haute cuisine worthy of its Michelin star If you have to pull out all the stops, do it at Addison; stunning dark wood coffered ceilings, plush textiles, tufted banquettes, and arching panicles of orchids provide stately surroundings without feeling stuffy. Chef William Bradley creates contemporary French 5- and 10-course prixe fixe tasting menus that change frequently, and no detail is left to chance -- the most luxurious ingredients are used in dishes so meticulously planned and perfectly plated that you won’t want to defile them with a fork, but you’ll get over that quickly. Service, of course, is choreographed to be attentive without being intrusive, and the fun of seeing multiple white tablecloths whisked away and replaced with freshly steamed ones never gets old. Reservations are required, and certain dietary requests can be accommodated with at least 48 hours notice.
Bankers Hill A father-son team celebrate their Calabrian roots Bankers Hill scores again with the opening of Il Dandy, where high ceilings and exposed ductwork give the feel of a penthouse loft, while the Italian marble floors, tilework, and well-placed artwork add an unexpected elegance. The Michelin-starred father and son team at the helm, Antonio and Luca Abbruzzino, proudly display their culinary skills with contemporary Calabrian dishes. You could easily make a meal of the starters, such as smoked pork belly, tomato syrup and smoked eggplant cream, but there’s also plenty of pizza and pasta to indulge in, and, if you’re up for it, a short list of mains like Duroc pork chops and daily fish en papillote. For the ultimate experience, book a table at Arama, the 6-seat “restaurant within a restaurant” which serves a 12-course tasting menu along with an optional wine pairing.
Bankers Hill Traditional French cuisine and white tablecloth elegance The view at Mr. A's is the first thing you’ll notice, and it’s breathtaking both day and night. During the day you can sit outside and watch the jets descend to the runway at SAN, and by night, thousands of sparkling city lights dazzle almost as much as the food. Chef de cuisine Stephane Voitzwinkler artfully blends American, French, and Alsatian influences into dishes like duck confit tart with dino kale and pumpkin jam, or a strudel playing earthy forest mushrooms off sweet Maine lobster, napped in cognac lobster sauce. Mains straddle between the classics, think rosy pink duck breast and dry-aged ribeye, or modern takes on local swordfish and Georges Bay scallops. There’s also an argument to be made for brunch -- each month executive pastry chef John Brockway creates a new menu’s worth of handmade pastries, breads, donuts, jam and biscotti, plus a popsicle that’s perfect for dunking into a glass of bubbly, just for fun. Make reservations well in advance to nab a coveted window seat, and note that there is a dress code.
Kensington French comfort food in a cozy neighborhood rendezvous Warm, candlelit, and unassuming, Bleu Boheme fosters intimacy with moules frites prepared seven different ways, charcuterie and fromage boards, and nearly 30 wines served au pichet provide seductive starters perfect for sharing. Homey classics dominate the entree list, elevated even further by carefully crafted sides; Coquille St. Jacque, luxurious on its own, are flanked by broccolini, butternut squash puree, and fingerlings in a pool of sherry/port reduction, while Confit de Canard perches on creamy goat cheese polenta, a silky ratatouille, and mustardy chicken jus.
Mission Bay Pacific influences from an award-winning chef Tidal takes full advantage of its gorgeous indoor/outdoor space, set in the former private beach house of Hollywood producer Jack Skirball. Chef Andrew Reyes seamlessly blends Latin American, coastal Californian, and Pacific Rim influences with foods from his native Guam. Relax and enjoy the incredible 180o views from the patio while you feast on his award-winning Dried Scallop Congee with soy braised duck and pork, fried peanuts, fermented chilis, and shaved egg yolk as a first course, then indulge in delicacies like grilled whole striped sea bass with saffron escabeche, young ginger, and petite herbs and succulents. Finish things off with lilikoi (passion fruit) panna cotta, green tea meringue, white chocolate mousse, ginger curd, and toasted sesame clusters, accompanied by a perfectly pink sunset.
Liberty Station Share a table for two in a wine room Solare's comfy outdoor patios, inviting lounge, and spacious dining room offer multiple comfortable backdrops to enjoy executive chef Filippo Piccini's fresh pasta made daily in-house, as well as his pizze, antipasti, and traditional entrees with a Tuscan bent. Set yourself up for romance by booking the stunning private chef’s tasting room: a center-stage, wine-filled nook where the staff pampers you with specialties like Ossobuco di Maiale, Melanzana Tataki, or a 40-to-50-ounce porterhouse that’s measured the Tuscan way (it’s a full three-fingers thick). You’ll want something special to drink with that bad boy, and with over 2,000 wines in the cellar and more than 25 available by the glass, you’re sure to find the ideal pairing.
Middletown An inventive wine pairing dinner that won't empty your wallet Celebrate yourselves with one of San Diego’s best, most reasonably priced wine pairing dinners at Wine Vault and Bistro. This snug little hideaway specializes in 3-to-5-course prix fixe feasts that are held every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and cost just $27.50-42.50 (including wines). The menus change with astonishing frequency and are never duplicated, so there are always new items to try and new wines to sip, all created using their own creative process dubbed “carnage.” Reservations are recommended, and they must be made by phone.
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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting various vegetables and beverages, reading cookbooks and traveling around Mexico. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.