17 of the Sexiest Restaurants in San Francisco for a Romantic Date Night
Bookmark this list next time you need to impress a date.
If you want it to be, San Francisco can actually be quite romantic. (We’ll wait for you to stop laughing.) Ignore all of the things that we won’t get into here because nothing kills romance like thinking about the actual state of the City, and instead focus on the eerie but comforting fog, endless rolling hills, jaw-dropping views, and gorgeous bridges, as well as our captivating culinary scene, which is all too eager to play its part. Whether you’ve just swiped right or are stoking the flames of a long-term love affair, all of the spots on this list are sure to impress for any made-up holiday that serves as the perfect excuse to have a leisurely dinner for two on a Monday night (aka Valentine’s Day).
This is a little sad to admit, but at the moment, SF doesn’t have a lot of restaurants with an electric energy that makes you feel like you’re part of something just by stepping inside. Penny Roma is an exception that makes it perfect for a lively date night. The welcoming, dimly-lit and plant-filled courtyard (with a retractable roof) gives off dinner party vibes, except your co-chefs are Thomas McNaughton and Ryan Pollnow of Flour + Water Hospitality and the fare is mouth-watering crudos, house-made pastas, and rustic Italian dishes. In a time when we’ve all existed in silos, it’s refreshing to dine somewhere that feels like more of a festive experience than “just” a delicious dinner.
How to book: Make a reservation online or walk-in—a portion of tables are held for walk-ins and the restaurant starts taking names for the waitlist at 5:30 p.m.
There aren’t many restaurants like Café Jacqueline in San Francisco—a throwback to a time when servers wore bowties and stayed at the same restaurant for years, tables were covered with white tablecloths and lit by candlelight, and dinner was unapologetically several hours from start-to-finish. The latter is because every soufflé on the menu is made by chef-owner Jacqueline Margulis who has been whisking eggs into towers of heaven for over 40 years—and oh right, because soufflés are basically the only thing on the menu. You’ll order one savory and one sweet (with possibly some onion soup to start) and you’ll share it all (the soufflés are meant for two). And then you’ll make your next reservation before you leave because they’re hard to get (and easier to make if you’re in-person).
How to book: Call 415-981-5565 for reservations.
Estiatorio Ornos a Michael Mina Restaurant
If you can’t run away with your date to the Greek Isles for the weekend, a visit to this new-ish Michael Mina restaurant is the next best thing. A beachy Mediterranean ambiance bathed in stark whites, flowing curtains, and large chandeliers beneath high ceilings is paired with truly delicious classic Greek and seafood-focused shared plates (some of which can be selected with the help of a fish sommelier) and friendly, but attentive service that is all very much fine dining no matter how playful the decor. There is also a tasting menu, but for your first visit or two, it’s more fun to explore the menu with the help of the server.
How to book: Reserve a table online.
Firefly is a neighborhood spot in a neighborhood that doesn’t exactly scream “date night” (sorry, Noe Valley), but your date will surely be impressed with the intimate and cozy space, as well as the menu of healthy and elevated comfort food that changes with the seasons. While you might not immediately envision fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, horseradish slaw, and a buttermilk biscuit when thinking of romantic dishes, trust us when we say that this plate is just waiting to be fallen in love with, as is the decadent brownie sundae.
How to book: online.
A meal at this Moroccan-inspired restaurant is always memorable, so even if the date is mediocre, at least your meal won’t be. With cobalt blue Moroccan floor tiling in the interior and partitioned booths on the outdoor parklet, the space is sexy and moody but also casual. That casual ambiance translates to the food, which is robust, layered, full of spice, and meant to be shared. We would never recommend you put your date to any kind of test, but it is worth noting that sharing food is a great way to get a glimpse into your date’s personality. How do they handle ordering negotiations? Who gets the last bite of the thing you both loved? Okay, so it’s a little bit of a test.
How to book: online.
Spruce is a bit of an anomaly in San Francisco in that it’s one of only a handful of restaurants where you’ll see people wearing formal jackets, dresses, and heels. That’s certainly in large part because of its location in Presidio Heights, just blocks away from multimillion-dollar mansions, but also because of the elegant space with its dark wood, studded leather chairs, and cathedral-style ceilings. And while Spruce is definitely popular with an older crowd, it’s still a great place to go on a date when you want to ensure more dates with that special someone happen in the future. Still, getting to know each other? Find a spot in the lounge where you can order from a limited menu that features two of our favorite dishes at the restaurant: a burger on a housemade English muffin and a French omelet with mornay, kale, and brie.
How to book: Walk-ins are welcome (bar seating is first-come, first-served), but reservations are recommended for the dining room. You can make them online.
Top of the Mark
This penthouse lounge and restaurant on the 19th floor of the elegant Mark Hopkins Hotel is certainly a favorite with tourists thanks to the 360-degree views of the city and signature martinis, but if you’re looking for romance, don’t eschew it just because of that. It’s also a favorite with locals looking to enjoy sunset cocktails, fancy tapas, charcuterie, caviar, live music, and maybe even a spin on the dance floor. Not convinced? Maybe this story will do the trick: In the early 1940s, when the U.S. entered World War II, Pacific-bound soldiers would go to Top of the Mark to have one last drink, toasting the Golden Gate Bridge for luck, before shipping out.
How to book: Walk-ins are welcome on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are available online.
When you think of Zazie, you probably think of crowds waiting on the sidewalk, gaggles of girls rehashing last night’s antics over mimosas, and parents maneuvering strollers. And that’s pretty accurate—until dinnertime, that is. Once the brunch crowds stumble off, Zazie transforms back into a quiet, intimate bistro with indulgent French fare served by attentive waitstaff. The place to sit is the back patio, where you’ll find ivy-covered trellises, twinkling lights, and plenty of lamps to heat things up if you can’t do it on your own.
How to book: Reservations are not accepted. Sign in at the kiosk at the front of the restaurant, and they’ll text you when your table is ready. Grab a drink half a block away at Padrecito or Kezar Bar & Restaurant (when it reopens in March) while you wait.
If you’re looking to infuse a little sex appeal into your date, book a table at this outdoor cocktail lounge perched atop The Proper Hotel. The vibe is a little LA-meets-Europe, but with San Francisco views (and weather). Don’t fret about the latter because Charmaine’s has ample amounts of cozy fire pits where you can kick back in the comfy lounge chairs with a fancy cocktail and elevated snacks, like pork belly skewers, pretzel rolls with pimento cheese dip, and charcuterie and cheese boards.
How to book: online.
Empress By Boon
This new addition to San Francisco’s dining scene is impressive the second you walk out of the elevator that takes you to the sixth floor. The grand space (formerly the historic banquet hall of Empress of China) has been revived with opulent details, starting with a tea lounge that sits under an antique octagon-shaped pergola from Taiwan and a skylight that filters soft beams of sunlight. This is an excellent spot to enjoy tea service (or a cocktail) for a first or second date. When you’re ready to take it up a notch, make a reservation and ask for a table in the front dining room next to a window with cerulean leather booths and wood partition, as well as views of North Beach. The modern Cantonese tasting menu from Michelin-starred Chef Ho Chee Boon consists of small bites (like dumplings topped with caviar and hand-pulled noodles with mushrooms) and definitely feels a little sensual, or at least incredibly thoughtful. It’s an impressive experience that will make your date feel special.
How to book: online.
You’ll find an abundance of rustic charm at this cozy husband-and-wife-owned Sardinian restaurant right on the border of Noe Valley and Glen Park. The seafood-focused food is bolder than what you likely think of when you think of Italian cuisine—the baby octopus stew is spicy and smoky, the fusilli with sea urchin, tomato, and grated tuna heart is an intense combo of sweet, spicy, and savory—and the service is friendlier and more personable than what you’ll get almost anywhere else, despite the fact that it is always packed.
How to book: Call 415-550-8114 or make a reservation online.
Mr. Tipple's Recording Studio
The perfect first date spot, Mr. Tipple’s has a moody, dimly-lit speakeasy vibe, plus fantastic cocktails and a small menu of dim sum and dumplings. Also: live jazz for toe-tapping, merriment-making, and quiet conversation (or an excuse to be silent for a minute or two to reset floundering discussions.)
How to book: online.
Surprise your date with a twist on “dinner and a movie” by taking them to Foreign Cinema, a beloved SF restaurant that’s been going strong for 20 years and shows subtitled films on the back wall of the enchanting courtyard with heat lamps and twinkling string lights. This is where you’ll want to sit with your date (although the inside with its 18-foot ceilings and exposed beams is also quite lovely if outdoor seating isn’t available). It’s almost imperative that you order oysters (or even better the plateaux des fruit de mer), but from there, you really can’t go wrong with any of the California-Mediterranean fare. Be sure to also spend some time with the wine list as Foreign Cinema has one with something for all palates and bank accounts.
How to book: online.
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
When Absinthe opened in 1998, it immediately became the destination for serious cocktail drinkers. Today, it is still an excellent place to get a fantastic drink, as well as a romantic spot for French and Mediterranean-inspired fare. Though the dining room is known for being the more intimate space because of its plush chairs and hand-painted murals of the garden of Versailles, sitting at a bistro table in the corner of the front bar is much cozier and more reminiscent of a Parisian brasserie—almost like a jaunt to Paris without the jet lag. Start with oysters or caviar from the raw bar and a classic cocktail (one that includes absinthe, if you dare), and see where the evening takes you from there.
How to book: Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are recommended. You can make them online.
Walking into BIX feels like stepping into a swanky 1930s supper club. The dimly lit two-story dining room features soaring ceilings, art deco design, and a mahogany bar manned by bartenders in white tuxedo jackets and black bow ties. The bar and restaurant scene is always bustling thanks to expertly concocted cocktails, live jazz seven nights a week, and people looking to see and be seen. Those seeking a more intimate experience should ask to be seated on the mezzanine where they’ll be able to take in the vibrant scene below but can also re-enact the classic Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene (albeit with King crab tagliatelle) in relative privacy.
How to book: For last-minute reservations, call 415-433-6300; otherwise, reserve online.
Any fancy restaurant with stunning up-close views of the waterfront and the Bay Bridge lights is going to feel a little sexy, but add in sustainably sourced fish, floor-to-ceiling aquariums, and a heated patio, and the sex appeal shoots through this two-story roof. And did we mention the oyster bar? Waterbar has one of the most expansive selections on the entire West Coast. Not ready to commit to an over-the-top $140 seafood tower? Waterbar has an excellent happy hour from 2–5 pm every day (and $1.05 oysters) from noon to 5 pm every day.
How to book: online.
This glass-encased flat-iron-shaped restaurant is still crowded with locals and tourists almost 40 years after it opened. That’s in part because of the laid back—but not too laid back—SF vibe and the quality cocktails served at the zinc bar, but mostly because of the phenomenal California cuisine—the most popular of which is cooked in the wood-burning oven. For those looking for a romantic evening, a seat in the corner on the second level overlooking the street is ideal. What to order? Why, the Zuni Caesar salad and famous roasted chicken for two with warm bread salad, of course.
How to book: To make a reservation for outdoor dining, call 415-552-2522 or make a reservation online.