Where do you take a date — especially one who’s into food and whom you want to impress — without the dread of knowing you’re probably going to spend over a hundred bucks before all is said and done? We bring you our half dozen favorite Bay Area spots that make for great date venues — and which won’t break the bank.
To compile this list, we tried to choose places that will satisfy a jaded foodinista but also offer a little atmosphere beyond your average bare-bones taqueria or Chinatown dive. Those all make for good date spots too, for the adventurous especially. But these picks are good for those early dates when you’re still relying on mood lighting, alcohol, and the element of surprise to keep the momentum going.
Also, we tried to select places where you can likely get two rounds of drinks or a bottle of wine, as well as a meal for two, for under $100, assuming you’re picking up the whole tab.
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It’s a Financial District, expense-account crowd to be sure on most weeknights before 8 or 9 p.m., but stroll in here later, or on a weekend, and it’s a mellow time with a terrific wine selection and reasonable prices. Don’t spend too much time with the iPad wine list (that would be a dating faux pas), and let the servers guide you through the Italian selections. And the two of you should be able to make a satisfying meal of small plates to go with those wines. See the current menu here
, and don’t miss the meatballs, or any of the pastas. 220 California Street. More info here.
Owners Aurore Martinez and chef Mikael Audry transformed their cozy, if old-school, Hyde Street Bistro last fall into a casual but still romantic rotisserie chicken restaurant. There are still some other bistro items, like nice salads and a solid steak frites, but the whole rotisserie chicken is a steal at $25, and comes with three sauces (gremolata, Romesco, and porcini mushroom). Add some butter beans, potatoes, and delicious roasted cauliflower and you have a really nice meal for two for $40, not including beverages. 1521 Hyde Street. More info here.
Sure, the bar environs are divey, but the lighting is right, the drinks are stiff and cheap, and the food is far better than you’ll find at any other bar in the vicinity. The menu tends toward the snacky, with things like Kahlua pork tacos and their signature French onion sandwich. But it can also get more sophisticated and satisfying, with things like slow-cooked baby back ribs with garlic bread; a hearty potato soup with bacon (pictured); or crispy check with black bean and corn salad. 1401 Valencia Street. More info here.
Your date has obviously already been to Mission Chinese Food
, and sure that’s a cheap date spot if ever there was one. But take a quick cab over to Cow Hollow and you’ll find all that spice
and and then some. Chef Alex Ong is playing with a bunch of Asian cuisines, at very reasonable prices, at the new street-food-centric Hutong, which replaces Betelnet on Union Street. The vibe is less cheesy than at Betelnut, and those back booths (pictured) still make for good close contact in flattering light. 2030 Union Street. More info here.
Take things up a notch if you’re going the Mexican route, and don’t just bring him/her to Papalote. Nopalito now has two locations, in the Sunset and in NoPa, and they’re still doing carnitas that beats anything you’re going to find in the Mission, not to mention good margaritas. 1224 9th Avenue and 306 Broderick Street. More info here.
Here’s one more bargain bistro idea, tucked away in Cole Valley — which, if you live in any other part of the city, makes for a great date destination anyway, with other stops possible at Kezar for a nightcap, or The Ice Cream Bar
for dessert. Every night of the week Zazie offers a three-course prix fixe for $27, which you could casually opt for without forcing your date to do so, and it includes the option of their excellent Provencal fish soup as an entrée. 941 Cole Street. More info here.