12 top date night restaurants in San Francisco

Eclectic art fills the moody interiors at Dancing Yak, a Nepalese spot in the Mission. | Credit: Dancing Yak

With its cinematic bridges, Art Deco accents, and countless green escapes, San Francisco is poised for romance. So it’s no surprise that the city’s restaurants also channel an easygoing charm.

An old-school Russian Hill steakhouse woos diners with nightly live jazz. An Embarcadero seafood icon is a proposal favorite for its sweeping Bay Bridge vistas. In the Mission, a laidback Nepalese joint makes an ideal first date spot, thanks to shareable skewers and a moody blue dining room.

At these Golden Gate City restaurants, the sparks most definitely fly. Read on to book a table at one of these 12 places now.

For a first date

Cultivar (The Marina)

Cultivar’s unassuming modern facade doesn’t evoke obvious romance. But in-the-know locals head to the Californian spot for a table on the back patio—a surprisingly lush and private escape. Here, the oversized fireplace is the understated star, creating an amorous mood to go with Cultivar’s namesake small-batch wines and seasonal dishes. Standouts include lobster ravioli, mushroom risotto, and decadent cheese and charcuterie made for sharing.

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Dancing Yak (Mission)

The cushy blue and yellow interiors at Dancing Yak. | Credit: Dancing Yak

For a first date that’s off the beaten track, head to Dancing Yak, a restaurant inspired by the mountains of Nepal. Owner Suraksha Basnet grew up in Kathmandu and opened the restaurant on Valencia Street in 2018, where it quickly became a buzzy hangout. The menu serves up juicy momos (dumplings) in spicy tomato sauce, grilled meat skewers, and richly spiced curries and biryanis. All pair well with a colorful cocktail list with intriguing names such as Don’t Talk Yak (bourbon, allspice dram, chai syrup) and Spicy Yeti (mezcal, citrus, serrano bitters). Couples can sink into the yellow velvet chairs in the moody blue dining room and linger over a few rounds.

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For a second date

Côte Ouest (Cow Hollow)

Window seats at Côte Ouest. | Credit: Côte Ouest

French for “West Coast,” Côte Ouest is a local gem that feels like a casual Parisian escape, thanks to French-speaking staff and a classic bistro menu. Must-tries include the escargot under flaky puff pastry, steak frites, bouillabaisse, and an approachable wine list. Diners are often locals (and their dogs) who strike up conversations with each other on the outdoor tables. Couples seeking private moments can easily find an indoor perch to hold more intimate conversations.

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For an intimate and cozy night out

Kokkari Estiatorio (Financial District)

Since opening in 1998, Kokkari remains a power lunch hub by day and one of the city’s coziest date spots by night. The interiors evoke an inviting, family-run taverna with a natural stone hearth, wooden beams, and ceramic accents galore. Menu highlights include the grilled octopus, moussaka, and smoky lamb chops brightened with lemon-oregano vinaigrette; servers squeeze lemon on the saganaki, a pan-fried cheese that emits steam. The staff here are well-versed in the art of philoxenia, or the concept of turning a stranger into a friend, making Kokkari an ideal place for both early-in-the-game dates and special occasions.

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Bella Trattoria (Richmond District)

There’s something intrinsically romantic about sharing a plate of handmade pasta. Dishes at Bella Trattoria, which include split pea ravioli, housemade rigatoni, and traditional affogato, were made for feasting over candlelight. Add unpretentious service and a striking mural of the Venice canals and it’s clear why this warm neighborhood gem continues to attract new devotees, even as it approaches a third decade since opening in 1994.

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Sushi Hon (The Mission)

Sushi Hon offers an impressive, uncluttered tasting menu of local and Japan-sourced dishes. A particularly well-executed highlight is zuke chu-toro (soy-cured medium fatty tuna), which may be the key to unlocking a sushi lover’s heart. The charcoal-hued restaurant’s lighting is focused on the fish rather than the decor (or diners), creating a reverent mood for couples who worship at the altar of omakase.

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For an anniversary or romantic milestone

Empress by Boon (Chinatown)

Leather and glass accents lend a modern edge to the dining room at Empress by Boon. | Credit: Jean Bai

Gazing at the city from a turquoise-and-gold booth from one of Chinatown’s tallest buildings is an otherworldly thrill. With its regal design, Empress by Boon exudes the kind of grandeur that’s rare across northern California’s more casual dining scene. The glitzy date spot is worthy of extra-special romantic occasions, fueled by a Cantonese tasting menu from award-winning chef Ho Chee Boon, featuring dishes such as roasted duck and truffle pumpkin puff and steamed chile pepper rockfish.

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Harris’ (Russian Hill)

Harris’ classic dishes include a stellar prime rib. | Credit: Harris’

Step inside the most satisfying kind of steakhouse. This unapologetically old-school space, decked with wood panels, leather booths, and brass chandeliers, has drawn diners since the ’80s. The steaks are American Angus fattened up on corn in the Midwest, then expertly dry-aged and butchered in-house. They come with classic sides, including the potato special of the evening. Bonus points for the martinis, served with an extra jug on ice for topping up at the table. If that wasn’t smooth enough, live jazz music dazzles nearly every night of the week from the onsite piano lounge.

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For a group date

Berber (Russian Hill)

At Berber, North African decor infuses a unique charm. | Credit: Berber

Smoky cocktails and dimly lit lanterns from North Africa add glamor to this Russian Hill jewel, well-suited for memorable double dates. The restaurant and bar could be the set for a modern-day rendition of Casablanca; the back room features a small stage surrounded by table tops. Reserve for the weekend and enjoy an impressive dinner show featuring sultry cabaret aerialists, contortionists, and belly dancers alongside a very shareable Moroccan-spiced feast.

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For an evening of eatertainment

BIX (Financial District)

A trip to BIX shuttles you to a bygone San Francisco era. The iconic establishment was founded in 1988 and owes its enduring popularity to a nightly jazz band performance. Expect impeccable service from bartenders dressed in signature white jackets. Despite the staff’s traditional attire, they’re anything but snooty, making diners feel welcome in a restaurant that owner Doug Biederbeck describes as “a party every night.”

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For an adventurous and transportive date

Ula Restaurant Bar & Lounge (Financial District/Embarcadero)

Whimsical nautical touches fuel a far-flung vibe at Ula Restaurant Bar & Lounge. | Credit: Ula Restaurant Bar & Lounge

Date night at Ula is an escape to an underwater fairytale castle. Fans of the space’s former occupant, Farallon, take comfort in the fact that its successor retains the same whimsy with striking fixtures that depict squid, kelp, and grand maritime vessels. Fittingly, the menu is seafood-centric, with a variety of crustaceans and an array of pasta, meat, and gluten-free options to go with an elaborate modern cocktail menu. A short hop from Union Square, the vintage dining room was made to be paired with a trolley ride and a romantic stroll through the city’s heart.

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For a proposal-worthy place

Waterbar (Embarcadero)

Bay Bridge views at Waterbar. | Credit: Waterbar

Every diner seems to be celebrating something at this splashy, Pat Kuleto-designed expanse, all nautical dark wood finishes and cylindrical floor-to-ceiling aquariums. With its impeccable seafood menu and premier seats for catching the Bay Bridge’s nightly light show, Waterbar is a coveted proposal backdrop. Don’t miss the chandelier with glowing orbs—a subtle nod to the restaurant’s extensive caviar program.

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Becky Duffett is a food writer living and eating in San Francisco. Follow her on Instagram at @beckyduffett.

Valerie Demicheva contributed to this guide.

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