Success: You have a date tonight. Failure: You forgot and have zero plans. Success: we’re here to help.
However you ended up here (third Thursday of the month date nights aren’t as easy to remember as you might think), sometimes a date ends up being spontaneous. This doesn’t mean you have to eat at 5pm or attempt to get into Nopa, only to seriously contemplate Popeye’s when the wait is over two hours. All the places on this guide have some combination of walk-in availability, easily snaggable reservations, or bar seats for two, and will also still win you relationship points. Not every date needs to be a meticulously-planned extravaganza - if you go to one of these spots, it’ll still be pretty great.
Yep, it’s close to impossible to get a reservation at Liho - the entire city (and everyone who’s visiting) is aware of how great this Hawaiian-Asian-American restaurant is. However, heading in without one and aiming instead for seats at the bar is not an exercise in futility. Space opens up quickly, and the cocktails (to be enjoyed while you wait/linger over other people’s shoulders) are excellent. As for the menu, it’s very much set up for a date - smaller plates like the tuna poke and the pork buns are perfect for two, and are excellent. When it’s time to get out of your delivery, Netflix, and possibly relationship rut, head to Liholiho - it’s about the most fun you can have at a restaurant in the city.
Like with the DMV or the Russian Embassy, you probably won’t find Bar Agricole unless you’re actively looking for it. This is a shame, because the sleek restaurant in SOMA has killer food and cocktails, as well as an outdoor patio that’s hard to beat on a warm night. And despite being one of the better options in the area, it’s never too crowded. This is the place to celebrate the promotion or stupidly big raise you got today - you’ll be needing that extra money to pick up the check.
Gioia might be mainly used as a take-out operation, but don’t let that fool you - it’s an under-the-radar spot for a date night. The bar seats at the back are our preferred location, but almost any two-person table is good for staring deeply into someone’s eyes while wondering if you can really handle moving in with them. The wine list is affordable, and though we’re not that into the pizzas here, given that antipasti and pastas are really the ideal date foods, it’s handy that those are the highlights anyway.
There wasn’t a Giants game or three accidents or a random pile of cones in the middle of the highway, so your shuttle from the Peninsula got you home in record time, which means you actually get to eat dinner with your person for once. Time for a spontaneous date involving a date night MVP - tapas. Contigo’s menu is full of all the great Spanish classics, from patatas bravas and croquetas to lots of cheeses and meats. It’s a very neighborhoody spot that still feels appropriately romantic - especially if you get seats on the covered back patio.
You accidentally bleached your girlfriend’s favorite jeans and it’s time for an emergency date night to atone. Bar Crudo, besides having very good crudos, does a stellar raw bar, oyster happy hour, and a lobster burrata salad that is hard to forget. You can almost always get a last-minute reservation, and if you can’t, bar seats only involve a short wait. Horsefeather, right nearby, has great cocktails and is a solid way to turn your evening of eternal contrition into a successful One-Two Punch.
While you’re never exactly going to be just walking down the random stretch of Chestnut where you’ll find A 16, going out of your way to get there is worth it for the Margherita pizza and ragu pasta alone. Besides, you’ll impress your date by showing them your dedication to the evening, and also maybe encounter the neighborhood elderly Dachshund named Twix, who rides around in a stroller. You probably won’t be scoring a reservation, but bar seats are first-come, first-serve and turn around pretty quick. You can post up with a starter and a bottle of wine in the front window area and start plotting your order.
You’ve probably walked by Yuzuki on your weekly late-night burrito hunt - it’s on a quiet, practically unmarked corner in the Mission, and serves some of our favorite Japanese small plates around. The yakitori are all spot-on and the agedashi tofu is also excellent. It’s very easy to walk in and grab a table for a night of romance while patting yourself on the back for making a rainy Tuesday into a respectable date night.
Why Tawla doesn’t have a line out the door every night is a complete mystery to us. The Mediterranean food is stellar, the staff are helpful with ordering tips, and the space makes you feel like you’re on a Moroccan vacation. This is your place when you completely forgot it was your 1.5 year anniversary (that you didn’t know you were supposed to be celebrating) and need to get a romantic evening on the books before certain banishment to the dog’s bed. Start with some dips and bread, and definitely get the octopus. Earning forgiveness is up to you.
Margaritas and Mexican food may be more associated with girls nights out (or Jennifer Aniston’s house parties) than date nights. But when the menu is as creative as Cala’s - think charred sweet potato tacos with bone marrow salsas - and the space looks like an outdoor courtyard at the country home of Carlos Slim, it’s time to get the place in your date night rotation. Bar seats are rarely hard to get and reservations aren’t impossible either.
You said you love restaurants in your dating app profile, so turns out it’s up to you to choose a place for tonight. Curveball time: head to the Sunset to eat dinner at a place that people only go to for brunch. With faded wood walls and architectural light fixtures, it feels like a designer Bolinas “cottage” and has the laid-back attitude to match the low-key decor. The menu is short and simple, and everything from the soups to the fish is perfectly executed.
If you are romantically involved with a person who would willingly pay double for organic t-shirts that use cotton grown in a 100% sustainable eco-loop, but who still likes good food, The Perennial might be your most perfect date option that doesn’t involve a yurt. For a restaurant dedicated to fighting climate change through food (or something like that), they do an excellent job of making the place feel swanky and modern, and not forcing you to sit on upcycled rubber benches made of old tires. The cocktails are great, as is the food, and while portions are on the smaller side, that’s just the price you pay for saving the planet while you eat.
Sushi for date night never fails, unless you’re dealing with an extreme shellfish allergy situation. Presuming that isn’t the case, Ichi is an ideal place to keep on your radar for good sushi, skewers, and sake in the deep Mission/Bernal. There are no fancy omakase options, just quality fish and friendly vibes, with enough space to have a real conversation with your non-allergic-to-fish date.