There are a few ways to end up here. You could have been so excited to get a date on the books that you completely forgot to set where it would actually happen. You may have had these plans for weeks, but the “three Thursdays from now” snuck up on you way faster than you thought it would.
Whatever happened, you need somewhere to go, and it needs to be a place that you can actually get into on short notice without waiting for two hours or slipping in the service entrance and handing every employee between you and your table $20 on the way. Most importantly, it has to be somewhere that you’d bring this person if you actually had thought it out ahead of time. Here’s 18 spots where you can do just that.
Walking into Liholiho Yacht Club and hoping that a few bar seats open up is a bold move, and if you’re lucky and get them, more power to you. But if you’re like the other 92.23% of people who try with no luck, you can go downstairs to Louie’s Gen-Gen Room where you’ll be much more likely to get a table. A lot of the menu down here is waffle-based, but they’re good waffles with things like bone marrow on them that go well with their cocktails, and this was a last-minute decision anyway. Own it, and order some beef tartare, too.
Even if it’s crowded, it never takes long to get a few bar seats or a high top at Comstock Saloon. This place is primarily a bar, but they have some of the best bar food around. Save the burger for when you’re here solo after a long week, and go for something more shareable like the lo mein cacio e pepe, and if they have Brussels sprouts, make sure you order some. Grab a few old-school cocktails and find out your date’s stance on music festivals while you listen to the jazz band that plays on the balcony.
You both got stuck working late, and agree that getting something close to your offices is best so that your date doesn’t turn into an exercise in hungry outburst restraint. B44 Catalan Bistro is in the FiDi and has the usual tapas suspects like warm octopus and patatas bravas. They also have a decent by-the-glass wine selection, and the whole menu isn’t absurdly priced. Order some gambas, and unwind with the first person you’ve seen today that doesn’t imagine your job title printed on your forehead while they talk to you.
Deciding to walk around your neighborhood until you find a place sounded like a good idea, but then you realized you live in Cow Hollow and the pickings can be pretty slim for your situation. While Flores does fit in well with the lively pre-game restaurants around it, it’s also a good spot for an impromptu date. This place always has a good buzz, but you’ll still be able to focus on each other or at the worst, have to lean in a little to hear what they’re saying. Get a few margaritas and some tacos and enchiladas to split, and then go to Loving Cup for dessert afterwards.
The line for Flour + Water was longer than you expected, and this part of the Mission is two Lyfts and an ET-style bike ride away from where you both live, so going home without food is not an option. Walk down the street to True Laurel for drinks and a light bite instead. Their cocktails are great and will allow you to test your date’s capacity for sharing. As or food, there are small plates of every kind to choose from, from oysters to a patty melt, so you’ll both be able to find something to eat. When you do actually make it back to Flour + Water, maybe stop here for a drink first.
Yes, you do typically need to make reservations for Nopa pretty far in advance, but that’s if you want to sit at a table. The bar is first come, first served, and since it’s just the two of you, no one will get shut out of the conversation when you turn towards each other. Grab a few negronis while you wait and circle the couple in front of you that’s paying like vultures. And then split a flatbread and order some duck or pappardelle. When you’re done and happy that you snuck into one of the most classic SF restaurants around, plan your next date, pay, and let the couple behind you take your seats next - it’s the circle of life.
It’s still pretty early in the relationship, and you’re feeling out if they’re as clever in person as they are over text. If they are, you’ll want to stay out longer, but if it goes south you’d like to be able to politely pack it in for the night. Getting tapas is a natural choice for this because you can order as much or as little as you like, and we like Barvale - both because their tapas are great (get the tortilla de patata) and because there are a lot of seats so you won’t have to wait long to sit down. It’s mostly walk-in only seating anyway, so coming here in a pinch is basically the same as planning it out.
Neighborhood restaurants are great for last-minute dates, and if you live around Russian Hill, Cocotte should definitely be on your short list. This French spot feels like you maybe had it in mind for weeks even though you landed on it out of necessity - it’s small, dark, and has a good buzz going, and the menu is full of french classics like coq au vin. Make sure you order cauliflower gratin to split, because as great as it would be to finish alone, that would be hazardous to your health.
Going to dinner last minute is already pretty hectic, and you don’t want the meal to feel rushed or frantic. Son’s Addition in the Mission is a quiet neighborhood spot that’s small, but still bright and airy. The menu is simple and includes well-prepared things like poached chicken with fermented soybean salsa and a grilled pork chop that’s better than you could ever shake or bake at home. They also have a good by-the-glass wine selection, and if the date goes well, make sure to order whatever they have that night for dessert.
Just like with the DMV, 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.
You accidentally bleached your girlfriend’s favorite jeans and it’s time for an emergency date night to atone. Bar Crudo, besides making very good crudos, has 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.
Going out of your way to get to A16 is worth it for the margherita pizza and ragu pasta alone. Besides, you’ll impress your date by showing him or her 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-served, 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.
Cala has a strong, creative menu - think charred sweet potato tacos with bone marrow salsa - and a space that looks a little like an outdoor wedding in Mexico City. This place belongs in your date night rotation for sure. Fortunately, 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 usually only go to for brunch. With faded wood walls and architectural light fixtures, it feels like a designer Bolinas “cottage” and has a 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.
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 not-allergic-to-fish date.