San Francisco’s 12 Most Romantic Restaurants

Credit: Ula

Whether it’s good old date night, an anniversary, a first date, or even a proposal, San Francisco has no shortage of romantic restaurants in which to celebrate. From intimate, social distance-friendly indoor booths with live music to alfresco fireside shelters teeming with lush greenery, here are some of the most romantic spots that the city has to offer.

Empress by Boon (Chinatown)

Credit: Jean Bai

Gazing on the city from a turquoise and gold booth from one of Chinatown’s tallest historic buildings is an otherworldly thrill. With its regal, stately design, Empress by Boon’s interior oozes with a grandeur that’s a novelty among northern California’s dining scene. The glitzy date spot renders a formal, yet festive parade where award-winning chef Ho Chee Boon’s modern Cantonese tasting menu — with dishes such as sake-braised abalone with trout roe or beef tenderloin with black pepper sauce — guides the procession.

Dining at the restaurant: The dining experience is indoors only, but takes advantage of the banquet hall’s spacing to provide safe distancing between diners. If top-notch views of the Bay and Coit Tower are a priority, be sure to make note in your reservation that you’d like to be seated at the elevated booths facing north.

Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Experiences: Check out the special experiences available at this restaurant: Valentine’s Prix Fixed Lover’s Menu. Book the Experience here.

Kokkari Estiatorio (Financial District)

More than two decades since opening, Kokkari remains a power-lunch hub by day and one of the coziest date hotspots by night. With its earthy palette born of ceramic pottery, a natural stone hearth, and rich wooden beams, the interior evokes the spirit of a sumptuous family-run taverna. Menu highlights include the grilled octopus, moussaka, and saganaki, a pan-fried cheese that emits glorious steam when lemon is squeezed atop by the server. Staff here are well-versed in the language of philoxenia — or the art of making a stranger a friend — consistently welcoming diners with a trademark Greek Island-style familial hospitality.

Dining at the restaurant: While Kokkari location isn’t conducive to a parklet, the restaurant has resumed indoor dinner and lunch service with de rigueur safety precautions such as masking, surface disinfection, and a spacing modification for seating. Patrons will find that an increase in distance between tables has not diminished any of the establishment’s romantic warmth or people-watching appeal. 

Takeout: Kokkari offers the bulk of its wine list, dinner, and dessert menus by phone or from a variety of third-party delivery providers. Options that travel particularly well include the garlic prawns, roasted chicken skewers, and chocolate dessert.

Traveler at 25 Lusk (SoMa)

Credit: Traveler at 25 Lusk

Traveler invites patrons to whisk their sweethearts away to Mexico with a menu that explores new destinations for several months at a time. Aiming for authenticity, 25 Lusk worked with chefs Eutimio Avila and Jesus Fernando Ake Chan to create a menu of subtly spiced Yucatan-inspired fare sourcing local ingredients such as cod and market vegetables. Couples can imbibe in Baja-sourced wines and craft cocktails such as Where the Maguey Goes, featuring mezcal, aloe, oregano, blanc vermouth, lemon, and egg-white substitute aquafaba.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant offers its Traveler 25 menu indoors only, but will continue serving its traditional bites and cocktails on the highly weather-proofed rooftop.  

Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Cultivar (The Marina)

Cultivar’s unassuming modern facade may not evoke romance, but locals who know the Californian spot go for a table on the back patio — a surprisingly lush, private escape. Here, the oversized fireplace is the understated star, creating an amorous mood that begets table-side cuddles to go with Cultivar’s namesake wines and seasonal dishes. Standouts include the lobster pasta, mushroom risotto, and decadent cheese, made for sharing. 

Dining at the restaurant: Dining is available indoors as well as the back patio (for an intimate, local date night) or street-facing patio (for people-watching the bustling foot traffic). 

Takeout: Choose from a robust offering of items through Cultivar’s third-party delivery partner.

Berber (Russian Hill)

Credit: Berber

Private booth seating, smoky cocktails, and dimly lit lanterns from North Africa cast an intimate atmosphere inside of this Russian Hill jewel. The restaurant and bar could effortlessly double as the film set for a modern-day rendition of Casablanca, while the backroom features an intimate stage surrounded by table tops. Reservations for the performance on Valentine’s Day may already be booked out, but couples willing to delay the celebration to the weekend can enjoy an impressive dinner show featuring sultry cabaret aerialists, contortionists, and modern belly dancers alongside a gourmet Moroccan-spiced feast.

Dining at the restaurant: Dining is available indoors only. The restaurant adheres to vaccination requirements for diners, staff, and performers.

Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Experiences: Check out the special experiences available at this restaurant: A Riad Rendezvous: 4-Course Valentine’s Day Menu, Adagio In Africa: 4 or 5-Course Valentine’s Cirque Show. Book by heading to the Experiences section here.

Bella Trattoria (The Richmond)

There’s something intrinsically romantic about a plate of handmade pasta. Dishes at Bella Trattoria begging to be shared over a candlelit dinner include the split pea ravioli, house-made rigatoni, and traditional affogato (ice cream drenched in espresso). Add soft lighting, unpretentious service, and tables set in front of a mural backdrop of the Venice canals, and it’s apparent why this neighborhood gem continues to collect new devotees, even as it approaches a third decade since opening its doors in the Richmond District in 1994. 

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining, with a hearty wind-defying fence enclosure and heat lamps.  

Takeout: Bella Trattoria offers a substantial selection of its dinner menu for curbside pickup or delivery by phone and online.

Experiences: Check out the special experiences available at this restaurant: Valentine’s Prix Fixed Lover’s Menu. Book the Experience here.

BAIA (Hayes Valley)

Credit: BAIA

Set in the vintage brick building once occupied by iconic post-theater go-to Jardiniere, BAIA’s pioneering plant-based Italian comfort food from celebrity chef Matthew Kenney is served against a dreamy, updated background that retains the charm of the building while ushering in a new culinary era. Nostalgic diners will find that BAIA’s update is a tasteful revamp that spares neither glamor nor romance, featuring plush, intimate seating and a dramatic two-story blown glass chandelier in the center of the mezzanine. Dishes include various salads, pastas, and pizzas that cater to many different diets.

Dining at the restaurant: Dining is available indoors only.

Takeout: BAIA offers a large sampling of its menu, as well as innovative cocktails and wine, via a third-party app.

BIX (Financial District)

A trip to BIX is a time-traveling journey to the San Francisco of yesteryear. The iconic establishment owes its enduring electric buzz to a nightly live jazz band and impeccable service by bartenders dressed in signature white jackets — almost like tuxedo-clad cupids flying about the space. Despite the staff’s traditional attire, they’re anything but snooty, making diners feel instantly welcome in this homage to gaiety that owner Doug Biederbeck describes as “a party every night.”

Dining at the restaurant: BIX is set up for indoor dining only, with standard Covid precautions. Whether you come for dinner or simply pop in to perch at the bar for a classic cocktail near the piano, there isn’t a bad seat in the house at this sophisticated saloon.

Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Waterbar (Embarcadero)

Credit: Waterbar

A San Francisco staple where every patron appears to be celebrating, Waterbar offers an impeccable seafood menu and premier seats to catch the Bay Bridge’s nightly light show. Designed by restaurant impresario Pat Kuleto, the interior features nautical dark wood finishes, cylindrical floor-to-ceiling aquariums, and a dramatic chandelier with glowing orbs — a subtle nod to the restaurant’s extensive caviar program.

Dining at the restaurant: Dining is available inside and outdoors. Waterbar recommends that diners use OpenTable to make notes on their reservations for special occasions, especially if they’re hoping for a coveted window seat.

Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.

Sushi Hon (The Mission)

Sushi Hon offers an impressive, uncluttered tasting menu of local and Japanese-sourced dishes. A particularly well executed highlight you may not find elsewhere is zuke chu-toro (soy-cured medium fatty tuna), which may be the key to a discerning sushi lover’s heart. The charcoal-palette restaurant’s lighting is focused on the fish rather than the decor or patrons, creating a reverent, confessional mood for couples who worship at the altar of omakase.

Dining at the restaurant: Dining is available for inside or outdoors. The restaurant serves its tasting menu for lunch as well, which is a rarity for restaurants offering omakase of such high quality.

Takeout: The restaurant offers its tasting menu and hot tapas via a third-party app. Orders go quickly, so preorders for the next day are highly recommended.

Côte Ouest (Cow Hollow)

Credit: Côte Ouest

French for “West Coast,” Côte Ouest is a local gem that feels like a casual escape to Paris thanks to French-speaking staff and a classic bistro menu. Standouts include the escargot under flaky puff pastry, bouillabaisse, and the superb, approachable wine list. Diners are often locals and their dogs who sometimes strike up conversations with each other. Couples seeking private moments can easily find a tucked table to hold more intimate conversation.

Dining at the restaurant: Dining is available both inside and out. The all-glass outdoor enclosure provides excellent wind proofing, but as with most parklets, bundling up is recommended.

Takeout: Order on the restaurant’s website for pickup.

Ula Mediterranean (Union Square)

Credit: Ula

Date night at new restaurant Ula is an escape to a fairytale castle set under the sea in a far away place. Fans of the space’s former occupant Farallon will be happy to hear that successor Ula retains the same over-the-top art deco whimsy with fixtures that depict squid, kelp, and grand maritime vessels. The menu is decidedly seafood-centric, with a variety of classic crustaceans and an array of pasta, meat, and gluten-free options to go with an elaborate modern cocktail menu. Just a hop from Union Square, the delightfully vintage dining room begs to be paired with a nostalgic trolley ride and a stroll through the heart of the city hand in hand. 

Dining at the restaurant: Dining is available inside only (and you wouldn’t want it any other way at this iconic setting).

Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout at this time.