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How to Have a Romantic Dinner in COVID-era San Francisco

Romance is not dead, even in SF in 2020

Sea urchin pasta La Ciccia/Facebook

Hi Eater SF!

Any recs for a romantic dinner [during COVID]? My girlfriend “wants to feel like she’s in a real city,” haha, so preferably city vibes or views. SoMa or FiDi, maybe?

Sincerely,
Starving for Romance


Hey SR,

This one’s tricky, because so much of what makes a restaurant romantic is in fact the atmosphere. A chill coffee shop to get to know each other, a buzzy bar to bring that energy, a more intimate restaurant to lean into candlelight. Which poses the question — without indoor dining, can one still find romance in San Francisco’s restaurants?

I think so! Based on an anecdotal survey of my most social friends, I’ve been surprised by how many people are still dating, even if first dates are happening on the phone or in parks, and even coupling up — cuffing season came early this year. In a city obsessed with food, you know that San Franciscans still love to eat. So even if romantic dining might look a little different these days, hot date spots can still be found.

Picnic fare for the park

For city vibes, start with the sparkly new Salesforce Park. Stock up on picnic supplies nearby at the Ferry Building, with cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and wine from the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.

Or stop by Nopalito’s new takeout window on 18th, then hike up to the top of Dolores Park, for the best view (and more breathing room). The carnitas and totopos are just fine up there.

Souvla is a casual date spot, and one couple even got engaged there recently — what a coronavirus romance. Pick up lamb wraps and chicken salads from Souvla on Divis, and tote them over to Alamo Square, with a backdrop of the Painted Ladies.

Sweet date spot Swensen’s has also reopened its ice cream shop in Russian Hill, so another option is to get a couple of cones and walk over to George Sterling Park, with that twisted view down Lombard Street.

More ideas: 12 Perfect Picnic Spots in San Francisco

Go for a drive in the car

It may not be the best burger in SF, but Mel’s Drive-In on Geary is hopping these days, bringing back that classic car-hop service. Pull up for iconic burgers, shakes, and fries.

Yeah, it’s fast food, but locals insist that the Taco Bell in Pacifica is the most beautiful cantina in the country. Drive through for crunch wraps, then park it with a prime view of the ocean.

Wind further down Highway 1, and Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay is the stop for lobster rolls. The deck is open for dining by a fire pit, but takeout sandwiches taste even better with your toes in the sand.

More ideas: 14 Rev-Worthy Drive-Ins and Drive-Thrus in Northern California

Takeout to bring back to your place

The Little Lao takeout tray from Farmhouse Kitchen Thai is over-the-top pretty. Dig into a colorful spread of noodles, fried rice, rolls, and more.

Before he was released by the SF Giants, outfielder/designated hitter Hunter Pence’s girlfriend ordered in the big beautiful omakase boxes from Robin for a recent sushi date night.

For those who swoon for oysters, the iconic Swan Oyster Depot is still cracking. It’s as old-school as ever, so just call (415) 673-1101 or walk in for crab salads and smoked salmon.

For something different, Prubechu opened as the only Guamanian restaurant in SF last year, and the fiesta hasn’t stopped. Pick up ribs, red rice, empanadas, and sweet rolls.

And for all those enamored with Michelin stars, Lazy Bear keeps switching it up with inventive takeout menus, from fried chicken biscuits to fancier prix fixes with wine pairings.

More ideas: Where to Get Takeout in San Francisco Right Now

Outdoor dining in a quiet spot

L’Ardoise often snags a spot on romantic restaurant roundups, and the French bistro is still charming with outdoor tables on a quiet tree-lined block. Cozy up to steak frites, duck confit, and tiger prawn ravioli.

La Ciccia has moved the white tablecloths outdoors at the top of Church Street. The Sardinian gem specializes in fish, pasta, and interesting wines, and don’t miss the baby octopus.

Chinatown is quiet these days, but Mister Jiu’s is still a shining star, tucked away on a back alley strung with lights. Dig into modern pork buns, scallion pancakes, and that big duck platter.

Up on Nob Hill, Del Popolo is serving pizza in its back garden patio. You can get takeout and meal kits to go, of course, but that Neapolitan pizza is best blistered from the wood-fired oven.

Brazen Head in Cow Hollow has that neighborhood pub feel, now with picnic tables outside. Tuck into nightly specials or take comfort in that Sunday prime rib roast.

Bix is known for martinis and pianos, but it also boasts one of the lovelier back alleys of historic Jackson Square. Bundle up and tuck into steak tartare, deviled eggs, and caviar.

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