Go Ahead and Leave Your Heart in San Francisco: Best Romantic Restaurants

Photo courtesy of used in book.
By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

When you're looking for ambience as much as food, stellar restaurants can be hard to come by. After all, you want the whole package, not just a suitable meal. Fortunately, San Francisco delivers in spades. The city promises a superb selection of restaurants to sate your desire for romantic dining. These places take care of the details, making you feel welcomed, plying you with wonderful dishes, and sending you on your way with an experience you won't soon forget.

If you're a traditionalist, go with the tested package: seafood, wine, and a view of the water. Boulevard has you covered in that department, not to mention having a sophisticated staff that have been serving up romance to locals and tourists alike for years. If your idea of romance is a lively spot with dancing, then the Colonial is the place for you. This downtown gem has been the hottest swing dancing spot for couples for years - and their stiff drinks will get those shy dancers out on the floor before they know it. If you're visiting San Francisco but need more travel in your travel, try Jardinière. The French have had a way with romance for some time...!

Whatever place you choose, just remember that both love and food should be savored - especially when you share it with that special someone.

10. Kokkari Estiatorio
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

With all the fuss about the French and the Italians and their romantic ways, we shouldn't forget that the Greeks have been in the business of pairing food and love since ancient times. One of the most enchanting dinner destinations in the city, Kokkari Estiatorio offers a refined yet cozy ambiance that sets the mood for a perfectly picturesque evening. Fresh, seasonal ingredients are carefully combined to create Mediterranean delights like moussaka, zucchini cakes and grilled lamb chops. There are plenty of suitable wine pairings, as well, no matter what menu item you choose. The traditional walnut and honey baklava is a must for dessert.

9. L'ardoise Bistro
Photo courtesy of L'Ardoise Bistro

If your partner is just barely clinging to his or her romantic mood, and you need a sure-fire way to resuscitate that mood, go with the tried and true remedy: cozy French Bistro. It's hard to find a cozier one in the city than L'ardoise Bistro. Your partner will be back into cuddling mode quicker than you can say "Two glasses with that 2010 bottle of Allimant Laugner Pinot Blanc, si vous plait?" Continue your adventurous foray into the French language by ordering any one of L'ardoise's signature dishes, including Coq Au Vin or Duck Leg Confit. Just leave room for an order of Creme brulee or Flourless Chocolate Cake.

8. Café Jacqueline

Long-stemmed roses and flickering candles set the mood at this romantic, Paris-style bistro that's known for its alluring decor and delightful French fare. Tucked away in a tiny storefront in North Beach, Cafe Jacqueline is a restaurant seemingly made for starry-eyed duos. The menu consists only of souffles made for two, and although selections change daily, typical ingredients include crab, truffles and fresh fruit. The French onion soup is a patron favorite. Be sure to leave room for a dessert souffle, especially the Gran Marnier souffle, which will leave you just tipsy enough to need that shoulder for the way home.

7. Boulevard
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If romance is the reason you've come to The City by the Bay, Boulevard is the picturesque place to dine. Located in an historic waterfront building, this eatery's intimate Belle Epoque aesthetic and sumptuous food hit all the right notes. The menu showcases regional flavors and French style with dishes like Sonoma Foie Gras and California Sea Bass a la Plancha. A sommelier and 500-item wine list ensure the perfect pairing. Surrounded by Pat Kuleto's timeless Belle Epoque inspired design, Chef Oakes wonderful expression of American regional flavors with a French influenced style has made Boulevard a culinary landmark on San Francisco's revived Embarcadero waterfront.

6. Foreign Cinema
Photo courtesy of hillary h

While Foreign Cinema's misleading moniker may seem a better fit for a movie theater than an oyster bar, this restaurant's real attraction is their Mediterranean-inspired menu and outstanding oysters. They do, in fact, offer film showings in the adjoining courtyard, an added perk for those savoring tasty shellfish like the Hog Island Sweet, Marin Gem, Chatham and Steamboat oysters. The dinner menu changes regularly, and brunch is served on weekends. Foreign Cinema has a lot to offer besides oysters, so it's a good choice for groups who have varied and eclectic tastes. It's also one of the most romantic restaurants in the city.

5. Jardinière
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Exposed brick walls, mahogany detailing, velvet draperies and a champagne-glass theme set a swank scene at this classy supper club. While guests find it hard to tear themselves away from the marble-and-mahogany bar, Traci Des Jardins' food sways their resolve. The extensive, constantly changing menu features temptations like Alaskan halibut with roasted artichokes, red wine-braised beef shortribs, and dry-aged NY steak with morels and asparagus. Fantastic cheese selections and a great wine list also prove popular, and live entertainment only increases the restaurant's appeal. Be sure to leave room for dessert, particularly the Ginger Pear Sorbet or the Bittersweet Chocolate Budino.

4. Frascati

Impress your beloved with a romantic dinner at Frascati, a Mediterranean-style bistro whose warm, intimate ambiance makes it ideal for amorous outings. Nestled in the Russian Hill neighborhood, this simply elegant establishment features an inventive menu that's constantly changing to reflect the season. You'll often find decadent options like gnocchi with butternut squash, beef carpaccio, smoked salmon risotto and pan-roasted pork tenderloin. The coveted black and white chocolate bread pudding provides a perfectly sweet finish. Owners Rebecca and Jon Radar will do everything in their power to insure that your romantic dinner is the highlight of your San Francisco visit.

3. Le Colonial

If you believe the steamy, mysterious atmosphere 1920s French Vietnam is romantic, then Le Colonial is the place for you. Patchwork tile floors, shuttered windows, antique lamps and rattan furniture set among palm fronds and lazily swirling ceiling fans all work in harmony to create an elegant, sultry mood where romance can bloom. Only the freshest ecologically farmed meat, game and poultry found at farms throughout the Bay area make up the Vietnamese-style menu at Le Colonial. Some of the favorites include Goi Xa Lach Ca Chua (Heirloom tomato salad with watercress, cherry tomatoes and red onions served with basil dressing and crispy pork belly) and Goi Ca Thu (Seared Ahi tuna salad with cucumber, avocado and red onion, served with an herb-lime emulsion and chili aioli).

2. Piazza Pellegrini
Photo courtesy of Piazza Pellegrini

Although the French certainly know their way around romance, we can't forget the passion of the Italians, whose love for food, people and life in general is unrivaled. If you're in the mood for love - and great Italian food - Piazza Pellgrini is the spot for you and that special someone. A cozy restaurant in the heart of North Beach's Little Italy, Piazza Pelegrini features the Italian classics of Rome. Chefs use only the best, local ingredients, and any couple that has even the whiff of romance about them will be wooed all dinner long in this charming establishment.

1. Gitane
Photo courtesy of Gitanne

Gitane is all about romance from the very get-go: its interior exudes the "playfulness of a 1930's cabaret, the swagger of Serge Gainsbourg, and the audacious spirit of the 70's disco era." There was no doubt that when husband and wife duo Bridget Batson and Patrick Kelly opened this stellar restaurant, there was romance in the air. Featuring a contemporary Spanish/Andalusia menu, Gitane also offers one of the largest selections of sherry in the Bay Area, as well as an extensive collection of Spanish wines. The restaurant area is separated into the upstairs dining room, where guests can enjoy the full Gitane dining experience with a new seasonally changing, regional five-course tasting menu. Guests seated at the bar or outside in the bistro tables can enjoy a more casual dining experience with the "compartir" sharing menu.