San Francisco is known for its captivating beauty, compelling history, and culturally rich streetscapes. But the Bay Area is also driving the U.S. culinary narrative forward (especially when it comes to innovation and quirky atmosphere). Whether you’re lucky enough to live in the area, or you’re planning an upcoming visit, the following restaurants are my top 10, you-can’t-live-without-them, you’ll-regret-it-for-the-rest-of-your-life-if-you-don’t-go, Valentine’s Day date night recommendations.
Address: 2442a Webster St, Oakland, CA 94612
MUA (pronounced “muah”) is an enormous renovated industrial warehouse situated in downtown Oakland. Decorated with offbeat art, and music spun by a DJ upstairs, this restaurant is undeniably hip. MUA is known for an eclectic mix of small plates and some seriously delicious cocktails. While not ideal for intimate conversation (it can be very loud), foodies and artistic-types will appreciate what this spot has to offer.
Mexico Mule | lunazul reposado, lime, cilantro, ginger beer
Pimm’s and Needles | pimm’s, hendrick’s, orange, cucumber, mint
Grilled Artichoke (with tarragon aïoli)
Duck Confit (bacon-braised cabbage, golden raisin, spinach, almond, aïoli)
No-Cheese “Mac n’ Cheese” (made with butternut squash and cream)
2 Small Wonder
Address: 37 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94612
The name of this restaurant says it all. Lit playfully with chinese lanterns, glittering snowflakes, and disco balls, this restaurant is an adventure in and of itself. Tuck yourself away upstairs among the lush greenery and charming antique furniture to admire the view (and live jazz music!) from above. This place does not have a website OR a phone number. They explain cheekily on the menu that, “you have to see it to believe it”. It’s true!
Mexican Drug Lord | watermelon, cilantro, tajin, lime, tequila
Ice-Ice Ba-Baby | bourbon, bitters, basil, ice tea, lemon
Artichoke Ramekin (garlic toast, artichoke dip)
OMG Fish Tacos (corn tortillas, sauteed tilapia, salsa fresca, avocado, ranchero, cotija)
Roast Chicken Sandwich (open face, warm gravy + mashers, and a dollop o’ cranberry relish)
3 Jupiter Taproom
Address: 2181 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
Ask anyone who attends Cal where their favorite place to be is on a Saturday night, and I guarantee you they’ll recommend this astronomically (I’ve got jokes!) satisfying wood-fired pizza and beer joint. Jupiter has live music on select dates, and a spacious outdoor patio centered around a crackling fire-pit. Have a beer (or three) with your honey here, and enjoy the comfort of pizza (also available with gluten-free crust).
Red Spot | Deep copper in color, with noticeable caramel malt sweetness, balanced by definitive hop bitterness and a spicy finish
Half Moon Bay Boysenberry Blonde | Belgian Ale
IO (housemade pesto, roasted chicken, red onions, Kalamata olives & mozzarella on an olive crust)
Juno (spicy ‘nduja sausage with pickled jalapeño, red onion, marinara, smoked mozzarella & oregano)
Apollo (sun-dried tomatoes, fresh spinach, garlic, feta, mozzarella & marinara)
4 East Bay Spice Company
Address: 2134 Oxford St, downtown Berkeley (1 block from downtown Berkeley BART)
Of all of my recommendations thus far, this is by far the most romantic. The East Bay Spice Company is an unusual fusion of cocktail bar and Indian restaurant. While parking in this area is a bit of a drag, the candlelit atmosphere and cozy vibe here is well worth the effort. Did I mention that my cravings for the chicken tikka masala here are so strong that I make it a point to come here at least once a month? Seriously delicious. Seriously LIFE CHANGING.
East Bay Indica | cimarron blanco tequila, el silencio mezcal, tamarind syrup, lemon, firewater bitters, cilantro
Skeleton Key | nikka taketsuru whisky, hine vsop cognac, barspoon small hand foods orgeat, barspoon demerara syrup, angostura bitters
Chicken Tikka Masala (chicken breast cooked in a special clay oven with homemade yogurt & spices)
Tandoori Street Tacos (prawns or chicken)
Oxford St. Samosas (fulton valley organic chicken, bacon, caramelized onions)
5 Flora Restaurant & Bar
Address: 1900 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612
Flora is the upscale choice if you really want to treat your love this Valentine’s Day. This Art Deco beauty is sheltered under high ceilings and located directly across from the famous Fox Theater (dinner and a show anyone?) The Piedmontese flatiron steak here is EVERYTHING. Be sure to make a reservation ahead of time to secure a table here and a picture-perfect evening.
Salt & Pepper | City of London gin, lemon, grapefruit, bitters, volcanic black salt
Syrah | Vaughn Duffy, Sonoma County, CA 2013
Half-Dozen Hammersley Oysters (summer melon granita)
Grilled 9oz. Piedmontese flatiron steak (pan-roasted Jimmy Nardello peppers with roasted spring onions, romano beans, & squash blossom butter)
Buttermilk Fried Chicken (mashed potatoes with grilled corn & summer squash, yellow wax beans, Padrón peppers & chile oil)
6 El Techo
Address: 2516 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
What’s more romantic than dining on a rooftop? El Techo is situated atop its sister restaurant Lolinda, in the heart of the Mission, on a rooftop that overlooks the city. Share mouthwatering Latin American street food and a pitcher of margaritas that will guarantee a night of blissful happiness (and possible intoxication). The Coctel de Camaron here is probably the best I’ve had anywhere (ever).
Margarita Pitcher | pueblo viejo blanco tequila, lime, combier
Hummingbird Cocktail | pisco acholado, ginger, chamomile, lime, yellow chartreuse, bitters
Coctel de Camaron (shrimp, avocado, red onion, lime, cilantro)
Chicharrones de Carne (roasted and fried chunks of pork shoulder served with house made tortillas, lime, salsa, black bean puree, and escabeche)
Choripan (chorizo, baguette, chimichurri, red onion)
Address: 4001 Judah St, San Francisco, CA 94122
This popular destination is located in the Outer Sunset, and is known for its ridiculously good brunch. If you have a bit of patience (the wait here can be long), you can start off your Valentine’s Day adventure right at Outerlands. This restaurant is dedicated to sustainability, boasting a menu full of ingredients supplied by local organic farms, ranches, and specialty foods purveyors. Also, brunch is a fantastic excuse to drink during the day. (Bloody Marys!)
Outerlands Bloody Mary
Gin and Juice | ford’s gin, fresh grapefruit, vanilla bean syrup
Today's Doughnut (delicious every time)
Outerlands Breakfast Sandwich (sunny side up egg, sausage, patty, honey mustard, aioli, pickled onions, sesame)
Malted Buttermilk Waffle (apples, walnuts, maple syrup, brown sugar chantilly)
8 Velvet Cantina
Address: 3349 23rd St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Fun fact: Red lights can create a passionate atmosphere, but they have also been proven to increase mitochondrial function and collagen production. You and your date can take advantage of these positive effects by visiting the Velvet Cantina, which combines dim red lightning and lively music to make the perfect Valentine’s Day mood. Also, I could survive solely on the queso offered here.
Paloma | 100% agave silver tequila, grapefruit soda, lime juice
Cilantro Gimlet | freshly muddled cilantro, 100% agave silver tequila, lime juice, agave nectar
Chile Con Queso (a creamy blend of cheddar, jack cheeses, tomato and roasted chilies)
Mushroom Empanadas (sautéed onions, garlic and button mushrooms mixed with pepper jack and cream cheese, stuffed into two empanada shells and topped with mushroom cream sauce)
Avocado Cactus Enchiladas (grilled nopales, chayote, potatoes, slices of avocado, jalapeño cream sauce, pepper jack cheese, cilantro pesto, rice and beans)
Address: 1800 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94111
Another upscale option, Hillstone, is located in the North Beach/ Telegraph Hill area right across from Pier 33. A meal here is definitely unforgettable, and ideal for a celebratory day like Valentine’s Day. Ambient lightning and private booths makes this the ideal restaurant for a private conversation (or an engagement?!!) The Pan-Seared Ahi Tuna Salad here is light and delicious, especially if you’re saving room for their Apple Walnut Cobbler (a dessert that will make your eyes roll back into your head).
Jackrabbit | Partida Reposado tequila, Campari, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, mint
Paradigm | Cabernet Franc 2013, Oakville
USDA Prime Center Cut Filet (hand-selected beef tenderloin, served with something green)
Pan-Seared Ahi Tuna Salad (mango, avocado, mixed greens with cilantro ginger vinaigrette)
Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes (Pommery mustard, hand-cut fries and coleslaw)
10 Mr. Tipple's Recording Studio
Address: 39 Fell St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Truly a one-of-a-kind hidden gem, Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio is a fun and classy place to bring a date on Valentine’s Day. There is live jazz music and no cover six nights a week! Strong cocktails, vintage vibes, and food with a Southern flair makes this restaurant and jazz bar my number 10 pick!
Honeycrisp Blues | vodka, apple, ginger, lemon, bitters, soda
The Money Cat | rum, lime, swedish punsch, island spices, creole bitters
Mr. T’s Chicken & Waffles (Hazel’s fried chicken, sweet potato waffle, bourbon-maple)
Bbq Ribs, Half Rack of Big Daddy’s D’s Ribs (house sauce, with a side of fried cabbage)
Crispy Collard Green Dumplings (ham shank, bell pepper, cream cheese, spicy chutney)
BONUS: 11 Barrelhouse
Address: 305 California Dr, Burlingame, CA 94010
Burlingame may have an older vibe, but it’s still hip on it’s cocktail and whiskey game. Located right next to the Caltrain for easy access, Barrelhouse is a great place to chill outside on a nice day. Their patio is adorable!
Laced Violet | Earl Gray-infused Gin, lavender syrup, lemon, egg white
Chamomile Sour | Chamomile-infused Scottish Leader Scotch, simple syrup, lime, egg white
Mushroom Empanada (local seasonal mushrooms sautéed with shallots, aged parmesan and créme fraîche)
Charcuterie Plate (cheddar, Mediterranean soft and goat cheeses, salame & prosciutto, fig jam, lemon and fennel olives, flatbread and crostini)
“Order in” from Blue Line Pizza next door!