If food is the ultimate aphrodisiac, then the New York City’s restaurants and cafes are perhaps the best cupid of all. Manhattan seems to have charming, candlelit spots whose kitchens turn out equally charming dishes. Our favorite date spots have little in common other than their intimate, romance-encouraging settings; their chefs serve delicate farm-to-table fare and lusty Mediterranean dishes, bold Spanish tapas and refined plates of local seafood.
So the next time you’re feeling in the mood, grab your partner—or tonight’s Tinder match—and check out one of these nine seductive spots.
Chef Jody Williams’ Buvette whisks you away to a Parisian bistro with adorable decor—it’s got a marble-topped bar, tin ceilings and even a tres chic basketed cruising bike parked out front—and a butter-rich French food. Classic dishes like coq au vin, croque madame, steak tartare and cassoulet are presented small plates-style, encouraging convivial sharing. Located on Grove, one of the city’s most attractive streets, and boasting a tiny, super-intimate back garden, it’s a New York bistro heartily endorsed by the French themselves: an outpost in Paris is thronged nightly.
2. Blue Hill
In the early 2000s, chef Dan Barber revolutionized New York’s culinary scene when he began serving hyper-local fruits, vegetables and meats sourced from the biodynamic Tarrytown, NY farm he runs with his brother in this gorgeous space. Occupying the ground floor of a handsome prewar brownstone, Blue Hill’s space is clean and minimal: unvarnished wood floors, white tablecloths and deep red upholstered chairs, all the better to focus both on your date and on deeply seasonal dishes. Be sure to bring a date you’re comfortable lingering with: only tasting menus are available, either a six-course “Farmer’s Feast” or a three-course option that changes daily.
Pylos, owner and Athens native Christos Valtzoglou elevates stunningly flavorful Greek cuisine with elegant dishes like grilled wild sea scallops tossed with white beans and honey-braised lamb shank. Comprised mostly of two-tops, it’s clear that the long, narrow Seventh Street space is aimed at couples. Let the unique ceiling, hung with rustic, unglazed clay pots, inspire you to share a bottle of minerally white wine grown in Santorini’s volcanic soils.
This low-key Italian bistro seats at most 50 people, mostly two-tops, all under glowing, wall-mounted lanterns. Chef Gabe Thompson, who’s worked under Eric Ripert and Mario Batali, turns out soul-satisfying cuisine such as split marrow bones with pickled onions and creamy risotto studded with housemade sausage. Bottles selected by sommelier Joe Campanale, formerly of Babbo, help enhance the romantic mood.
5. Tia Pol
Located in the shadow of the High Line, this sliver of a tapas bar delivers bold bites like crispy patatas bravas smothered in spicy aioli and sweet piquillo peppers stuffed with vegetables and creamy sheep’s milk cheese. The constant flow of small bites will help prevent any first-date awkward silences.
6. The Mermaid Inn, East Village
Stepping inside seafood mainstay The Mermaid Inn feels like taking a trip to the Cape, without the five-hour drive: elegant and casual all at once, the dining room’s whitewashed walls and framed nautical bric-a-brac inspire an instant slow-it-down mood. Dive into platters of pristine oysters and buttery lobster rolls served with Old Bay-seasoned fries and it will feel like summer all year round. Generously spaced tables leave you free to whisper as many sweet nothings as you like, without the risk of (too much) embarrassment.
The name might imply a shrinking violet, but the food coming out of this tiny 12th Street kitchen is anything but shy. Wallflower’s Executive chef Derrick Paez, who has done stints at culinary heavyweights like Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne and Daniel as well as Jean-George Vongerichten’s Spice Market, has a knack for revitalizing staid French classics. A Nicoise salad gets gussied up with hearty grilled greens and luxurious oil-cured tuna; a less laborious version of cassoulet features crisp-succulent roasted pork belly. There are plenty of small plates to share; terrific cocktails from Xavier Herit, formerly Daniel’s head bartender; and a cozy space with a gold-painted tin ceiling overhead and muted banquettes below.
Food is all well and good when engaging in romance, but let’s be honest: drink is what usually nudges things along. It’s for that reason that wine bars make such great date spots, and Casellula is no exception. With red brick walls, a polished wood floor and light that’s primarily provided by candles, the snug wine bar offers 20-plus reds, whites, pinks and sparklings by the glass, as well as pours of unusual ciders and ales. The food, too, is on point: seasonally topped crostinis, steamed buns stuffed with beef brisket and pineapple BBQ sauce, and an extensive list of cheeses to share.
One of the most intimate spots on our list, The Little Owl tops out at 30 seats—including the four barstools. Bright, unpretentious New American food is Little Owl’s style: dishes such as moist “meatball sliders” served on tiny garlic rolls slicked with gravy, and a juicy pork chop served over butter beans and wilted dandelion greens. The mood inside seems perennially light, and the restaurant’s cheery corner location, with two huge paned-glass windows, lets in a lot of light—or provides excellent people-watching, should your company prove less than exciting.