Best-of Guides New York

Best Restaurants for a First Date

17 Restaurants
Finding the ideal setting for a first date is sort of like trying to solve the Goldilocks conundrum. You want something nice but not too fancy—because sitting through a three-hour tasting menu could be a deal breaker. You also don’t want to go too casual (read: cheap). A lively, buzzy spot will help ease the first date jitters, but it can’t be too loud that you can’t hear each other wax on about your idyllic childhoods. The food should be innovative but not so challenging that you both are stumped on what to order. Fortunately, there are certain restaurants in the city that can set the right tone. King, the bright and cheerful restaurant located in a West Village townhouse, started by chef friends Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt, features a simple menu with just a handful of dishes every night. This makes ordering seamless so you can focus on the date instead of deciphering complicated ingredients. The room is airy with only a handful of tables that are decorated with bud vases and cellars of salt and pepper. Start off with their signature panisse, fried chickpea fritters with sage, followed by a chicory salad with warm lentils and a soft egg and then monkfish roasted with parsley butter. There is also an excellent selection of wines by the glass. You’ll feel like you are having a leisurely meal in Italy or France—and it doesn’t get more romantic than that. At Altro Paradiso, the stylish SoHo restaurant offers several private corner booths and soft, amber lighting that casts a flattering glow on the always fashionable crowd. Chef and owner Ignacio Mattos serves simple, flavorful fare like roasted chicken with chicory, grilled octopus and fennel salad, which will please even the fussiest diner. In Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, Saint Julivert Fisherie offers up a warm, inviting ambience and plenty of small, shareable plates. Wash down spicy peanuts and stuffed olives with a glass of sherry as you break the ice, and if it’s going well, you can continue with dishes like grilled shrimp and shiso tacos with scallops. You might get to see husband and wife owners Alex Raj and Eder Montero in action and be inspired by their successful relationship, so save room for dessert—like the cherry marsala zabaglione. Keep reading for more spots ideal for first (or second) dates.

New York City by The MICHELIN Guide

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Updated on 16 May 2024
Foul Witch
15 Avenue A, 10009 New York
$$$$ · Contemporary

More fair than foul, this East Village spot is from the same folks behind the late Blanca and Roberta's. From the open kitchen and wood-burning oven to the exposed brick and glass chandeliers, this restaurant has a cozy charm. Its look may lean vintage, but its menu skews contemporary.

Inspector notes: "The fire and ice dish, with house-made 'nduja topped with stracciatella and served with toasted bread bears an Italian influence, while roasted mushrooms in a rutabaga-based broth is soul satisfying."

87 MacDougal St., 10012 New York
$$$ · Seafood

Dreamed up by Patricia Howard and Ed Szymanski, this pop-up turned brick-and-mortar is all the rage, so reservations are a must. It's a quaint space, dressed with white and blue hues as well as wood accents.

Inspector notes: "The seafood-focused menu spins to the season, although fish and chips is the dish that catapulted it to fame. Featuring a massive piece of hake with a lacy batter and sprinkling of salt flakes, this cult classic arrives with fries and tartar sauce."

Loring Place
21 W. 8th St., 10011 New York
$$$ · American

Named after the Bronx street that his father grew up on, Loring Place is where Chef Dan Kluger serves up delicious, stylistic, and locally sourced Californian cuisine to a downtown crowd. And yet, none of this comes as a surprise as the chef has showcased his talents for years and been the recipient of much acclaim in the city.

Inspector notes: "His skillfully made, vegetable-centric American fare served here is unique and spirited, beginning with caramelized cauliflower served with chilies and Meyer lemon jam. The wood-oven pizzas, made with house-milled whole wheat flour, are a hit at any time."

119 1st Ave., 10003 New York
$$$ · Korean

This Korean spot has a cool, vintage vibe that comes complete with wood paneling and banquette seating. Framed artwork highlights a maritime theme which comes as no surprise since this contemporary, shared plates-style menu zeroes in on the seaport city of Busan. Seafood specialties span every section and even include a bibimbap made with uni cream.

Inspector notes: "Be sure to try the scallop DIY gimbap, with thinly sliced raw scallops served alongside squid jeotgal, scallion mayo, apple kimchi and crispy gim/seaweed squares for assembling."

127 Columbia St., 11231 New York
$$ · Italian

This quaint and adorable nook—with small tables set shoulder-to-shoulder—is poised on the waterfront and overlooks the river. Inside, the space is homey and scattered with patrons perusing the limited yet tempting menu. Italian leanings dominate most dishes turned out of the adept kitchen, including pappardelle floating in a parmesan broth with tender ham hock and collards, as well as hearty arancini finished with saffron honey.

Inspector notes: "Highlights like hot chicken milanese served with crunchy radicchio, and hake with a vibrant green garlic sauce showcase a delightful union of flavors and textures."

137 Avenue A, 10009 New York
$$$ · Japanese

This high dining, hyper-sustainable operation is proudly unbound by tradition. The space is quaint and deviates from the blonde-wood minimalism so prevalent these days. Instead, find hues of cerulean blue and a counter made from a tree. À la carte is available but go for the tasting menu to really understand this restaurant's sourcing philosophy.

Inspector notes\: "In terms of cuisine, it's pure contemporary elegance, as seen in shrimp nigiri that's first cured, then seared until it curls into the rice and finished with shrimp head-chili oil."

679 Ninth Ave., 10036 New York
$$$$ · Korean

Mari, which means “roll” in Korean, is Hell’s Kitchen’s latest destination from the talented Sungchul Shim, who made a name for himself at his tasting counter (Kochi) just down the street. Those familiar with casual Japanese handroll counters are in for a surprise as Chef Shim reimagines the genre as a tasting menu, primed with top-notch ingredients and Korean flavors.

Inspector notes: "Glistening planks of Ora King salmon; tender strips of cured mackerel; and melting slabs of pork belly marinated with ssamjang are placed on beds of rice cradled in seaweed."

Nami Nori
33 Carmine St., 10014 New York
$ · Japanese

Temaki or hand rolls—don't miss the fantastic vegan options—are front-and-center, along with other items like a vegetable miso soup with fried tofu and shishito. Hungry diners will revel in the chef's set, which may uncover such delectable combos as salmon, onion cream, and tomato in toasted nori.

Inspector notes: "Topped with scallions, chopped toro on wasabi rice is hard to resist; not unlike the broiled crab with spicy mayo that arrives in a nori shell studded with Rice Crispies for a delightfully inventive treat."

Gus's Chop House
215 Union St., 11231 New York
$$$ · Steakhouse

Far from the stuffiness of typical steakhouses, the candlelit dining room has its charms, and neighbors are sure to crowd around the bar and order the off-menu burger. As for on-menu, the kitchen showcases surprising creativity in winners like “leek a la wedge” or hash brown with smoked trout roe.

Inspector notes: "Pork porterhouse is the main attraction, though all proteins from lamb loin to the NY strip are finished with a compelling brown butter sauce. Sides like sweet potato pave are equally thoughtful."

Saint Julivert Fisherie
264 Clinton St., 11201 New York
$$ · Seafood

This long-time neighborhood favorite comes courtesy of Chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero, who also run next-door La Vara. The narrow space does not at all match the kitchen’s outsized talents and imaginative plates, which put seafood front and center.

Inspector notes: "Consider starting with spiced Puerto Rican hushpuppies or shiso steak tartare tacos before diving into the likes of seared scallop tostadas with black garlic and olive agrodolce or mussel toast with fermented cucumber and dill."

Altro Paradiso
234 Spring St., 10013 New York
$$$ · Italian

Often packed and quintessentially SoHo, this beloved charmer from Chef Ignacio Mattos is as welcoming as ever. Far from predictable, the menu is a thoughtful, creative curation based on the seasons and on regional specialties. Pastas like the strozzapreti with Meyer lemon or the capellini with tuna and Calabrian chili are made in-house and rotate frequently. Entrees like the roasted half chicken or bronzed Milanese feed groups with ease.

Inspector notes: "From winter citrus topped with Formaggio di Fossa to abundant chicories spiked with a sharp vinaigrette, the salads are worthy complements to any meal."

Sami & Susu
190 Orchard St., 10002 New York
$$ · Mediterranean Cuisine

As further proof that big things often come in small packages, watch this narrow nook make a regular out of you in no time. On busy Orchard Street, this neighborhood gem hides in plain sight, anchored by a kitchen that doesn’t even have a proper gas stove. Seasonal, bright and unfussy, the menu is small but endlessly tempting as it roams the Middle East for inspiration. Simple, familiar things like tabbouleh chock full of fresh mint and sweet corn spark instant summer joy.

Inspector notes: "Order anything with lamb, whether it’s wrapped in soft cabbage leaves or stuffed into squash blossoms, delicately fried and paired with creamy tzatziki."

Pinch Chinese
177 Prince St., 10012 New York
$$ · Chinese

Go ahead and pinch yourself—you’re not dreaming. Pinch Chinese is really that good. The décor, with red metal chairs and birch countertops, is straight-up SoHo, but the food is all Flushing. The glass-paneled kitchen with mask-wearing chefs can veer a bit lab-like, but don’t worry, as they’re busy making soup dumplings.

Inspector notes: "Pork soup dumplings are a bite-sized explosion of savory goodness, with fresh ginger, black vinegar and soy sauce; while perfectly crispy duck slices are served with wraps, hoisin, and cucumber for a deliciously classic rendition."

Place des Fêtes
212 Greene Ave., 11238 Brooklyn
$$$ · Contemporary

Wine bars are rarely known for their food, and sometimes we have to make the most out of a small bowl of popcorn. Thankfully, compromise isn’t on the table at this popular Clinton Hill hangout, courtesy of the talented team behind Oxalis.

Inspector notes: "This casual second act cooks as great as it pours, and both the food and the wines lean Spanish. Simple seafood preparations, thick blocks of grilled toast and thoughtful vegetable courses form the heart of the menu."

372 Lafayette St., 10012 New York
$$$ · Mexican

Flatiron favorite Cosme may be doted on by diners, but nobody puts Atla in a corner. The delightful little sibling on Lafayette Street stands proudly on its own two feet; and if the dazzling design—defined by black-and-white tiles, tiny wood tables, and a bustling, cosmopolitan scene—makes it feel like a contemporary Mexican terrace, well that’s the point.

Inspector notes: "First things first: order a mezcal from the massive selection, then settle in to peruse the list of small plates. Arctic char tostada is a classic, but the scallop ceviche with cherry tomato is sure to garner a serious following."

18 King St., 10014 New York
$$$ · Mediterranean Cuisine

Chef/owners Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt met working at London's esteemed River Café, then banded together with Annie Shi to open King. The popular bar area leads to an intimate rear dining space lined with bright artwork and gleaming mirrors—the overall effect is a sense of ease that restaurants can take ages to acquire. The kitchen brings a deft touch to their small, daily-changing menu, with ingredients pulled straight from the greenmarket.

Inspector notes: "A tangle of warm tagliarini has gratifying bite, paired with a textured tomato sauce; while perfectly cooked lombatello (Italian for hanger steak) arrives chargrilled over twigs of rosemary, with braised rainbow chard and a lovely anchovy and oregano salsa."

16 W. 22nd St., 10010 New York
$$$$ · Korean

Korean-born Simon Kim opened Cote as a joyful celebration of his home country’s love for beef allied with his admiration for the great American steakhouse. Just head downstairs and admire the meats hanging in the aging room. The space also breaks the norm in its mien—dark, moody and atmospheric. There’s a comprehensive wine list too, which, if you look close enough, offers nuggets of value. (Downstairs is their ersatz speakeasy, Undercote.)

Inspector notes: "First-timers should go for the “Butcher’s Feast” featuring different cuts of beef, an egg soufflé, and enough banchan to cover your table. Meats are first presented raw for you to admire; your server then oils the grill and expertly cooks them. A supporting cast of kimchi and ssamjang merely elevate their flavor."

Hero image: Adam Friedlander