Formal tables for two at dusk or beyond might not be toast, but restaurants have changed — and so have our ideas of a good Valentine’s Day date. Dinner menus can now be enjoyed at lunch or dinner — some are even available throughout the month — and a movement to include singles, friend groups and families means it’s a great year to shake up your V-Day dining plans.
The Ghiringhelli family runs a pizzeria a few doors down but also operates this petite, wine-forward space. Sure, there’s parmesan truffle fries and G’s famous breadsticks, but why not try the smoked salmon sliders or the wild mushroom and goat cheese flatbread for a special lunch? You could even splurge on the lobster mac & cheese, but the added smoked bacon and shallot cream sauce tastes even better at dinner with a tall glass of chardonnay.
1535-E South Novato Blvd, Novato; 415.878.4915
The all-day, French café concept from a team known for award-winning wine bars means fresh viennoiserie and coffee in the morning and “les verrines,” or small coupes of olives, peppers or mushrooms, during the apéro afternoon happy hour. At night, the casual vibe remains, but the menu of escargot, French onion soup and coq au vin leans into the owners’ heritage, with wines to match, of course.
71 Broadway, Fairfax; 628.253.5161
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Reading a book on paper is pretty much as retro as it gets, but the small bookstore adjacent to the café carries hot titles and a selection of NorCal hiking and history books optimized for the boot-clad crowds who descend here after a day on Mount Tam. Grab a seat on the wide plaza for some afternoon sun or hang out until five when the evening menu of house pizza and meatballs kicks in.
87 Throckmorton, Mill Valley; 415.888.3648
Valentine’s day falls on a Monday this year, which marks Sunday, February 13 as the day to honor the patron saint of love with a strawberry rosé mimosa and pan de mie French toast brunch. Every seat has a view of the waves crashing on Ocean Beach and — added bonus — you can walk off a special meal at any time of day with a long walk on the beach.
1000 Great Highway, San Francisco; 415.386.8439
Aperitivo is a state of mind at the street-side café that is part of the Proper Hotel. The point of the flatiron building hosts a sun-splashed, black-and-white tiled café reminiscent of days gone by and a few tables and tall barstools perfect for canoodling over a dish of razor clams conserva and a Kir Royale. Outdoors, the café tables are better suited to groups and larger dishes of truffled ham and cheese or halibut cheeks pulled straight from the plancha.
1100 Market St, San Francisco, 415.735.7777
A three-course breakfast menu? That’s a mold-breaker in San Francisco where traditional eggs-meat-n-carb plates have reigned eternal. Yet Kristina Compton (Avery, Atelier Crenn) and Rachel Sillcocks (Cyrus, Nopa) play with the trio, incorporating manna with berries or cured trout with eggplant escabeche as the seasons dictate. The three-course menu is also available for dinner on Monday nights, but why not have the omelet topped with kaluga caviar? Très Français and muy delicioso. 701 Union St, San Francisco; 415.872.7023
Open since mid-January, a spot within a stone’s throw of Oracle Park serves up Belgian waffles topped with Cajun chicken alongside a cold brew martini on weekend mornings. During the day, a small bites menu of Reuben egg rolls and fried avocado tostadas with a Royal Monarch cocktail are perfect for meet-cutes while a heartier entrée menu of chicken tikka masala and mushroom heaven pasta signal a full-on date night. 100 Brannan St, San Francisco; 415.655.9545
Tufted banquettes and a clubby, vaguely steampunk-ish vibe at Wunderbar, the reservation-only bar underneath Kenji López-Alt’s Wursthall dips into the spiritual side of cocktails with drinks listed on tarot cards (classic on one side, modern on the other) and a complement of popcorn. Upstairs, a menu of German and American beer, well-made sausages (everything from bratwurst to chorizo verde and Impossible), sandwiches, and salads is relaxed and cheerful. 310 Baldwin Ave, San Mateo; 650.931.4282
A burbling brook adds natural charm to the outdoor beer garden where a morning spent over a plate of chilaquiles or an iceberg wedge plays nicely with a Bloody Mary. At dinner, loaded potato soup tastes like a throwback to another era while jerk chicken with Jamaican rice and peas and fried plantains feels special every time you order it. 1015 Alameda de las Pulgas, Belmont; 650.622.4642
Spanish tapas on the outdoor patio – crab croquettes with tuna sashimi, tomatoes stuffed with manchego or sauteed lobster and Iberian ham on brioche in the Bogavante Roll – are perfect for galentine groups and relaxed afternoons. Check out the wine cellar for hard-to-find bottles of Spanish wines or the speakeasy for paella or only-in-Los Gatos Prime Wellington, perfect for a seated dinner. 50 University Ave, Los Gatos; 408.827.4162
For more on Better:
- Santa Barbara’s Unexpected Hospitality History — Plus, Where to Stay on America’s Riviera
- Napa and Sonoma Are Open Again: The Top New Destinations for Tastings, Dining and Wellness
- Chilling Out on The Central Coast: Resorts Offering a Much Needed Reset
Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.