Where should I take my loved one for a romantic meal? This time of year, readers ask that question a lot. Here’s where I usually get cute and argue that going to a dive bar or eating your weight in dumplings at dim sum is the heart of true romance, and I believe it. I also know it’s not the answer you’re looking for. You want dim lighting, fireplaces, lush decor; nooks for having intimate tête-à-têtes, food designed to impress (or seduce), a vibe.
You got it.
What follows is a collection of some of Boston’s most romantic restaurants. It doesn’t pretend to be complete, which is why that place you’re thinking of isn’t on it; keep that one for yourself. It may be too late to get Valentine’s Day reservations at some of these restaurants, but do not despair. Cook at home and book a table for later. Like romance itself, this list is good year-round.
When a swank steakhouse dinner is called for, the Bancroft — glam, modern, and with plenty of parking — is one fine answer. Tuck into rich clam chowder, hand-cut steak tartare, a bone-in filet, and grilled asparagus with truffle butter, while exploring the well-curated wine list.
15 3rd Ave., Burlington, 781-221-2100, www.the-bancroft.com
In a downstairs dining room with flattering lighting, Casa B feels like a cross between Barcelona and a tropical island. The menu features small plates with Latin and Caribbean flavors and ingredients — meatballs in guava sauce, ceviche, shrimp filled with yuca and wrapped in bacon — and rum is a specialty of the bar. Between Casa B, Celeste, Field & Vine, and Juliet, Union Square might be one of the area’s most romantic dining neighborhoods.
253 Washington St., Union Square, Somerville, 617-764-2180, www.casabrestaurant.com
Eat tons of garlic, drink sangria, and soak in the wonderfully eclectic decor at this Somerville tapas standby. For a similar experience but more international flavors, visit sister restaurant Cuchi Cuchi in Cambridge.
415 Washington St., Somerville, 617-661-3254, www.dalirestaurant.com.
For almost 20 years, this cozy, friendly Roslindale restaurant has been serving Italian fare that would fit right into the North End: bruschetta and fried calamari, house-made pumpkin ravioli and linguine frutti di mare, veal parm and pork tenderloin with fig glaze, prosciutto, and mushroom risotto. It’s intimate and low-lit, the perfect spot to reenact that “Lady and the Tramp" scene over a bottle of wine. Delfino doesn’t take reservations and there’s often a wait, so show up on the early side for a better chance of getting a table.
754 South St., Roslindale, 617-327-8359, www.delfinorestaurant.com
La Fábrica Central
Part restaurant, part jazz lounge, part nightclub, La Fábrica Central offers a warm vibe, rum Old Fashioneds and Pisco cocktails, and food from Puerto Rican celebrity chef Giovanna Huyke: Think empanadas, shrimp in coconut Creole sauce, and Caribbean-style roast chicken.
450 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 857-706-1125, www.lafabricacentral.com
Reserve ahead. It’s hard to get a table at this cozy and beloved Italian restaurant, where chef Michael Pagliarini serves beautiful small plates, monkfish piccata, and the highlight: handmade pasta, from paccheri alla Bolognese to agnolotti del plin with turnips, hedgehog mushrooms, ricotta, and lentils.
1682 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-441-2800, www.giuliarestaurant.com.
Sometimes you just want to park by a crackling fireplace, and the Helmand has been here for that for decades. The Afghan restaurant is a favorite for its ravioli-esque aushak, kaddo (baked pumpkin with garlic yogurt), kebabs and fragrant rice dishes, and more. And vegetarians never have to settle for something less. (Other romantic, fireplace-adjacent spots include Pammy's in Cambridge and Deuxave in Back Bay.)
143 First St., Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-492-4646, www.helmandrestaurant.com
It’s first come, first served at this lively Wellesley restaurant filled with curved booths, arched ceilings, and potted plants. Mezze such as charred octopus and shakshuka, hummus and other dips, and lamb Bolognese and chicken schnitzel with harissa béarnaise are served on pottery handmade by chef Dave Becker.
13 Central St., Wellesley, 781-446-6950, www.juniperwellesley.com
Take in the beautiful view of downtown Boston from the upstairs dining room of chef Youji Iwakura’s Japanese restaurant, specializing in the artful, multicourse cuisine known as kaiseki. Eat pristine sashimi, robata-grilled wagyu, and more; don’t miss the strong sake list. (Mooncusser Fish House also offers an eyeful of Boston streetscape from above, plus an elegant menu highlighting local seafood.)
150 State St., Boston, 617-377-4588, www.kamakuraboston.com
Lolita Fort Point and Yvonne’s
Both of these restaurants, from COJE Management Group, embrace maximalist, sexy-time design. Lolita is right on the water in Fort Point, serving grilled street corn, guacamole, tacos, and tequila. Yvonne’s is downtown, serving charred maitake mushrooms with whipped miso, stone-fired pitas, shareable platters of seared tuna over Sardinian couscous, and fancy cocktails. Both are warrens of discrete spaces filled with chandeliers and couches for draping oneself over.
Lettered on the glass door of MIDA are the words "You look great, come on in.” Why resist such an affirming invitation? At his South End Italian restaurant, chef Douglass Williams serves a perfect romantic dinner: salad, crispy polenta with gorgonzola and honey, spaghetti with crab and chile butter, and one of the city’s best interpretations of tiramisu. That’s my order, at least. Discover yours at this warm and welcoming neighborhood spot. (And if it’s French you’re in the mood for, head a few blocks over to the excellent Bar Lyon.)
782 Tremont St., South End, Boston, 617-936-3490, www.midaboston.com.
The Table at Season to Taste
Where else can you go where the food is both truly excellent and photogenic, and no one is taking pictures of it because they’re all too busy talking and enjoying each other’s company? Chef Carl Dooley, who was a “Top Chef” contestant and chef de cuisine at Craigie on Main, serves four-course tasting menus of dishes that are clever and careful, drawing lovingly from the spice shelf of the world. Each meal ends with one of pastry chef Mary Edinger’s charming desserts. (For a different tasting-menu experience on the other side of the river, try chef Alex Crabb’s Asta in Back Bay.)
2447 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-871-9468, www.cambridgetable.com
Come to Talulla for a bespoke experience from a husband-wife team. Chef Conor Dennehy serves precise, pretty plates centered around local, seasonal ingredients: turnip soup with seared scallop and chile oil; Parisian gnocchi with duck confit, parsnip puree, and pesto made from carrot tops and pumpkin seeds; cod with dashi, daikon, and leek. Danielle Ayer oversees the wine and lovely hospitality. The restaurant is named for their daughter.
377 Walden St., Huron Village, Cambridge, 617-714-5584, www.talullacambridge.com
On oft-shifting Moody Street in Waltham, Tempo has staying power: 15 years and counting. In a room decorated in warm earth tones, share oysters, beet and goat cheese salad, coffee and mesquite grilled hanger steak, and other upscale bistro fare with your date.
474 Moody St., Waltham, 781-891-9000, www.tempobistro.com