With beautiful weather and longer evenings upon us, the urge to find that summer romance (and a restaurant with outdoor patio seating) has never been stronger. Whether you’re still in school and rolling pennies to take out that girl from your BIO101 class, you’re working a 9 to 5 and can’t believe that guy from the office even agreed to go out with you, or you’ve run out of places to take your Tinder matches — there’s a spot in RVA for you. The awkwardness that comes along with a first date is somewhat inevitable, but here’s a rundown of some lovely places that will help take the edge off.
1. Garnett’s Cafe $
Picture this: You’re whisked away for a lunch date. You arrive at a charming café on a street corner and take a seat by the window to look over the menu. You and your date admire the classic décor and order a few sandwiches and sides, and then with a smile the waitress brings your meal out to you in a fully prepared picnic basket, so you can enjoy it in the park across the street. You and your date are able to munch on your meal and peacefully people-watch on Park Avenue, a perfect alternative pastime to get to know one another without having to play the “So, where are you from,” game. Garnett’s is a timeless and wholesome option that is sure to impress.
If a lunch date doesn’t fit your schedule, they offer an amazing date night special every evening after 6pm, featuring any two menu items and a bottle of wine or pitcher of beer for $30. If all goes well and you and your honey are craving something sweet, I’d encourage you to stick around and try a slice of one of Garnett’s homemade cakes or pies — especially if it’s the Hummingbird cake. Thank me later.
2. Nate’s Bagels $
Not everyone wants to sit down for a full-course meal on a first date, and it’s no secret that coffee & bagels are a universal language. Located on the corner of W. Cary Street and S. Allen Avenue, Nate’s Bagels has just celebrated their first birthday and is now happily serving fresh bagels, croissants, and sandwiches piled high with your favorite breakfast fixins’. They offer your usual bagels with seasonal spreads for $5, and the most expensive breakfast sandwich on the menu (Lox w/the works) is only $9, so you won’t be burning a bagel-sized hole in your wallet at this joint.
Order at the counter, find a table along the wall to sit across from your date, and sip some cold brew or freshly squeezed OJ. I’d go with the cold brew — after one cup of that stuff you could have a conversation with a brick wall. Nate’s is definitely a laid-back alternative to a whole evening ordeal. And I mean hey, it is a first date — if you share breakfast and it goes badly, at least you’ve got the whole day ahead of you to hunt down your next prospect.
3. Shyndigz $
I’m sure by know we’ve all heard of the larger-than-life desserts prepared fresh at Shyndigz Café, but did you know that on Wednesdays you can enjoy two delectable dishes AND get a bottle of wine to share for only $20? That’s right — and yes, of course it’s acceptable to skip dinner and head straight for dessert. With a low-lit dining area featuring all the aesthetically pleasing twinkle lights one could ask for, along with a patio filled with manicured plants and flowers, you can practically smell love in the air — or is that the buttercream?
4. Charm School $
With dessert on the brain, I had to mention the adorable ice cream parlor on W Broad St. that offers ever-changing flavors accommodating to any dietary restrictions out there (lactose intolerant folks welcome). Charm School is a wonderfully quiet place to have a cone and a conversation. It’s especially great for those casual situations where you don’t know if you’re really on a date-date, but you’re out of the house with another person so you can just eat ice cream and figure it out as you go. Not only will the smell of freshly-made waffle cones lure you in, Charm School will also toast a dollop of marshmallow fluff atop your scoops right before your eyes. C’mon, who doesn’t love a first-date goodnight kiss that tastes like ice cream?
5. Pupatella, a Neapolitan pizzeria $$
This brick-oven pizza place has a foolproof first date experience waiting inside. It’s a counter-style restaurant, so you and your crush can look over the menu before ordering at the register, then choose to sit wherever you’d like. All the pies are personal size, about 12 inches apiece, and are made fresh to order, with a lengthy list of possible ingredients, from your typical red sauce Margherita pizza to a decadent Burrata pizza with cherry tomatoes and an olive oil base. The only problem you’ll have with the menu is deciding which pizza to eat now and which to come back and get tomorrow.
There’s a full beer and wine list, featuring local beers on draft and wines ranging from your typical prosecco to too-Italian-to-attempt-pronunciation. If you know your date is a regular wino, I’d encourage you to order two pizzas, which will get you $10 off any bottle of your choice.
6. Pop’s Market on Grace $$
Pop’s Market is an ideal spot for the indecisive, offering numerous flavor-filled and homemade options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The counter-style joint, located blocks away from The National and the Richmond Ballet, serves up everything from deli sandwich classics featuring freshly-made bread to indulgent pastas & steak. Whether you’d like to split an Cuban sandwich and some hummus for a $15 lunch, or share a tapas board and try the Hanger Steak or Seared Scallops for a hearty $40 dinner, you’re sure to find something both you and your date will enjoy at Pop’s.
The open, inviting dining space is a refreshing change of pace from some upscale and intimidating restaurants where you might find similar meals. With a quiet and calm atmosphere, you can sit along the counter by the windows lit with twinkly string lights, or share a table and watch the kitchen doors in hopes that you’ll soon see your food round the corner.
7. Carytown Sushi $($)
Sushi is a risky first date, as it’s one of those foods you either love or loathe, but this seeming hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurant offers a deal that’s too good to pass up. Every Tuesday and Wednesday from 5-7pm, they offer half-off select rolls, including favorites like the California Roll, their signature Richmond Roll, the Sweet Potato Roll, and many more. You could pick three rolls off that menu for a whopping total of approximately $8. They also offer a full drink menu and PBR’s for only $1.
Of course, you can always go the high-roller route & order their beautifully stacked Chef Special rolls and a couple of Sake bombs; I suppose it depends on how much you like your date. The location couldn’t better, as it’s right across from the Byrd Theatre (much cheaper than a Regal Cinema), and along the Carytown strip of shops, which is perfect for an evening stroll with someone you barely know.
8. Kitchen64 $$$
With lively menu and equally lively staff, Kitchen64 is a place you just can’t go wrong. In the Northside off Boulevard is this hidden gem serving up an array of foods you’ll drool over just reading about. Chesapeake Crab Chips, Greek Nachos, and Fried Green Tomatoes are just a few of their numerous appetizers to prepare you for the burger, seafood platter, or lamb chop entrée that await you.
The average cost for a decadent entrée or chef special is about $18, so while it’s not the cheapest option, the food is well worth the cost and sure to satisfy. A friendly ambiance with wide open dining space and a full bar provides just enough excitement to keep the date from going silent. With its close proximity to the Diamond and the Boulevard Square Movieland, your evening doesn’t have to end with dinner — but based on how full you’ll be, you may have to call it a night.
9. Comfort $$$
A southern-inspired simplistic menu featuring made-from-scratch meals in a homey and warm-feeling restaurant; what a perfect way to spend an evening. Order a drink from the “Hello, I’m Dolly” cocktail menu and peruse the delectable small plates and classics of southern cuisine that Comfort has to offer. Pulled pork, fried catfish, and sirloin are just a few of the favorites off the menu, and they all come with your choice of two sides. Really though, there’s only one choice to be made… because if you went to Comfort and didn’t experience their mac and cheese, you truly didn’t go at all.
Their classic entrées will run you about $20 each, but the best part of this place is that 100% of their net profits go to Feedmore, VA’s core hunger-relief organization. You can enjoy a nice dinner, get to know a special someone, and help feed children, all in one outing.
10. Postbellum $$$
This restaurant needs no description, just two words: Rooftop. Seating.
Everyday from 3:30pm til 2am (weather permitting), you can enjoy craft cocktails like the purple nurple or sunset punch, along with unique shareables that feature grilled quail and potato gnocchi, as well as entrees like honey butter fried chicken and even vegan chickpea fritters. For an app and two entrées you’re looking at about a $50-60 bill, but you can eat on a roof overlooking W. Main Street, which is like the adult version of eating a turkey leg on a ferris wheel. So, it’s money well spent.