Forget the clichés. Truly romantic restaurants focus on what’s important: stellar food and wine, well-trained staff, and an atmosphere that makes you want to linger.
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A mesmerizing view helps, as do tables set well apart from each other. If you require a little more seclusion, it’s tough to beat Little Palm Island Resort, off Florida’s Key West. A seaplane or boat ride is the only way to reach this tropical oasis, where you can dine at a candlelit table on the beach.
We think it’s pretty simple: a great romantic restaurant, such as the ones here, should make you feel the way a great romantic partner does—special, and like you’re the only person in the room.
The Marine Room, San Diego
Vanilla poached lobster and dessert tasting menus pair nicely with sunset views at this 72-year-old landmark restaurant. But the hottest tables are for chocolate brioche French toast at “high tide breakfasts,” from 7 to 10 on weekday mornings, when the rollicking waves set the mood.
Sotto 13, New York City
If you’re always drawn to the next hot new thing, may we introduce this West Village number? Sotto 13 has the signs of a trendy Manhattan restaurant—inventive small plates meant for sharing, gourmet pizzas, mixologist-designed cocktails—in an alluring space. A roaring wood-fired pizza oven is the centerpiece of the rustic dining room, outfitted with bare wood beams, wrought-iron caging, and a skylight that reveals a weeping willow.
Pier W, Lakewood, Ohio
Romantic sunset dinners over the water aren’t reserved exclusively for California and Hawaii. Designed to resemble the luxury liners that once sailed Lake Erie, this one-of-a-kind establishment perches on a lakeside cliff with sweeping views that extend to the downtown skyline, sparkling in the distance. Secure a window table and dive into cedar-planked organic salmon roasted in a hearth oven and warm chocolate truffle cake speckled with cocoa nibs and coffee caramel.
White Barn Inn, Kennebunk Beach, Maine
If you think "Maine" and "winter" can't be synonymous with romance, you haven't dined at this restaurant ensconced in two restored 1820s-era barns, complete with candles and fine white linen and silver. (The staff has witnessed countless marriage proposals.) Evergreen trees are visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the seasonal four-course tasting menu emphasizes local game and produce in dishes like pan-seared quail breast with hedgehog mushrooms.
Zambra, Asheville, N.C.
Descending into Zambra—carved into a subterranean space below a bookstore—feels like entering into a colorful, secret world. Designed by a local artist, the low-lit retreat is accented with Moorish arches, wooden columns, and booths lined with throw pillows. An eclectic tapas menu combines influences from Spanish, Portuguese, North African, and Gypsy cuisines with farm-to-table Carolina ingredients and an excellent wine selection. Call ahead to find out if your night will include a live jazz trio or belly dancers.
The Beach House, Kauai, Hawaii
Start with the restaurant’s signature coconut mai tai as you settle in to a “sunset table” on the outdoor lanai overlooking Kauai’s Poipu Beach. Watch whales playing in the surf, or simply focus on the flavorful Pacific Rim cuisine in front of you—lemongrass and kaffir lime crusted sea scallops, fresh ceviche served in a coconut shell, and the molten chocolate “desire,” a decadent flourless chocolate mocha tart.
French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.
Calling a Thomas Keller restaurant “romantic” is kind of like calling an Apple product “well designed.” Yet the combination of a Napa setting, three Michelin stars, and careful-to-a-fault service makes The French Laundry impossible to ignore. The real world practically disappears as you pass through the vine-covered entrance to this sanctuary of inventive, French-inflected American cuisine.
Simon Pearce Restaurant, Quechee, Vt.
Glassmaker Simon Pearce’s restaurant, housed in a restored mill overlooking the falls of Vermont’s Ottauquechee River and its covered bridge, is a food destination worth its out-of-the-way address. The exposed-brick and blond wood terrace dining room—hanging over the falls—is open and airy in the summer and fully glass-encased during winter. Ask for “table #5,” an intimate two-seat table set directly over the rushing river.
Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Las Vegas
As cheesy as a replica Eiffel Tower might seem—especially in Sin City—this is no Vegas buffet. Ride the glass elevator to the 11th floor, high above the buzzing Strip, where you can watch the Bellagio’s water-fountain light show from floor-to-ceiling windows. Choose from an extensive French menu—from blue cheese soufflé to herbed crêpes and creamy foie gras—all paired with the restaurant’s wide variety of wines.
Little Palm Island Resort, off Key West, Fla.
Florida’s most secluded retreat can be reached only by seaplane or boat, but a meal at Little Palm Island is worth the quick trip over the Gulf’s azure waters. Explore the five-and-a-half seaside acres along crushed seashell paths, then meander to the breezy, candlelit dining room. Dine on the terrace set above the beach or at a table right on the white sand, next to a roaring bonfire.
See more of America’s most romantic restaurants.