It feels like date night keeps getting more and more expensive.
The prices at hot new restaurant openings are trending ever upward. As diners look for innovative, interesting concepts that don’t thin out our wallets, industry investors seem more excited to invest in high-concept eateries that cater to the comfortably well off.
Case in point: upcoming French bistro Bullion. Owner Bruno Davaillon told the The Dallas Morning News, “I want a place where people can come two or three times a week.” He also said, in the same interview, that meals will be about $80 per person.
Most of us can’t spend $80 on dinner three times a week. But we certainly want to enjoy the occasional classy date night. An intimate environment, something interesting to drink, damn good food: Surely that’s still affordable somewhere, right?
Here are seven restaurants — and one bar/restaurant crawl — we wholeheartedly recommend as elegant, enjoyable and absolutely date-night worthy without blowing your budget. We used a baseline of about $50 for food for two people, although many of the suggestions below are so affordable that $50 to $60 for two will also cover drinks.
Time to text your partner or start swiping right a little harder: Classy yet affordable is back.
Wine and pizza night: Sassetta
1617 Hi Line Drive (Design District)
Sassetta’s a little loud, but it’s also a rare combination: exquisitely trendy and surprisingly reasonable. Push through the comically huge front door to a sunlit interior full of warm colors and white-clad waiters proffering fresh pizzas. A shared salad, pizza (with a perfectly snappy crust and, after an appetizer, just the right size for two) and a glass of wine per diner will come out to just about $50, but it’s worth spending a little extra on a slice of the lemon cake topped with pine nuts or on an extra glass from Sassetta’s extensive, adventurous, all-Italian wine list.
Wine and pizza night in the 'burbs: Sixty Vines
3701 Dallas Parkway, Plano
Sixty Vines is another riff on the thin-crust, fresh-veggie pizza trend, with a surprisingly decent house label of California wines and an extensive list of vino on tap. (Yes, tap.) Plus, it’s in Plano, making this the perfect place for workers around Legacy to enjoy happy hour or a bowl of fettuccine with diced squash and a sunny side up egg yolk perched on top. One caveat: Sixty Vines is loud, popular and often very busy. What it lacks in intimacy, the huge restaurant more than makes up for in first-date conversation points. Oh, and a couple of bowls of pasta, a couple of glasses of wine and a portion of devil’s food cake with salted-caramel ice cream will come out to about $50.
For the adventurous eater: Lima Taverna
621 W. Plano Parkway, Plano
One of the most exciting Plano openings of 2017, Lima Taverna plates fabulous seafood, from the pescado a lo macho stew to the often-fiery ceviches. Its interior is a nostalgia-filled trip to Peru, and the excellent pisco sours served at the bar certainly don’t hurt. A Peruvian dinner might be a good way to find out if your date has adventurous tastes, although if not, the restaurant serves a first-rate grilled pork chop, too. Either way, you will look in-the-know for recommending an elegant restaurant that still qualifies as an underappreciated hidden gem.
Noodles and a show: Royal China
6025 Royal Lane (North Dallas)
Ask, if you can, to sit at the noodle bar, where some of Dallas’ best dough experts are pulling fresh noodles by hand and forming dumplings from scratch. Order soup dumplings with paper-thin wrappers, made before your eyes, containing pork and a scrumptious savory broth, a sort of culinary magic trick. Don’t miss dan-dan noodles, either, in any of the varieties. There’s other food on Royal China’s menu, too, and it’s pretty consistent, but once you see the noodle makers at work, it’s not likely you’ll feel a desire to order anything else.
Elegance without the crowds: Hon Sushi
1902 E. Belt Line Road, Carrollton
Apples carved into wide-winged swans. Sushi rolls presented in pastoral landscapes under palm trees carved out of cucumbers. Wasabi molded into the shape of a hot pepper. Blocks of ice with parsley sprigs frozen inside. The sushi chefs at Hon Sushi are true artists, with a flair for the visual that matches their honest craftsmanship. In downtown Dallas, Hon Sushi might be prohibitively expensive and filled with suits, but it’s improbably housed in a Carrollton strip mall, where the foodie masses still haven’t found it. I can vouch for this one: I went on a second date here 14 months ago (for this review), and she hasn’t dumped me yet.
A timeless Dallas classic: The Grape
2808 Greenville Ave. (Lower Greenville)
The Grape has been a Dallas legend — and a first choice for date nights — for 45 years. The restaurant is still getting it right, with impeccable service and seasonally rotating menus. Still, as much as the menu changes with the harvest, at least one friend of mine is addicted to the mushroom soup and gets a $4 cup every time. The Sunday brunch is peerless without being pricey, especially if your date doesn’t mind burger grease running down your fingers. May we also recommend a special-occasion splurge on the monthly “Come As You Are” dinner, with three specially chosen courses and wine pairings for $54 per person?
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Friday night escape: Boulevardier
408 N. Bishop Ave. (Bishop Arts)
Here is an essential bit of knowledge: Happy hour at Boulevardier means discounted oysters. Here is another essential bit of knowledge: Arrive at Boulevardier before 6:30 p.m. on a Friday, and the good bottles of bubbly are 50 percent off. In other words, if you and your date find yourselves leaving work early on a Friday, there’s no better place to go. Oysters are allegedly an aphrodisiac, if you believe in that sort of thing. If you don’t, well, Champagne gets you drunk.
The Sylvan Thirty Date Night Crawl: Whisk Crepes or CiboDivino, Jettison, Betty Ringer Ice Cream
1818 Sylvan Ave. (West Dallas)
The Sylvan Thirty development has done a fantastic job building a little date crawl. Start with a light bite for dinner at Whisk Crepes, the cozy Parisian café that somehow escaped and moved to Dallas, or CiboDivino, the Italian market with delightful pasta and pizza. At Whisk, split a big bottle of traditional French cider; at CiboDivino, opt for craft beers or Italian wine. But don’t party too hard because you’ve still got to stop by one of the city’s most sophisticated cocktail bars, Jettison, where the refinement of the drinks is matched only by the friendliness of the staff. If you can ever bring yourself to leave, swing by new Betty Ringer for a scoop of an ice cream flavor like Oaxacan chocolate, horchata or roasted banana pudding.