For a great first date, pick a place that’s intimate but busy, classy but not too pricey, with not just great food but great drinks (a little social lubricant always helps with first-date jitters), and of course, that unmistakable x-factor that you just can’t define in any other terms but vibe.
My top choice for a first date place that embodies all of those elements is Luna Maya. This Mexican-Latin restaurant is in a beautiful and hip space situated at the corner of Colley Avenue and 21st Street in the heart of Ghent. With its extensive selection of tequilas, Luna Maya’s drink list includes two versions of “margatinis,” three different mojitos, every kind of margarita except maybe frozen, and my personal favorite, the caipirinha. Tasty tacos and tamales dominate the menu, alongside plenty of vegetarian options. And the tres leches cake, if the date goes well, is a perfectly cool, sweet ending after a sexy, spicy meal.
Honorable mentions: Circa 1918 is a great, if narrow little bar and restaurant in Hilton Village, which is a historic, cobblestoned section of Newport News. And Harper’s Table is a phenomenal Southern restaurant on Main Street in Suffolk; it’s known for incredible food and cocktails, and its rustic and modern space. Both offer a great vibe for a successful first date.
Situated in a stately stone house in Suffolk near where the Nansemond River runs into the James is Vintage Tavern, known for its elegant and upscale take on seasonal Southern food. An incredible wine list accompanies a menu studded with game meats and fresh seafood dishes, plus creative takes on low country classics like shrimp and grits and baby back ribs. In nice weather, enjoy an after-dinner drink in the beautiful outdoor veranda areas that include a lovely garden terrace and fire pits. And if you’re looking for a place for an unforgettable rehearsal dinner, consider their upstairs private dining room, which boasts an impressive stone hearth.
Honorable mention: The best Valentine’s Day dinner I ever had was at Cafe Europa in Old Town Portsmouth. For that occasion they offered a special prix fixe meal, but typically their menu includes refined entrees inspired by Old World classics.
Whether it’s a birthday or just a Saturday worth celebrating, there are nights when you just need to get a sitter, get dressed up, and go on a really nice, fancy date. Without being completely over the top or stuffy, Terrapin is as classy and dressed up as the VB Oceanfront gets. Indulge in a four-course meal selected from a tasting menu that features farm-to-table New American cuisine.
Honorable mention: The Menu Dégustation (Chef’s five course tasting menu) and wine pairing at Le Yaca–offered at both their Williamsburg and Virginia Beach locations–is a lavish French meal that’s about as fancy as one gets.
For true foodies who love a unique dining experience, Stove, the restaurant is the place. Tucked in Port Norfolk, a quiet working-class neighborhood at the edge of the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, is Stove–a quirky, colorful restaurant helmed by the eccentric artist, genius, James Beard Award nominated chef, Sydney Meers. The menu is neo Southern; favorites include Syd’s pimiento cheese, homemade pork-o-rama, and classic spicy etoufee. Brunch is served the first Sunday of every month, and if you are looking for a luxurious daytime date, this is the ultimate pick.
Honorable mention: Eat: An American Bistro on 40th and Atlantic at the Oceanfront, just off the boardwalk. The creative, eclectic menu and modern-tropical vibe make you feel like you’re on your honeymoon at a five-star resort.
Mojito Cafe is a hidden gem at the Oceanfront, inconspicuously located behind a Subway on 8th and Pacific, frequented mainly by locals and very lucky tourists who happen upon it and have the patience to wait in the ever-present line for a table. This place is great for a first or second date, because it’s small and intimate, and serves the best mojito in all of Hampton Roads, along with tasty Puerto Rican and Cuban fare that won’t break the bank. The tostones, fish tacos, and ropa vieja are menu standouts.
Honorable mention: Another favorite among locals is Tautog’s, also at the Oceanfront. This cozy seafood restaurant is located in a Victorian beach cottage and features a great bar, porch seating, and fireplace.
And there’s Press 626, also located in an old Victorian house, on the corner of Colley and Olney Avenues in Norfolk–this small, casual wine bar serves brunch, lunch and dinner.
East Ocean View in Norfolk seems an unlikely place for an intimate Italian eatery, but that’s where you will find Razzo. Though the building, furnishings and decor are simple, and some of the other dinner guests may be dressed casually (it is in OV after all), the food here is traditional, fine Italian. And nothing says romance like fine Italian. Settle in with a martini and the baked fennel appetizer, then indulge in a bottle of red and a classic like chicken marsala, veal parmesan, or stuffed eggplant.
Honorable mentions: For a more old-school Italian restaurant vibe, complete with a piano bar, you actually have two great choices, both in Virginia Beach. One is Aldo’s Ristorante in the La Promenade Shoppes in Hilltop, and the other is Il Giardinio at 9th and Atlantic.
Coastal Virginia is chock full of amazing seafood restaurants, but for a more elevated take, splurge on a night out at Fin Seafood in Newport News. The five-course tasting menu is already a decadent and unforgettable sensory overload, but if there was a seventh heaven, it’s the seven-course tasting menu, which currently includes caviar, smoked citrus cured salmon, crab cake, scallops, camel tenderloin, water buffalo tenderloin, and sweet potato cheesecake. Both prix fixe menus come with the option of a wine pairing or a reserve wine pairing.
Honorable mention: One Fish Two Fish is an airy, summery upscale seafood restaurant with a boutique wine list, exhibition kitchen and wraparound water views, located in the pier house of a boating marina near Chic’s Beach.
Thoughtful, unexpected touches, like cards, menus and desserts with you and your spouse’s names and the message Happy Anniversary are what make an evening out at The Butcher’s Son more than just a date night but a special and memorable dining experience. With locations in both Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, The Butcher’s Son is a classic American steakhouse that boasts exceptional quality products. And for a romantic party, rehearsal dinner, or wedding reception, look into their event planning and private dining options.
Honorable mentions: Byrd & Baldwin in downtown Norfolk is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the region, and rightfully so, with its onsite-aged beef and rich, historic old Norfolk setting. But don’t sleep on River Stone Chophouse in the Harbour View area of Suffolk with its locally-aged beef and impressive Arts & Crafts inspired space. And Schlesinger’s Steakhouse in Newport News’ Port Warwick is a smaller but still substantial steakhouse that gives them both a run for their money.