The East Village is so concentrated with restaurants, the question is less, “Is there anywhere good?” and more, “How the hell am I supposed to pick a place?” We can help.
When it comes to picking a date spot, you want a place that’s a little fancier but not boring, lively but not a mess, and delicious. If you’re looking for such a place in the East Village, here are our favorite options. Follow-up date guaranteed or your money back. (Not actually, but good luck.)
There’s gnocchi and polenta on the Italian-influenced menu at Hearth, but you should still be able to make it through a three-hour Paul Thomas Anderson movie at AMC afterwards. Vegetables make up the biggest part of the menu, and even the pastas and meat entrees are made to be slightly healthier than your usual pastas and meat entrees. The wine list is huge, with a lot of options by the glass, and the dark space with curtained windows works well for dates. They also run a wine and oyster bar next door that’s a great place to hang out before or after dinner.
If you’re with someone who likes spending most of dinner discussing dinner - the ingredients, presentation, whether or not your chicken was happy before you ate it - bring them to Oiji. The cocktails with ingredients like tamarind syrup and coconut cream, and the creative Korean small plates, like mackerel that you brush soy onto with pine needles, should give you plenty to talk about before, during, and after each dish.
There are a ton of options for good pasta in the East Village, but this one feels like you’ve left the East Village. If you ask for the wine list, a server, or quite possibly the owner, will bring you a milk bottle rack of six Italian wines. He’ll explain how all of the pastas are made-in house daily, and how they own another restaurant in Tuscany. The rustic space, straw wine carafes, and old Italian posters on the walls may not take you back to that little pasta spot next to your Airbnb in Siena, but it gets pretty damn close.
Virginia’s serves one of our favorite burgers in the city, but you used to only be able to order it at the cramped bar. Not ideal, unless you want a stranger to overhear how you won’t spend another night at your date’s apartment until he gets a memory foam mattress. Fortunately, you can now get the super-rich burger anywhere in the restaurant, and the leather booths here are great for kind-of-fancy date nights.
If you’re looking for very good sushi in a cool space, then sit in the small dining room at Jewel Bako, which looks like a dimly-lit subway tunnel. Share some appetizers and the surprisingly affordable entrees - $38 gets you eight pieces of sushi or sashimi along with a special roll and soup. If you want a more serious sushi date night, you can do the chef’s omakase at the sushi bar.
If you’ve ever had brunch at Prune, you may have wondered what this place is like at dinner. So we’ll tell you: it’s better. The tiny space is packed, the American menu changes every night, and unlike at brunch, they take reservations - so you won’t have to stand on 1st Street for two hours while people work their way through the 10 different types of Bloody Marys. Impress someone here who’s only seen this place in the daytime.
Wine bars tend to be quiet, dimly-lit spaces where you can avoid talking about which one of you should give up your apartment by asking the bartender to tell you more about the Chianti. Il Posto Accanto is such a place, but instead of serving only salads and a $26 charcuterie plate, they make very good Italian share plates and affordable pastas.
On paper, Upstate sounds pretty nondescript - a tiny neighborhood seafood spot with about six menu items - but we’ve probably gone on more dates here than anywhere else in the neighborhood. It calls itself a beer and oyster bar, and while they carry unusual beers and about 20 different types of oysters, you could just as easily treat this place as a wine bar. They have some great local wines along with some ridiculously good linguine with clams.
Pylos is a somewhat upscale Greek restaurant, but the service is friendly and the dining room full of two-tops with pillow-covered benches is still a comfortable place to bring a date. As far as we’re concerned, there’s only one way to order here: get all of the appetizers. Share them and some Greek wine underneath some hanging clay pots that are only slightly disconcerting to sit under.