20 Love

New York's Most Romantic Restaurants

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when MEXICO LINDO represented all New York knew about Mexican food. A strolling guitarist appears, heralding enchilada, tamale, and tostada combinations swimming in mild chile gravy. The black bean soup, rife with chopped onions and kissed with sherry, is unimpeachably good. The main dining room is warm and extensively decorated, but the glassed-in annex harbors the best tables for two. 459 Second Avenue, 212-679-3665, $35 for two

Under Rafael Guastavino's vaulted dome we sat, slurping raw oysters named Matinecock and Cuttyhunk, avoiding Prudence Island. At the GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR, watch the shellfish shuckers and chowder cooks methodically go about their work while you deposit a self-mixed cocktail sauce with plenty of horseradish on your bivalves. Next share a perfect oyster po' boy, and, finally, an oyster pan roast. Your paean to the world's most popular aphrodisiac is complete. Grand Central Terminal, lower level, 212-490-6650, $35 for two

Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and his table is set at PÃO!, New York's finest Portuguese restaurant, a cramped and dimly lit matchbox of a place in a neighborhood with no name. Marvel at the tart pork-and-clam combination that sent Magellan on his way, as your garlic sausage sputters in a pig-shaped brazier, cooking at the table in brandy flames. The extensive list of affordable Portuguese wines is another big plus. 322 Spring Street, 212-334-5464, $60 for two

Chez Es Saada: The fruity cocktails do the trick every time.
all photoa: Jesse James
Chez Es Saada: The fruity cocktails do the trick every time.

Guttering candles dribble wax into gothic towers, and branches hang in tangles from the ceiling at IL POSTO ACCANTO, giving the room all the coziness of a hobbit's lair. The paninos, pastas, and pizzas seem to have been invented to go with the impressive list of Italian wines, many available by the glass or quartino. There are plenty of vegetarian options, including a stunning selection of antipasti in the glass case at the end of the bar. 190 East 2nd Street, 212-228-3562, $40 for two

Rhône, a rare gal-friendly atmosphere

Romance is in the air at RHONE, where the wine-sipping singles at the bar are as likely to be women as men, creating a rare gal-friendly atmosphere. Rhônes are the wines of the moment, and this soaring space, nooked and balconied like a Taliban cave, offers a wealth of them, many by the glass. In addition to full meals, there are plenty of snacking options to go with the Châteauneuf-du-Papes and Liracs, including an intriguing platter of olives and dips, and a deliciously oily salad of asparagus spears and artichoke hearts. 63 Gansevoort Street, 212-367-8440, $40 snacks and wine for two

If you long to be Rock Hudson or Audrey Hepburn in a lip-locked cinematic interlude, pick the back dining room of ROMANO, an Italian restaurant dating to the '30s. Tiny lights cascade from the ceiling, and the Roman spedini—a deep-fried cheese sandwich draped with salty anchovies—is one of the most erotic eats I know. Finding this obscure Dyker Heights spot is half the fun. 7117 13th Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-232-5226, $50 for two

Cheapest date in town, and still one of the best, is a nocturnal jaunt on the STATEN ISLAND FERRY. First, carry out a Pakistani banquet from the PEARL PALACE (60 Pearl Street, 212-482-0771), consisting of tandoori chicken, garlic naan, and a vegetable or two, then picnic on the boat. Explore all the decks, and steal a kiss on the deepest one, where passengers once sat in their cars, staring ahead into the darkness. $12 for two

Some people think that passion's perfect prelude is a thick cut of juicy red meat. Giving this linkage physical form, STRIP HOUSE looks like it was decorated by Russ Meyer, with portraits of strippers lining the red-flecked walls, and solid entrées featuring steak and fish. Of the former, best is the New York strip, and don't miss the potatoes fried in goose fat, either. 13 East 12th Street, 212-328-0000, $100 for two

Wattled and thatched like an African hut, the eccentric SUGAR BAR is the domain of '70s superstars Ashford & Simpson, one of the city's most romantic couples. The menu is pointedly brief, and you can't go wrong chasing the catfish fingers with sliced steak draped in caramelized onions, but the powerhouse cocktails are the star of the show. 254 West 72nd Street, 212-579-0222, $70 for two

We're very lucky to have SWEET-N-TART, serving a full menu of tong shui ("sweet soup"), a Chinese food fad that goes back a thousand years. There's a typical Cantonese menu available, too, in addition to various porridges, gelatins, soups, and hot and cold beverages, all with obscure health-enhancing properties. The amorously inclined are invited to sip fruit-based beverages with names like First Love, Pink Lady, and Hawaii Escape. With its playful lighting, dangling grapes, and comparatively sprightly clientele, the downstairs room at 20 Mott is especially recommended. 20 Mott Street, 212-964-0380; 76 Mott Street, 212-334-8088; 136-11 38th Avenue, Flushing, 718-661-3380, $25 for two

Tentacles unfurled and drenched in herbed oil, the octopus appetizer makes a magnificent mass in the middle of the plate. Offering modern Italian fare with well-chosen pastas, and meaty and fishy secondi heavy on the garlic, TAPPO is a pair of darkened halls with big wood tables—you'll be sharing your table with other couples and liking it. The flattering lighting seems invented for romance. 403 East 12th Street, 212-505-0001, $80 for two

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