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Patatas bravas and boquerones on white plates.
Small plates at Barcelona Wine Bar.
Barcelona Wine Bar

Where to Find the Triangle’s Most Romantic Restaurants

Fall in love over tapas, oysters, or wine

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Small plates at Barcelona Wine Bar.
| Barcelona Wine Bar

What makes a restaurant “romantic”? Arguably the answer is subjective, romance comes in many forms (and hey, who’s to say some burgers and Cookout shake enjoyed in the car with a beloved isn’t high romance?), but in general diners tend to look for a few things when booking a meal with that special someone. Good ambience, a unique and memorable dining experience, and top notch food are clearly the order of the day. From there, the experiences can diverge — one couple might like a bustling, hip vibe for their date-night dinner ambience while another might prefer to tuck themselves away in a cozy corner where conversation is easy and privacy is assured.

There are easily dozens of restaurants across the Triangle that might fit the bill for a romantic night out, but the following eight establishments hit all the right notes when it comes to ambience, experience, and, above all, food. From a lively bar setting where the tapas seem to flow endlessly to one of the most iconic and celebrated dining rooms in North Carolina, those hungry for both romance and a stellar meal will be well-served at any of these spots.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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The Fearrington House Restaurant

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The Fearrington House Restaurant (located at the luxury inn of the same name) has been one of the Triangle’s most coveted reservations for generations. Guests have quite literally helicoptered in for a meal at the restaurant, which is available as a three- or four-course seasonal menu or a more elaborate seven-course tasting menu, both of which are overseen by longtime chef Colin Bedford. The setting itself is designed for quiet luxury, with diners spread among the rooms of the original farmhouse that forms the heart of the larger Fearrington House complex. Sommelier Todd Chatterton recently took over as beverage and service director and is in charge of the restaurant’s more than 1,500 bottle wine collection, as well as the cocktail menu — pairings are available with all tasting menus.

Yamazushi

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Yamazushi specializes in the kaiseki style of Japanese tasting menu, which itself is based on a traditional omotenashi tea ceremony. All of this is to say that much care, thought, and precision go into each of the eight to nine courses that are prepared by chef George Hitoshi Yamazawa and presented at precisely timed intervals throughout the dining experience. The restaurant also offers sake pairings designed to complement each course, and beer is available as well. The clean lines and calming tones of Yamazushi’s interior lend themselves to an overall atmosphere that encourages diners to fully immerse themselves in the experience.

Saint James Seafood

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If oysters and champagne truly are aphrodisiacs, then chef Matt Kelly might find himself responsible for a bit of a baby boom as he reopens his flagship seafood restaurant this winter. Oysters (both raw and cooked) pop up all over the menu, and a selection of seafood towers turn heads as they pass through the dining room on their way to tables and booths in the two-story space. Couples who like a more boisterous date night can snag seats at the raw bar or in a downstairs booth, while those looking for a more cozy spot can request a table tucked away in one of the upstairs corners. Other menu highlights include the hot baked crab dip, Creole cioppino, and a deviled crab linguine.

Killer Queen

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Wine lovers are hoping that the third time’s the charm for Killer Queen, which took up residence last year in the space formerly occupied by Bar Lusconi and then Bar Brunello. The vibe couldn’t be different, though, with plush furniture, mirrors, and an overall atmosphere that screams Paris-meets-Durham. The ever-changing wine list is the star, but Killer Queen is also distinguishing itself from its predecessors with more food options. There’s the to-be-expected cheeses and charcuterie, but also a truffle mac and cheese for two, a brie and caramelized onion flatbread, and dry-aged meatballs in marina.

Herons consistently tops lists of the Triangle’s best restaurants and for good reason. Herons has made a name for itself with the sort of modern American cuisine more often associated with restaurant destinations like Chicago or New York City. The restaurant (attached to the Umstead Hotel & Spa) is open for breakfast, lunch, and brunch, but lovebirds will want to take flight with the four course dinner tasting menu. It changes seasonally, but recent dishes included crab with miso caramel, sea beans, allium consomme, and pear kakigori or elk with pistachio mousse, dates, braised beet, kohlrabi, and black sesame. Art lovers will want to take a look at the Art Tour menu, with courses designed by chef Steven Devereaux Greene as homages to the hotel’s extensive private art collection, a passion project of hotel co-founder Anne Goodnight.

Barcelona Wine Bar

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The tapas flow almost as easily as the wine at the Raleigh outpost of upscale chain Barcelona Wine Bar. The lively space is infused with the smells of albondigas, mushrooms a la plancha, Spanish tortillas, and more, all washed down with craft cocktails, beer, and a glass (or three) from the restaurant’s extensive wine list (heavy on Spanish wines, of course). The menu truly is designed to be shared, and plates can appear on the table as fast (or slow) as desired. Bonus: The restaurant is just steps from the downtown Raleigh Amtrak station, so those who live westward in Cary or Durham can turn date night into a true adventure with a train ride to dinner and Uber home.

Paella with eggplants and squash.
Vegetarian paella at Barcelona Wine Bar.
Barcelona Wine Bar

Death and Taxes

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Chef Ashley Christensen’s ode to wood-fired cooking is also the most high-end of her restaurants. Think steakhouse on creative steroids, with a menu of dishes like roasted North Carolina oysters with chili butter and preserved lemon gremolata, steak tartare with smoked egg, crispy capers, espelette, and grilled ciabatta, and a Long Island strip steak with smoked sweet potato, aged beef fat butter, and chimichurri. The wine list is short but well-selected, but the star of the beverage program are the cocktails, best enjoyed bellied up to the bar with one eye watching the food fly onto and off of the nearby wood-fired grill.

Saint Jacques

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High-end French bistro cuisine might not be what one expects pulling into the strip mall that Saint Jacques calls home, but upon stepping through the doors diners are transported to France with dishes like escargots de Bourgogne, blesotto champignon, and beef bourguignon. With white tablecloths and candlelight, it’s about as close to Parisian date night as one gets without hopping that Delta direct from RDU to Charles de Gaulle.

The Fearrington House Restaurant

The Fearrington House Restaurant (located at the luxury inn of the same name) has been one of the Triangle’s most coveted reservations for generations. Guests have quite literally helicoptered in for a meal at the restaurant, which is available as a three- or four-course seasonal menu or a more elaborate seven-course tasting menu, both of which are overseen by longtime chef Colin Bedford. The setting itself is designed for quiet luxury, with diners spread among the rooms of the original farmhouse that forms the heart of the larger Fearrington House complex. Sommelier Todd Chatterton recently took over as beverage and service director and is in charge of the restaurant’s more than 1,500 bottle wine collection, as well as the cocktail menu — pairings are available with all tasting menus.

Yamazushi

Yamazushi specializes in the kaiseki style of Japanese tasting menu, which itself is based on a traditional omotenashi tea ceremony. All of this is to say that much care, thought, and precision go into each of the eight to nine courses that are prepared by chef George Hitoshi Yamazawa and presented at precisely timed intervals throughout the dining experience. The restaurant also offers sake pairings designed to complement each course, and beer is available as well. The clean lines and calming tones of Yamazushi’s interior lend themselves to an overall atmosphere that encourages diners to fully immerse themselves in the experience.

Saint James Seafood

If oysters and champagne truly are aphrodisiacs, then chef Matt Kelly might find himself responsible for a bit of a baby boom as he reopens his flagship seafood restaurant this winter. Oysters (both raw and cooked) pop up all over the menu, and a selection of seafood towers turn heads as they pass through the dining room on their way to tables and booths in the two-story space. Couples who like a more boisterous date night can snag seats at the raw bar or in a downstairs booth, while those looking for a more cozy spot can request a table tucked away in one of the upstairs corners. Other menu highlights include the hot baked crab dip, Creole cioppino, and a deviled crab linguine.

Killer Queen

Wine lovers are hoping that the third time’s the charm for Killer Queen, which took up residence last year in the space formerly occupied by Bar Lusconi and then Bar Brunello. The vibe couldn’t be different, though, with plush furniture, mirrors, and an overall atmosphere that screams Paris-meets-Durham. The ever-changing wine list is the star, but Killer Queen is also distinguishing itself from its predecessors with more food options. There’s the to-be-expected cheeses and charcuterie, but also a truffle mac and cheese for two, a brie and caramelized onion flatbread, and dry-aged meatballs in marina.

Herons

Herons consistently tops lists of the Triangle’s best restaurants and for good reason. Herons has made a name for itself with the sort of modern American cuisine more often associated with restaurant destinations like Chicago or New York City. The restaurant (attached to the Umstead Hotel & Spa) is open for breakfast, lunch, and brunch, but lovebirds will want to take flight with the four course dinner tasting menu. It changes seasonally, but recent dishes included crab with miso caramel, sea beans, allium consomme, and pear kakigori or elk with pistachio mousse, dates, braised beet, kohlrabi, and black sesame. Art lovers will want to take a look at the Art Tour menu, with courses designed by chef Steven Devereaux Greene as homages to the hotel’s extensive private art collection, a passion project of hotel co-founder Anne Goodnight.

Barcelona Wine Bar

The tapas flow almost as easily as the wine at the Raleigh outpost of upscale chain Barcelona Wine Bar. The lively space is infused with the smells of albondigas, mushrooms a la plancha, Spanish tortillas, and more, all washed down with craft cocktails, beer, and a glass (or three) from the restaurant’s extensive wine list (heavy on Spanish wines, of course). The menu truly is designed to be shared, and plates can appear on the table as fast (or slow) as desired. Bonus: The restaurant is just steps from the downtown Raleigh Amtrak station, so those who live westward in Cary or Durham can turn date night into a true adventure with a train ride to dinner and Uber home.

Paella with eggplants and squash.
Vegetarian paella at Barcelona Wine Bar.
Barcelona Wine Bar

Death and Taxes

Chef Ashley Christensen’s ode to wood-fired cooking is also the most high-end of her restaurants. Think steakhouse on creative steroids, with a menu of dishes like roasted North Carolina oysters with chili butter and preserved lemon gremolata, steak tartare with smoked egg, crispy capers, espelette, and grilled ciabatta, and a Long Island strip steak with smoked sweet potato, aged beef fat butter, and chimichurri. The wine list is short but well-selected, but the star of the beverage program are the cocktails, best enjoyed bellied up to the bar with one eye watching the food fly onto and off of the nearby wood-fired grill.

Saint Jacques

High-end French bistro cuisine might not be what one expects pulling into the strip mall that Saint Jacques calls home, but upon stepping through the doors diners are transported to France with dishes like escargots de Bourgogne, blesotto champignon, and beef bourguignon. With white tablecloths and candlelight, it’s about as close to Parisian date night as one gets without hopping that Delta direct from RDU to Charles de Gaulle.

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