Columbia’s Most Romantic Restaurants

Posted On January 6, 2018

There are several major litmus tests for relationships. Valentine’s Day is pass or fail with rare second chances if everything does not go well. Columbia Living has taken a reader poll and selected 24 of the best places to dine with your beloved, ranging from downright fancy to more down-to-earth fare. Why two dozen? All the better to go with the number of red roses that will convey the passion and intensity of your love. And please don’t forget, wily wooers must make reservations early or risk a ruinous rift.

Al's Upstairs    Known for romantic ambience, with scenic views of the city and the Statehouse across the beautiful span of the Gervais Street bridge over the Congaree River, Al’s Upstairs also is at the pinnacle for cuisine. Not much could top that view except dining on upscale Italian at a linen-draped table aglow with candlelight – or is that just the reflection of your love? Tip for lovers: you must try their lobster bisque with a puff pastry dome to symbolize the heights your love can attain. 794-7404; alsupstairsitalian.com

Baan Sawan   While it might not be top of mind for romance to some, a soiree to this little Thai restaurant might result in a proposal, as it has for several couples we interviewed, who return each and every Valentine’s Day to celebrate. Known for its “small, lovely staff,” our readers call it “a bit adventurous” and find that it sets the tone for a vibrant and upbeat date, which probably translates to a zesty relationship that is ready for adventures of the palate and perhaps more. 252-8992; baansawan.blogspot.com

Cellar on Greene    Cellar on Greene was suggested in our reader poll as a wonderful place to go on Valentine’s Day for established couples. Their “top-notch nachos” are acclaimed for being tasty, filling and affordable and are a fine way to celebrate with your mate when you are secure enough not to need ebullient shows of affection. Comfort food for the comfortable couple – isn’t that the joy of knowing and loving someone so well for so long? You can relax and bask in your adoration. But hint-hint: consider bringing a lovely gift, as well. 343-3303; cellarongreene.com

Gervais and Vine    Romance tends to blossom in an intimate dining venue, which is a hallmark of Gervais and Vine. Warm yourselves with a selection of their fine wines and enjoy feeding each other tasty tidbits of tapas. Make your gambit with their Gambas – sautéed shrimp with Roma tomatoes, bacon, sherry and garlic. It’s spicy, the way we know you love it. 799-8463; gervine.com

Goat's   With a shortened name and updated menu since its original inception as Goatfeather’s in the 1980s, this tiny bistro tucked between two walls in Five Points is our own little tidbit of New York City. Dark, artsy and very private, it is the place to be to see and not be seen on the Columbia scene. It’s all about you and your date – and readers love it because it is a great date spot that is “unique, grown up and dimly lit.” And if you steal a kiss from your sweetie, who’s to tell? 708-4495; goats2.com

Grill Marks    There is ooey gooey love and there is love for ooey-gooey hand-crafted designer milkshakes and burgers that might take the place of the love of your life. (Did we say that? Shame on us! But you can’t say it ain’t so!) Therefore, let us be bold enough to suggest that, if you are spending Valentine’s Day on your own or with a longtime love, get your freak on with Grill Marks’ freakshakes, which are – in a word - freakilicious. We think the love for a burger and a shake is vastly underrated and could be just what you need to win over a proverbial sweet heart. 661-8932; grillmarks.com

Hampton Street Vineyard     Another reader favorite for romance, the Hampton Street Vineyard might win you the love of your life on a regular day, but a reservation there could easily lead to “no reservations” about you being the perfect mate for your sweet one – and isn’t that the desired effect of a special night out on the town for Valentine’s? One reader lovingly reports “Romance kind of oozes there, eh? I love their ambience.” 252-0850; hamptonstreetvineyard.com

Hunter-Gatherer Brewery and Ale House    Perhaps not the place to pop the question but one that long-time couples love because there are no televisions. Hunter Gatherer is a favorite destination to fill one’s basket for a private picnic. One reader suggested the ultimate private dining experience would be enhanced by “ordering your food ‘to go,’ and enjoying it ‘down by the river.’” We suggest the salad with roasted beets, goat cheese, ciabatta and lemon vinaigrette; then add the ESB cheese spread; and finish with the pan-seared Maple Farms duck with orange glaze. Pack your basket and quietly enjoy the meal and your darling at your own romantic rendezvous, indoors or out. 748-0540; huntergathererbrewery.com

Il Giorgione Pizzeria and Wine Bar   Another small venue that is at the top of the poll of places for established couples on Valentine’s Day is Il Giorgione. It is small and intimate, with an “atmosphere perfect for a first or 400th date.” Readers recommend the “great house-made Italian salad topped with fresh mozzarella.” Il Giorgione’s environment is rated as a “true comfort zone,” which sounds pretty heavenly to us. 521-5063; ilgiorgione.com

Lula Drake    Lula Drake offers four core requirements for a romantic restaurant, plus it’s rated downright “adorable” and “precious” by readers. It provides moody atmosphere, low lighting, candles and a fabulous drink selection catered by a sommelier who has suggested fine wines to world leaders. “If love be the food of life,” how could you need more? If so, they offer an outstanding menu as well. 608-1968; luladrake.com

Melting Pot    What makes the Melting Pot unique is the ability to linger romantically over your food as you cook it in fondue pots at your table. Feeding your companion a morsel or two off your own fork is optional, but rarely fails in the romance department. The ability to converse quietly as you share each course slowly building up to dessert will become a permanent memory of a lovely dinner and might even endure as a headline in your couple story for life. Perhaps the best part is that – although you do your own “cooking” at the table – you can leave the cleanup to the attentive, but never overbearing, staff without a shred of guilt. 731-8500; meltingpot.com/columbia-sc

Millpond Steakhouse    A short drive east to Boykin is worth the trip. A readers’ favorite for atmosphere, it is another restaurant with a coterie of devoted couples who celebrate their engagements there each year, so don’t be surprised if you hear the popping of a champagne cork accompanied by the sound of a besotted courtier popping the question to his lady as well. Etiquette tip: Do wait to make your proposal until the table next to you has completed theirs. 803-425-8825; themillpondsteakhouse.com

Motor Supply     With a daily menu that is constantly changing, the only constants about Motor Supply are their outstanding service, great food and – isn’t that all you need? Seems like a smashing combination. As one reader extols, “Joshua Streetman’s cocktails are perfection!” Motor Supply, a small, intimate venue renowned for its doting, professional wait staff and world-class cuisine, is one of the romantic restaurants to which you will look forward to returning again and again. 256-6687; motorsupplycobistro.com

Nonnah's    Wandering through the Vista hand-in-hand with your paramour to dine on decadent dessert at Nonnah’s is a tradition in Columbia. While it is the norm to eat dinner first, on the sweetest day of the year, why not invite your date to skip dinner and go “straight to dessert?” Sumptuous, delicious and a wee bit decadent – order an array of sweet palate pleasers and to inflame your inamorata’s heart, make a big finish with one of Nonnah’s four flaming tableside delights. Keep repeating: “Damn the calories! Full sweets ahead!” 779-9599; nonnahs.com

Pearlz Oyster Bar    Speaking of tasty treats, if you know your date loves seafood, Pearlz for dinner could follow a gift of pearls … and because they, too, are created on the half-shell, order the oysters as an appetizer. What happens next is between the two of you – and you can bet we’ll clam up and never divulge the secret to your romantic charms. You’re welcome! 661-7741; vista.pearlzoysterbar.com

Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse     One attribute of a life mate is generosity, so why not treat your darling to a veritable feast? The salad bar features endless shrimp and salmon; and the meats are char-cooked over wood, in the Brazilian style. If this place came with an accent, you’d be assured of romance before dessert. But, please don’t skip their mouth-watering dessert bar, which is a heaven all its own. 708-3151; columbia.rioz.com

Ristorante Divino        Setting the tone for special occasions is what Ristorante Divino does best. Outstanding for its fine cuisine, this has long been known as one of the “red ‘haute’” places for fine cuisine. For those who celebrate the art and craft of the kitchen, as well as the presentation of the food, this is somewhere very special indeed for any occasion. Vitello Saltimbocca featuring veal medallions, roasted cauliflower puree, caper brown butter, sage, pancetta tuile, and aged Provolone raises the bar for serious couples, or will impress a first date with your earnest passion. Ristorante Divino truly embeds “divine” into your fine dining experience. 799-4550; ristorantedivino.com

Rosso Trattoria        Rosso Trattoria is an emporium that is patterned after a dining grotto in Italy and is loved by readers, who tell us “it feels like something Sinatra would approve of and the pasta is amazing.” Many times, there is live soft jazz while you enjoy a Southern-tinged repast of sweet-tea-brined pork chops. So, for an atmosphere that never feels stiff or fussy, yet has the hip elegance of the ultra-jazzy 1950s, along with a menu that includes delicious pasta – we suggest you swagger into Rosso Trattoria – fedora optional. 787-3949; rossocolumbia.com

Saluda’s    Stellar repast is the norm for any occasion at Saluda’s. The atmosphere there is renowned for being both romantic and upscale. Dress to impress and take your date to the next level in Five Points and – if weather permits – ask for porch seating. The lights, the view, the food and your prospective love add up to one perfect evening… just take care if you drop a piece of shrimp – don’t get down on one knee to pick it up. You’ve set the mood and she might assume you are proposing. But, hey big fella, while you are down there, why not go ahead and make your romance a permanent arrangement? It will be a night the two of you will never forget. 799-9500; Saludas.com

Solstice Kitchen        Known for its quiet atmosphere, great wine selection and wonderful food with a menu that changes daily, Solstice is a popular spot regardless of occasion, but perfect for a lovely Valentine evening for couples who enjoy fine cuisine and each other. Conversation can flow as easily as the well-chosen wine selection as you choose your entrées. Fingers crossed that the Solstice grilled 14 oz. CAB ribeye with caramelized wild mushrooms, rosemary-roasted garlic demi-glace, buttermilk mashed potatoes and sautéed asparagus will appear on the offerings February 14th! 788-6966; solsticekitchen.com.

Steven W's Downtown Bistro in Newberry   A reader exclaimed “this bistro is a wonderful place to dine, then take your date/mate to the Opera House.” Known for its fine cuisine, with a special nod to their stuffed scallops, and located in a picturesque small town, Steven W's Downtown Bistro is just a hop and a skip up the road to Newberry. The drive itself is bucolic and enjoyable conversation fills the time after finishing your evening with a cultural event – why that alone is (almost) better than dessert – but you can have that as well – and perhaps also a sweet kiss. 276-7700; You’ll find them on Facebookt: Steven-Ws-Downtown-Bistro

Tallulah    According to our reader poll, “Tallulah combines updated French cuisine with local farm-to-table ingredients and is consistently rated very highly for the food and the atmosphere.” Upscale in its offerings, atmosphere and price, Tallulah is a place to go to truly impress your Valentine. For a romantic moment, make like Lady and the Tramp and share a plate of Watson Farm beef Bolognese with house-made pappardelle pasta and Parmigiano Reggiano. Note that if you are worried about needing fare for non-meat eaters: problem-solved! Tallulah has an entire menu devoted to meals that will warm the hearts of vegans and vegetarians. 400-2300; tallulahsc.com

Terra        One of our readers, who is a wine distributor, suggested Terra as his romantic Valentine’s Day choice for best place to impress your date. It’s located in West Columbia on State Street at Gervais but is truly at the intersection of “world class chef, farm-to-table food experience, and beautiful ambience.” Terra literally means “earth,” so if you hope your relationship will last as long and be as grounded as our terra firma, Valentine’s at Terra would provide a wonderful grounding upon which to build an everlasting love. 791-3443; Terrasc.com

Villa Tronco    Italian is a romance language, but the food – the food! – speaks the language of love. Taking your dearest one to Villa Tronco, which holds the honor of being the oldest restaurant in Columbia, speaks volumes to your desire to last as a timeless couple. Every room in the brick restaurant, which was reclaimed from Columbia’s firehouse, is lovely; but a lovebird whispered in our ears that there is a special grotto table that almost guarantees love – but call and make your reservations soon to assure you will benefit from Villa Tronco’s magical powers to transform a sweetheart into your true love. 256-7677; villatronco.com