From dimly lit, intimate bistros to open-air, seaside eateries, Florida restaurants bring the heat with romantic dining experiences.
When you close your eyes and picture the most romantic dining experience imaginable, does it involve sipping wine in a cozy French bistro, or is it more like devouring fresh seafood while watching the ocean waves roll in? Perhaps your idea of romance is filling up on pasta at a classic, white-tablecloth Italian joint. No matter what kind of restaurant or cuisine makes your heart swoon, Florida delivers with a diverse selection of establishments perfect for sharing a romantic meal with your significant other this Valentine’s Day.
For the last three decades, Renato’s on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach has been serving up classic Italian fare with a romantic flare. From the elegant courtyard where pink bougainvillea and vines drip from above to the red and gold dining room that smacks of Old World decadence, this restaurant was made for lovers. You’d be remiss if you didn’t try one of their signature pastas, like the tagliolini al zafferano, made with saffron noodles tossed with shrimp, pork sausage, and peas in a white wine and thyme sauce. Save room for dessert—Renato’s boasts an extensive offering of sweets like the Vesuvio di cioccolato, a Pompeiian take on the lava cake, or the torta del’ opera, whose layers of buttercream cake and chocolate ganache get a healthy drizzle of a coffee and vanilla sauce.
Is there a more romantic destination in Florida than the Ancient City? St. Augustine’s quaint historic downtown district may be home to scores of intimate restaurants, but no one is doing it like Llama. Housed in an unassuming strip along Anastasia Boulevard, this restaurant was just awarded Open Table’s 2022 Diners’ Choice Award, landing it among the platform’s top 100 restaurants in the nation. Chef and owner Marcel Vizcarra combines native Peruvian ingredients and techniques passed down at his family’s table with a training in both Japan and France to offer an immersive Peruvian dining experience that’s at once both homey and invigorating. Splurge for the mar y tierra made with shrimp tagliatelle pasta and lomo saltado, a Peruvian stir-fry with hanger steak, onion, and tomato. Llama opens for only three or four hours each evening, so be sure to book a reservation, and get ready to revel in the romance made possible in part by the restaurant’s recommendation that children under the age of 8 stay home.
Caretta on the Gulf
Florida’s coastal beauty sets the mood at Caretta on the Gulf, a AAA Four-Diamond awarded restaurant located in Clearwater’s Sandpearl Resort. An impressive selection of organic wines pair with seasonally inspired dishes like the Gulf grouper, prepared with a roasted corn and poblano risotto, foraged mushrooms, and lobster béarnaise. Sushi chefs prepare innovative rolls and provide an intimate experience for the six diners lucky enough to get a seat at the sushi bar. Apart from its delicious fare, one of the main thrills of coming to Caretta on the Gulf is simply looking around you. Sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico (a safe distance from the hubbub of Clearwater Beach) are visible from nearly every table in the understatedly elegant dining room.
Take date night to fantastical levels by heading to The Garlic, located just off A1A in New Smyrna Beach. Your quest begins in the waiting area, as they don’t take reservations and the restaurant quickly fills up each evening. When it’s time, you’ll walk to your table down a brick pathway covered in vines and vegetation until you reach the courtyard and Blu Bar. Featuring live palm trees strung with twinkling lights, rustic wood seating, and a brick fire oven roaring at 800 degrees Farenheit, the Garlic looks like a scene from a fairy tale—more specifically, the lair of someone with magical powers. “Il Forno,” as the owners lovingly named the oven, leaves a delicious char on entrees like bone-in ribeye, pepper bacon wrapped filet mignon, and salmon roasted on cedar plank. After your meal, go for a romantic stroll to view the Garlic’s collection of upcycled art and whimsical murals, and browse the unique, eclectic wares at the gift shop.
Dining at Alpin Bistro is a feast for the senses. As soon as you open the front door to this cozy French restaurant in downtown Gainesville, a bell tinkles to signal your welcome arrival. Then, the smells hit you–freshly baked bread mingles with the aroma of roasted vegetables and herbs. A vintage chandelier emits a low, romantic light as you witness the beauty of every plate while it’s being prepared in the restaurant’s open kitchen. Choose a healthy pour of wine from a carefully curated selection, or opt for a sexy cocktail, like the vibrantly purple Papillon 75, made with gin, champagne, butterfly pea flower, lavender, and lemon juice. Though Alpin’s food menu offers new specials each week, you’ll be sure to find every variety imaginable of the French classic croque, inventive pasta dishes like beet tagliatelle with turmeric cream for example, as well as a wide selection of cheese and charcuterie boards. Alpin is the kind of comfortable, homelike dining environment where couples frequently get lost in conversation and hours pass like minutes, so don’t worry about the time, and don’t get up from your chair without first trying a chocolate mousse softer than a cloud or a crème brûlée with the perfect amount of crunch.
Hidden in a Miami strip mall between a medical office and a laundromat lies a Michelin-starred restaurant serving up Italian inspired dishes, an impressive menu of natural wines, and an intimate atmosphere that just screams date night. Boia De’s forest green interiors envelop you in warmth and comfort as you sip a glass of wine from Italy, Spain, France, Chile, or maybe South Africa. Meanwhile, chefs Luciana Giangrandi and Alex Meyer turn classic plates into works of art with unexpected pairings like Luci’s chopped salad, featuring lettuce and radicchio mixed with cannellini beans, pepperoncini, provolone, and tomato. Even fried potato skins are given an upscale makeover with a scoop of caviar, a hard egg, and Italian stracciatella. Be sure to plan your visit, as this cozy, narrow restaurant with just one row of tables and a bartop fills up at least two weeks in advance.