Can you put a price on love? What about an excellent date?
While you might be expected to make reservations at a fancy restaurant on your anniversary or your partner’s birthday, the vast majority of dates should be more casual affairs: After all, the point is spending time together or getting to know a special new someone, not draining your bank account.
If you need inspiration for your next date night, try one of these affordable but romantic outings. At each one, it’s possible to order a shared appetizer, a main course and a glass of wine or beer for less than $30 per person, not including tax and tip.
If you’re craving a night of neighborhood vibes and shared plates of comfort food, All-Purpose can be the perfect destination. There are two branches of this Italian pizzeria in the District, so pick your location based on the atmosphere you want: The original spot in Shaw, with its subway-tile walls and kitchen jutting up against the dining room, is loud and buzzy, while the newer Southeast restaurant, with huge windows offering views of the Anacostia River and a patio on the boardwalk, is more relaxing and spacious. Either way, order the gooey and saucy eggplant parm before splitting one of the Jersey-style deck oven pizzas. The solid wine options are always a hit. 1250 Ninth St. NW; 79 Potomac Ave. SE. The Potomac Avenue location is closed Mondays.
Bollywood videos playing on a large flat-screen TV, the buzz of dozens of conversations, modern art and paintings on the walls, the smell of spices wafting from the open kitchen . . . Bindaas’s colorful Foggy Bottom outpost feels like a celebration before you’ve even reached your table. The menu is inspired by Indian street food, and this is not a place you’ll leave hungry: Even the snacks, such as the cumin-scented roasted sweet potatoes and the bowl of shrimp bezule, are enough for two to share, before you get to the savory lamb kathi roll or bao-style buns filled with lamb or vegetable stew. Couples probably want to avoid the communal table, but seating at or near the bar is actually more quiet than being in the heart of the action. (The newer Foggy Bottom location gets the nod over the original in Cleveland Park, thanks to more seats and a longer menu.) 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Among Washington’s crowded and evolving Ethiopian dining scene, Ethiopic stands apart as the best option for a quiet dinner. Tables are spaced far apart so you don’t feel like you’re sharing a conversation (or injera) with the couple next to you. The music playing at low volume is a jazzy piano tune, not Ethiopian pop. The dining room’s a looker, too, with modern Ethiopian art on the walls and columns decorated with the Amharic alphabet. Ethiopic is especially welcoming to newcomers who may not be well acquainted with the traditional East African cuisine: Knives and forks are available for those who’d rather not eat with their fingers, and the minced-beef kitfo might not be as fiery as at smaller spots. You can eat well here, especially with the vegetarian sampler and its spiced collard greens, or the gored gored (a kind of coarser kitfo), shot through with jalapeño peppers. The location on H Street NE means after-dinner options abound. 401 H St. NE. Closed Mondays.
Forget classic bistros with dark wood and mirrors: This bright, cheery French bar in the heart of Shaw looks like a place you might stumble across in one of Paris’s cooler neighborhoods, maybe the Haut-Marais or near the Canal Saint-Martin. One wall is covered with graffiti en français, and old travel posters hang near Daft Punk fliers of a more recent vintage. There’s a full cafe menu — moules, quiche, pasta — but on a date night, it’s more fun to split one of the meat or cheese “plateaux,” which can include house-cured sausages, fragrant cheeses, Italian ham or a lovely pork-and-pistachio terrine. (Some may find the “small,” recommended for two people, to be more of a snack, so order up if in doubt.) Wine starts at $9 per glass and $30 per bottle, but if you can time your visit for happy hour, which runs from 5 to 7 p.m. weekdays, you can start your night with $6 glasses of bubbly. 1550 Seventh St. NW. Closed Mondays.
The sweet scent of raisins mingling with cinnamon, cardamom and slow-cooked lamb. Fragrant steamed beef dumplings topped with vegetables and yogurt and a spice you can’t quite place. Such are the pleasures of dining at Lapis in Adams Morgan. The Popal family, which emigrated from Afghanistan in the early 1980s, ran a French bistro in this spot for more than a decade before turning to the food of their homeland, and it makes for one of the neighborhood’s best price-conscious but attractive date nights. Be warned that some of the two-tops are so close together that you might hear a neighboring conversation more easily than your date’s, and those trying to make a last-minute reservation might get the dreaded “nothing between 6 and 9:30 p.m.” But with a little planning, Lapis is can be a delicious night out. 1847 Columbia Rd. NW.
Washington has seen a flood of Mexican restaurants in recent years, from fast-casual to high-end. But few are as comfortable and versatile as Petworth’s Mezcalero, equally impressive to a date as to friends who just want to sip mezcal flights. The generosity begins as soon as you’re seated and the free plate of crispy housemade tortilla chips and a trio of flavor-packed salsas arrives. Most savvy diners wouldn’t dream of filling up on the free stuff — save room for later! — but that rule goes out the window once you try the fiery tomatillo bowl. (It’s the perfect thing to snack on while perusing the menu, especially paired with an expertly made margarita.) Street tacos and tortas are the stars, as at sister restaurant El Sol, though the huaraches, or flatbreads on fresh masa, are also fun to split. 3714 14th St. NW.