Andiamo Ristorante. 2521 Rutland Drive. 512-719-3377, AndiamoItaliano.com. Authentic Italian in North Austin with a family-owned vibe will set you at ease. So will the homemade ravioli.
Apis. 23526 Texas 71, Spicewood. 512-436-8918, apisrestaurant.com. Rustic elegance on the edge of the Hill Country and superb technique and plating make this restaurant a wonderful retreat from the city.
Asti. 408 E. 43rd St. 512-451-1218, astiaustin.com. Neighborhood Italian with a sophisticated touch in the middle of Hyde Park.
The Backspace. 507 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-474-9899, thebackspace-austin.com. Neapolitan pies and red wine in an intimate environment make for casual romance.
Botticelli’s. 1321 S. Congress Ave. 512-916-1315, botticellissouthcongress.com. Dip out of the tourist-lined street to this cozy Italian charmer that offers a peaceful back patio.
Café Josie. 1200 W. Sixth St. 512-322-9226, cafejosie.com. The longtime neighborhood staple sources locally and offers a quaint serenity.
Carmelo’s. 504 E. Fifth St. 512-477-7497, carmelosrestaurant.com. Brick-lined walls, chandeliers, grand curtains and Italian food all add up for old-world romantic charm.
Clark’s. 1200 W. Sixth St. 512-297-2525, clarksoysterbar.com. Feel like you’ve secured a table at a precious yacht club oyster bar and grill and fantasize about sailing the Mediterranean.
Counter 357. 315 Congress Ave. 512-291-3327, counter3FiveVII.com. The proximity to the ingredients and the cooking process is its own kind of romance, and the limited seating (about two dozen seats at the bar surrounding the open kitchen) gives the evening a feel of exclusivity.
Fabi & Rosi. 509 Hearn St. 512-236-0642, fabiandrosi.com. The best restaurant west of MoPac, a place of understated elegance, assured service and a strong point of view coming out of German chef Wolfgang Murber’s kitchen.
Fonda San Miguel. 2330 W. North Loop Blvd. 512-459-4121, fondasanmiguel.com. You can imagine you’re on an extravagant Mexican vacation at this grand old dame of interior cooking.
Gardner. 1914 E. Sixth St. 512-354-1480, gardner-austin.com. There is something very sexy about this sternly handsome restaurant, and its meticulous plating adds to the appeal.
Hudson’s on the Bend. 3509 RM 620 N. 512-266-1369, HudsonsOnTheBend.com. Exotic game and a sense of history at the edge of the Hill Country. Enjoy a drink under the lights outside before or after dinner.
Jeffrey’s. 1204 W. Lynn St. 512-477-5584, jeffreysofaustin.com. No other Austin restaurant surpasses this icon when it comes to sophistication and style.
Justine’s. 4710 E. Fifth St. 512-385-2900, justines1937. The spinning vinyl, ample pours and sumptuous bistro food invite you to indulge and let loose.
Lenoir. 1807 S. First St. 512-215-9778, lenoirrestaurant.com. This shabby chic charmer is one of the best spots for a next-level date night. Enjoy a glass of wine in the grove before dinner and ease into a night of romance and elevated cooking.
Licha’s Cantina. 1306 E. Sixth St. 512-480-5960, lichascantina.com. This weathered wood-paneled bungalow is romantic in the we-have-escaped-into-a-jungle-hideaway-after-an-afternoon-on-the-beach kind of way.
El Naranjo. 85 Rainey St. 512-474-2776, elnaranjo-restaurant.com. The color scheme, the dark wood flooring, the superb Mexican cuisine, the sound-dampening panels that help provide peace among the Rainey madness … there’s a lot to love about Iliana de la Vega’s restaurant.
Olamaie. 1610 San Antonio St. 512-474-2796, olamaieaustin.com. It looks like a cabin at Augusta National on the outside and serves some of the most refined and thoughtful Southern food imaginable inside.
Olive & June. 3411 Glenview Ave. 512-467-9898, oliveandjune-austin.com. The modernist treehouse and its Italian menu blend nostalgia, design and big flavors for a romantic evening.
Olivia. 2043 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-804-2700, Olivia-Austin.com. Farm-to-table dining gets a graceful makeover in the evening at chef James Holmes’ South Lamar restaurant.
Parkside. 301 E. Sixth St. 512-474-9898, parkside-austin.com. A raw bar and smart cocktails give big-city buzz to this restaurant just steps away from Austin’s Sixth Street fiasco.
Prelog’s. 360 Nueces St. 512-350-2895, prelogs.com. Low lights, sleek lines, European bona fides in the kitchen and a patio that feels plucked from a Costa Rican resort give a luxurious touch to this restaurant.
Qui. 1600 E. Sixth St. 512-436-9626, quiaustin.com. Thoughtful culinary craft, polished service and a fun atmosphere make this one of the best date-night spots in town.
Texas French Bread. 2900 Rio Grande St. 512-499-0544, texasfrenchbread.com. Low lights, windows that look out on a sleepy campus-area street and an adherence to local ingredients give romantic warmth to a place long imbued with familial spirit.
Trio. 98 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-685-8300, triorestaurantaustin.com. In true Four Season fashion, you will be treated like the most special couple in town, and after a post-dinner stroll on the veranda out back, hotel rooms await, should your date go really well.
Uchi. 801 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-916-4808, uchiaustin.com. Exceptional service, great sushi and an effervescent vibe … you never leave here feeling less than impressed.
Vespaio. 1610 S. Congress Ave. 512-441-6100, AustinVespaio.com. You can drink Barolo, dine on a towering plate of lasagna and feel like a made man in this South Congress classic.
Wink. 101 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-482-8868, winkrestaurant.com. Wink balances being a fine dining destination with being a neighborhood restaurant. Their food always impresses, and their service will make you feel like a regular, even if you’re not.
Yes, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. But you don’t need a greeting card company to prompt you to take your sweetheart out for a nice meal. Next week I’ll have some specific specials being offered by restaurants this Valentine’s Day, but reservations may be scarce by then. So I recommend you take a look at these restaurants — on Valentine’s Day or any day. Because a special night doesn’t need a specific reason.
Don’t see one of your favorites on the list? Drop me an email at email@example.com or call me at 512-912-5986.
Guide on the go
Take my 2015 Dining Guide — a list of my top 25 restaurants, 50 critic’s picks and various all-stars — with you by bookmarking austin360.com/eats on your smartphone or tablet.