How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day if Prix-Fixe Dining Isn’t Your Thing

Tell someone how special they are with these Valentine's Day meal alternatives to a Romantic Night Out™.

If you’d rather celebrate Valentine’s Day by avoiding fixed-price menus and Hallmark-approved traditions, this guide should be your speed. / Rosario’s Pizzeria. Photograph by @pileonthefood.

Valentine’s Day is full of tired clichés: fixed-price menus, heart-shaped boxes of waxy chocolates, red roses that will soon wilt and die. It’s easy to roll your eyes at the whole day. But love is beautiful, remember? Take the opportunity — as consumerist and made-up as it may be — to tell someone how special they are with these Valentine’s Day meal alternatives to a Romantic Night Out™.

Cook dinner at home (with a fun pasta shape)
Making dinner at home is always a good alternative to going out for dinner on this busy restaurant night. But if you’re a less-than-confident cook, whipping up something yourself might feel like just as much pressure as trying to score a hot reservation. Trust me, anyone can make pasta. And any pasta meal can feel special if you turn the meal into an experience. Head to the Italian Market and visit Talluto’s to pick up frozen ravioli (heart-shaped or not) and sauce, Claudio’s for a piece of salty, crumbly parmesan cheese, and the Di Bruno Brothers’ Bottle Shop for a bottle of bracing, mineral-forward Sicilian red wine.

Skip the reservation and plan a future meal with a restaurant gift card
If you want to celebrate Valentine’s Day at a restaurant, the gift-card route means you
can dine on a non-Tuesday (when the place you want to go might not be open anyway) when the menu hasn’t been switched to prix-fixe or become overrun with couples trying their absolute hardest to feel romantic. If you’re not sure what spots might be on their wishlist, try reading our guide to the 50 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia to them and see which place perks them up. 

Stop in for dessert at Cicala’s bar
Maybe you want to skip the rigmarole of a Valentine’s Day restaurant meal while keeping the excuse to dress up. In this case, make a late-evening appearance at the bar at Cicala at the Divine Lorraine. The dining room has that quintessential romantic opulence going for it, and Angela Cicala’s “la piccola pasticceria” — a lavish, $35 “tablescape” of Italian sweets, cookies and desserts — goes well with a glass of Italian red or a perfectly made Negroni at the bar.

Go somewhere that’s a little out of your way
If you’re reading Foobooz, it’s likely you’re the sort of person who keeps a mental list of restaurants you’re dying to try, even if many of those places aren’t close to your home. If you live in West Philly, for instance, you might have heard about the magic of Cafe Nhan, but not made your way to South Philly yet to plow through a plate of wings, and slurp down a bowl of banh canh, thick with needle noodles and porky broth. If you live in South Philly, maybe you’ve been hearing about Salam Cafe‘s Ethiopian food in Germantown but haven’t yet made the journey. Both are casual spots (each with casual dining areas or options for takeout) and the 25 minutes it takes you to arrive will allow you to spend a little extra time together. Plus, you’ll get the added satisfaction of eating something you’ve been anticipating for a long while.

Have breakfast at Parc
On the evening of the 14th, Parc will be packed. But, in the morning, that same dining room will be significantly quieter, and filled with sunshine and really good pancakes. If you and your lover can swing it, play hooky for a few hours over those buttermilk pancakes, toast soldiers with dippy eggs, and French toast crowned with maple Chantilly cream. Making time for each other during business hours feels a little forbidden and therefore this is an objectively hot plan, don’t you think?

Or have breakfast in bed
If playing hooky is out of the question, carve out a few minutes in the morning for breakfast by procuring something more special than the typical oatmeal or yogurt situation. Oui Pastries in Old City offers bake-at-home croissant kits, which are ideal if you’re willing to put in just a little effort. The dough comes frozen, so you’ll need to defrost it the day before, then get up early to let the dough proof before baking. The result, though, is a piping-hot croissant without having to change out of your pajamas. Other options include hitting up Biederman’s for a selection of bagels, lox and cream cheeses, or grabbing tamales from Tamalex and stowing them in the back of your fridge (reheat by wrapping in a damp paper towel and microwaving for about 90 seconds.) Note that neither Biederman’s nor Tamalex are open on Mondays, so you’ll need to plan ahead.

EMei’s mapo tofu / Photograph by Casey Robinson

Order way too much delivery
Delivery is expensive these days — especially when you order the amount that you want, which is probably everything. But Valentine’s Day is an appropriate time to indulge that impulse, by choosing a special spot and going a little bit wild. Try Rosario’s for excellent al pastor pizza or EMei, whose Chongqing chicken stays crisp and crunchy even after delivery. Remember to tip your delivery driver as you would a server at a high-end restaurant.

Opt for a casual restaurant with an interactive element
For long-term couples, breaking out of your regular routine can be far more romantic than sitting down to a candlelit dinner. If you relate to this, hot pot might just be your favorite new Valentine’s Day pastime. At Chubby Cattle in Chinatown, you’ll choose your soup base, spice level, and mix-ins, then cook your own meal of wagyu, chewy udon noodles, and veggies. Competing to construct the best bite is optional but encouraged.

Make Tuesday lunch feel special
You know when 12:15 p.m. rolls around and you realize you’re hungry and have no plans for lunch? Relieve that feeling for your partner by sending them something delicious just around the time they start to convince themselves a can of tuna is an acceptable meal. [Editor’s note: It is.] I’d recommend a dozen or so handmade dumplings from Baology, a sandwich and slice of cake from High Street, or the herby chicken-schnitzel salad from Merkaz.