I know that a date for many undergrads might be an after-bar followed by a hasty exit the next morning. And even though a lot of you might not exactly be in date mode yet, the time will come soon. So if you’re looking for a good place for the next date night in a serious relationship, or if you’re just starting to decide the person you’re waking up next to on Sunday is worth more than a McDonald’s breakfast in the morning, you might want to keep reading.

What makes a great date restaurant? Good food’s a start, but there’s still so much more.  It has to be not too crowded, but not too empty. Not too noisy, but not too quiet. Not too upscale, but not too dingy. Good drinks are just as important as good food – let’s face it, the difference between talking about the weather and talking about hidden tattoos can take a couple rounds. 

And food: it has to be good, but also has to be light (no one wants to fool around with that Thanksgiving dinner feeling). 

Finally, it has to be unique, because unique dining experiences are the ones your date will remember.

To all my readers who need things to be just right, here’s a rundown of a few of the best date restaurants in Madison. Sure, they all have great food, but they didn’t make this list on kitchen creativity alone.

Natt Spil

Don’t look for a sign because there isn’t one. Natt Spil is one of the best-kept secrets in Madison. Located on King St. off the Capitol Square, Natt Spil offers an amazing atmosphere with seating near the bar and more intimate space towards the back. Sit at the bar and try one of their 17 specialty drinks including 6 martinis, or enjoy a tap beer from their rotating local selection.

Looking for a snack? Order a few different items from their dim sum menu to share. Feeling hungrier than appetizers? Try their Three Cup Chicken (or Tofu) or one of their homemade pizzas baked in a wood-burning oven. Natt Spil is off the beaten path and boasts an atmosphere that’s sure to win points with your date.

Greenbush Bar

Greenbush bar is another of Madison’s hidden gems. Sitting in the basement of the building that houses the Italian Workman’s Club on Regent St., it’s easy to walk past unknowingly. Everything inside adds to the atmosphere, from the wide-and-far bar to the Christmas lights, which illuminate the spot on their own. 

Greenbush houses just a handful of tables, but getting one is worth the wait. In addition to their selection of salad and pasta dishes, their pizza is touted as some of the best in Madison. 

With a thin crust in various sizes, Greenbush offers more than the typical assortment of toppings, and includes artichoke hearts, feta cheese, kalamata olives, Italian sausage and more on their menu. 

On any date, finger food is a plus. With pizza as the king of finger foods, not many places do it as well as Greenbush Bar.

Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry

Plenty of people fall into the trap of taking a first date to an upscale restaurant. Take that first date to Dotty’s instead for a restaurant that’s nice, but casual enough to alleviate the pressure. 

Dotty’s isn’t your average burger joint. Sitting in the heart of campus on Frances St., burgers are certainly their main fare, but they also have a great atmosphere (sensing a theme?). Most of the seating is in the form of booths that have high backs for privacy with tables that are just the right size – close enough to use inside voices. Finally, wash it all down with one of their 25 beers on tap.

All of these venues have great food created in their own unique style. And while you certainly don’t have to be on a date to enjoy them, if you’re looking for a place to take that special someone, consider starting at one of these restaurants for your night on the town. If the food doesn’t get you, the atmosphere will.

Reactions? Comments? Concerns? Additional date restaurant recommendations? Let me know at bcox1@wisc.edu.