Hit the salad bar at Dunston's. Photo by Kevin Marple.

Valentine's Day

Where to Eat on Valentine’s Day When You Hate Valentine’s Day

If you want something fun, easy, genuine and—best of all—free of the tired stereotypes, here’s what you do.

Are you feeling it? Does the question “what are your plans?” around this time of year cause a barbed, acute pain in your head like you woke up inside a queenless beehive? Are you experiencing blurry vision and cognitive dullness as you sift through menus? It’s common to feel what’s called the “Tunneling Urge”—the instinctual desire to burrow deep, deep into the Earth— when confronted with the holiday-themed candy aisle at Walgreens.

What does it mean? It means it’s the fourteenth day in February, and you’re experiencing Valentine’s Day hate-rage.

If you have even the slightest urge to dine out on Valentine’s Day, it can consume you. Menu prices are fixed in concrete, then stacked hotel-high. Tempers pop like the overpriced chocolate raviolis and peach Prosecco you ordered. It can be, easily, the most boring and nonsense holiday for both restaurants and diners. It can be worse for folks who wish to avoid the bombast of the corporate holiday, and downright evil for the solo folks who just want to eat something good all by their dang self.

So, you want something fun, easy, genuine and—best of all—free of the tired stereotypes Here’s what you do.

Salad Bar and Beers at Dunston’s Steakhouse
Fire leaps from the grill, and smoke churns into the dining room. The aroma is char—the blackened lines on steak. There’s no digital jukebox, no facial recognition ordering, and—oh yes—it’s dark. The booths are high, protecting the shame of too-much ranch dressing. The bowls are the thin, wooden ones on the plastic trays. Load up on pea salad, crunchy croutons, and cold beer. This is classic, straightforward, steak-devouring on a day when steakhouses are a mob.

Ribeyes and Loaded Baked Potatoes at Tom’s Burgers & Grill
Here is what comes with your $65 check at Tom’s Burgers & Grill, the homegrown diner that encrusts chicken fried steak with pulverized potato chips: two ribeyes, a handful of fried shrimp (or shrimp scampi) per steak, two dinner salads, two hefty baked potatoes fully loaded, Texas Toast, and one piece of cherry cake doused in chocolate. For the cost, Tom’s will throw in some wine, a couple of glasses per person, and even light some dang candles. “Skip the sweat-inducing bill, and eat under some diner chrome” is a saying we should all adopt.

Super Nachos at Ten Bells Tavern
You know what snaps Valentine’s Day banality like Thanos’ gauntlet? SUPER NACHOS. House-made tortilla lacquered with a creamy cheese sauce, cheddar cheese, sour cream, heaped with pico de gallo, guacamole and chicken is a Valentine’s Day superhero. If it’s nice weather, sit on a wooden bench with an icy, strong beer. Ten Bells Tavern real superpower is soul-comforting bar food: fish and chips are served on slices of British newspaper. There’s a burger topped with a heap of pastrami. Swerve into the gravel lot, grab a wooden chair and a pile of super nachos with that special someone. Nachos, after all, are the flower bouquet of the food world.

Soft Shell Crab Bao and Sake Boxes at Sumo Shack
Rare gems are lovely, but the soft shell crab, breaded in panko and fried until hot, salty, and crispy, is nature’s other finery. Order four, or four dozen dozen, and listen to the crackle of batter hit hot oil from the open kitchen. There is so much romance in food, dramatic when crafted before your eyes. Sumo Shack is the kind of low-key joint, open late, where they ladle magma-hot American cheese into a fluffy bao bun. Bonus: order a sake packaged like a kid’s juice box—complete with the straw for puncturing into the ol’ drinking hole. It’s delicious and fun.

Order-in a Vietnamese Feast at Sandwich Hag
The Nem Nướng sausage patties are book-thick between crusty bread. This is a king’s sandwich without the B.S. of a castle: it’s garlicky pork bedded on an aioli spread that dilates pupils, alongside fresh and pickled-crunchy pickled veggies, cucumber slices, and jalapeño rounds. It travels beautifully too: Light a candle, and order a couple of banh mis, a curry, and a bright salad loaded with herbs, fried shallots and cilantro. What’s more romantic than that crack the plastic of take-out food?

Endless Dumplings at Jeng Chi
A good night begins, middles, and ends with a basket of dumplings. It’s a worldly luxury for less than a table full of unicorn-themed foods. They are timeless pockets of steamed things: Explosive soup with pork and crab or lobster is stupendous at the three-decades mainstay. You and your significant other, or just you, should spend time pincer-grabbing endless dumplings, washing them again and again in ginger-infused vinegar. It’s $13 per basket, delivered swiftly from the always-bustling kitchen. Drink and repeat: This is warming, home cooking for the lamest holiday of the year.

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