5 Nontraditional Valentine's Day Dining Ideas: No Reservations Required!

Maybe a romantic dinner just means splurging (calorically) on a favorite comfort food together.
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Photo by: Tuan Huynh

Tuan Huynh

On most special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, my husband and I look forward to splurging on dinners out at new or favorite restaurants. But not on Valentine’s Day. One too many overpriced set menus with boring choices (“free” glass of sparkling wine included!) ruined that for us. We usually plan an elaborate menu to cook at home, but enough people have wised up to staying in on Valentine’s Day that the scene in Whole Foods can be just as bad as a "romantic restaurant." So this year, let’s try a new game plan. Maybe a romantic dinner doesn’t have to mean an expensive fixed-price menu or hours spent toiling in the kitchen. Maybe it’s just splurging (calorically) on a favorite comfort food together, something fun that satisfies at a low price, without a reservation made weeks or months in advance — and nobody has to wash dishes. Here are five ideas for nontraditional Valentine’s Day date nights.

Steamy Bowls of Ramen

Ramen has established its place on the list of ultimate comfort foods — and we’re not talking about those packets of instant noodles you subsisted on in college. Ramen shops across the country are dishing out craveworthy bowls brimming with rich broth, homemade noodles, and add-ons like pork belly, chili oil and kimchi. Slurping a bowl across from your sweetheart is ideal for a cold February evening. Check out our list of must-try ramen destinations to find one near you.

Franklin's BBQ, ribs, pulled pork, sausage, turkey, ribs, brisket and sides

Photo by: Buff Strickland ©Buff Strickland Photography, 2014

Buff Strickland, Buff Strickland Photography, 2014

Bring the Heat with Smoked Meat

Who needs white tablecloths when you can dig into brisket, ribs and pulled pork on butcher paper-clad trays? Eating with your hands makes a Valentine’s Day date even more intimate and fun. Good news: You don’t have to live in a BBQ mecca like Texas or Kansas City to find good ‘cue these days. Here’s where to find Food Network-approved barbecue from coast to coast.

Fried Chicken Feasts

Another laid-back meal to eat with your hands alongside the one you love: fried chicken. Once a Southern specialty, this fried delicacy has made its way onto restaurant menus across the country. Chefs from Boston to San Francisco are brining, buttermilk-soaking, boldly spicing and frying it up with winning results. Dig in at one of these 12 spots that are doing fried chicken proud.

Breakfast for Dinner

Breakfast for dinner can be even better than breakfast in bed. It’s a total luxury to dig into a heaping stack of pancakes at the end of the day. Whether drenched in syrup, strewn with blueberries or served in their naked buttermilk state, here are 12 must-try iterations of America's breakfast staple found at diners and casual restaurants across the country.

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Teenagers Taking Pizza Slices at Restaurant

Photo by: Fuse

Fuse

A Family Affair?

All the go-to baby sitters have dates, so no big night out for you this year. Why not embrace it and take the kids out? These 17 restaurants go out of their way to welcome to the littlest diners, so you're not likely to be surrounded by couples seeking a quiet, romantic evening — and you’re in for a great meal too. Plus: On this one night a year, tables for more than two might actually be easier to score.

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