Date Ideas in Madison: 4 Food-First Date Adventures
Fresh ideas for a perfect date
Whether it’s your first date or your hundredth, it’s important to keep things fresh when it comes to date ideas in Madison. It takes some planning to do something unexpected and enjoyable that will impress your partner.
You don’t need a wingman — you need help from the local food and fun experts at Madison Eats. The following four date ideas are loaded with unexpected food experiences, engaging activities, and modifications so you can tailor them for any time of day or week.
Take notes — or even better, bookmark this post so you have these date ideas handy!
Reinvent date night on State Street
There’s no date more Madison than dinner and a show on State Street. But instead of revisiting the same State Street date like you revisit Seinfeld reruns, change things up and explore newer, less hyped dining options that pack a major punch.
If you blink, you might just miss 107 State, one of Madison’s most exciting date night restaurants. While the exterior doesn’t catch the eye, the food and wine certainly does.
Chef and owner Nathan Mergen is a Madisonian turned high-end Manhattan restaurateur who opened two restaurants for Saks 5th Ave., as well as the first Eataly in the US. Years later, he returned home to create a restaurant that does simple things amazingly well.
It’s “not a red sauce Italian joint” as Mergen would say — but 107’s blend of high-quality ingredients (he gets his Pecorino Romano straight from Lazio), dazzling pasta dishes, and absolutely mouth-watering “Burger Lab” burgers with Jenifer St. Market patties means there’s something to enjoy for many date nights to come. The food is high-end, yet simple and approachable — something only a highly trained New York City chef with Wisconsin roots could accomplish.
Let the food tour guides order for you: split a crostini, brisket ragu, small classic American burger, and a bottle of white wine. It’s your new indulgent, romantic date night to put on repeat for years to come.
Enjoy arcade games, drinks, and bites on Willy St.
Willy St. is packed with a global array of dining options — but there’s plenty of fun to be had outside of restaurants and bars as well
I/O Arcade Bar is a great place to start or end a date; it has an overwhelmingly large selection of classic arcade games where you can play as a team or go head-to-head for some friendly (or flirtatious?) competition. Their custom, game-inspired cocktails will add to the fun.
Once you’ve had your fill of games and cocktails, you have plenty of options for a bite nearby. Taco Local’s ceviche, house-made margaritas, and mango-braised pork tacos (our pick as local foodies) are sure to hit the spot. The cozy, well-lit restaurant space is a great spot to kick back and enjoy some company.
Looking for something a bit more upscale? Pig in A Fur Coat crafts innovative and shareable small plates in a warm environment. Be sure to get the Chocolate Budino for dessert — rich chocolate, Wisconsin cranberries, chantilly cream, and hazelnut are sure to satisfy your sweetheart’s sweet tooth.
Explore modern art + Sichuan cuisine on Park St.
Looking to spice up your relationship with a fun date idea? If so, Park St. is the spot for you. Start with a stroll through the Chazen Art Museum’s special exhibitions before heading a few blocks south for an exciting — and participatory — food experience.
Ichiban specializes in Sichuan hot pot, a unique culinary adventure where you and your date poach chunks of flavorful meat, fresh veggies, and noodles in a pot of sichuan broth that is brought right to your table. The broth is packed with umami and uniquely spicy (think numbing spice, not burning spice), making for a tasty, memorable meal that’ll give you plenty to do and even more to talk about.
If you need to cool off after your spicy food, Mason Lounge offers craft drinks, a vast selection of beers, and a cozy, intimate atmosphere where great convos are shared.
Want to modify this date for the morning or midday? Instead of heading down Park St. after the Chazen, hang a right on Regent St. for award-winning waffles at Indie Coffee or a donut at Greenbush Bakery.
Get a taste of the tropics on the Near East Side
If you’re reading this in the winter (or perhaps near Valentine’s Day), you’d love a respite from the cold Wisconsin winter temps. Fortunately, there’s a tropical paradise on Madison’s Near East Side ready to be explored by you and your date.
The Bolz Conservatory at Olbrich Botanical Gardens is a warm, lush escape from the winter weather with hundreds of tropical plant species, free-flying birds, and a large waterfall. Once you’re done exploring this tropical oasis, walk a few hundred feet north to Garver Feed Mill where there’s more ways to warm up.
New to Garver is Roll Play — a board game cafe that specializes in street food with Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean influences. For a $5 cover charge, you and your date can enjoy your favorite board game while warming up with a spicy Bibimbap or Beef Don bowl. Roll Play also offers Thai milk teas and fruit smoothies to fit with the tropical date vibes. This date is sure to heat things up!
More ideas for date night
There’s more where that came from. Here’s a few more food-centric date ideas for other areas of Madison:
- Henry Vilas Zoo + Zuzu Cafe (Vilas Neighborhood)
- Pheasant Branch Conservancy + Craftsman Tap + Table (Middleton)
- La Baguette + Marcus Point Cinema (West Towne)
Follow Madison Eats Food Tours for more great local restaurant tips and ideas for your next date night in Madison!