The most romantic restaurants in Raleigh beckon throughout the year, but especially on Valentine’s Day.

By Monique M. Rogers

What better way to start a conversation about romantic restaurants than with a love story? Brother and sister, Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha, brought the love of their Laotian culture and food to Downtown Raleigh. Located at 222 South Blount Street, Bida Manda—the name is a tribute to their parents as Bida Manda is the Sanskrit ceremonial term for father and mother—invites guests into another world.

The décor of refurbished woods and natural elements brings a holistic approach and some of the outside environment inside. This is important to the Laotian culture, and there’s also a subtle sense of community in the décor as family and friends placed each piece of wood by hand.

As for their food, the couple offers a variety of dishes native to their homeland. Appetizers such as Crispy Rice Lettuce Wraps and Tom Ka Gai—a spicy coconut-based chicken soup—lead to inventive entrées. Bida Manda offers Pad Thai and a Saffron Crepe, as well as the anticipated curry dishes. But have you sampled their Pumpkin Curry, with its house-made yellow curry, coconut broth, local root veggies, and jasmine rice? In itself, a reason to visit Bida Manda.

And there are equally exciting sweet endings, from the Sweet Purple Sticky Rice, with coconut custard and mango purée, to an alluring trio of Apricot-Tamarind Cobbler, Semi-Sweet Chocolate Crème Brûlée, and Coconut Custard Crisp.

Moving into the Hayes Barton neighborhood, we find Mandolin at 2519 Fairview Road, serving American meals with a Southern accent. A treasure in this little Raleigh community, it offers exceptional farm-to-table dishes, and owner Sean Fowler uses the freshest local North Carolina foods whenever possible.

The romantic, clean design and simple ambiance of a farmhouse is evident in the attention to detail of Mandolin’s décor. With its simplicity serving as a canvas, the restaurant needs only add fresh flowers and candles for the polished romantic touch.

Appetizers include Lamb Ragu with Potato Dumplings, Tomato Salad, and a Charcuterie Plate, and are followed by entrées that further showcase the commitment to fresh, seasonal, and local: Pan Seared North Carolina Scallops, Pan Seared North Carolina Sheepshead, and Joyce Farms’ Chicken & Waffles—to name a few.

If elegance is what you’re seeking, step back in time with a visit to Second Empire—voted Best Restaurant for a Romantic Dinner by our readers and winner of this year’s Diamond Award. Owner/manager Kim Reynolds and co-owner/executive chef Daniel Schurr just celebrated 20 years with the restaurant, located at 330 Hillsborough Street. Their secret to success: consistency in their service and their food.

Named for the Victorian period that it dates to, Schurr explains, “It’s the house that stands by itself.” He goes on to speak about the architecture, crown molding, mirrors, fireplaces, and suede-covered walls that showcase the historic Dodd-Hinsdale house as a period piece. The arched doorways and brick walls of the downstairs tavern transport guests even further back in time.

And the food stands equal to the building’s elegance. Seasoned dishes are changed at least eight times a year, with starters like Pan Roasted Quail and Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels; entrées including Grilled Australian Barramundi and Pan Roasted New Bedford Sea Scallops; and delectable desserts like the Empire Chocolate Soufflé, Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée, or signature Key Lime Pie.

Share a memorable evening at one of these exquisite restaurants, or others in our curated collection of leading romantic restaurants in the Triangle.

Continue on to 18 of the Triangle's Finest Dining Venues.

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