There appears to be a playbook more extensive than most menus for what to eat and not eat on a first date. For example, an arsenal of articles warn against the perils of red sauce. Spaghetti can be perceived as a dangerous sprinkler of sauce, one that destroys your nice shirt and exposes your façade as a put-together potential mate. But spaghetti is very good, and I refuse to avoid it on a first date — or anywhere else, for that matter.

I am a messy eater. I let barbecue sauce bleed down my arms. Tomato sauce freckles my cheeks. Croissant flakes bib my shirt. My philosophy is to enjoy food without stressing over the proximity of the napkins. Don’t get me wrong, I practice table manners, but if there’s chocolate on my cheek from that gelato cone, I’ll take care of it after the next blissful lick. Consider it a temporary beauty mark.

I’m not suggesting you chew with your mouth open. I’m just saying, don’t be afraid to dig in. The right person will see that guacamole on your cheek, dab a spoonful of sour cream on theirs, and say, “now we match.”

I have no problem saying “excuse me,” but I’ll never apologize for these six foods I quite enjoyed, thank you very much, on first dates in 2018.

Garlicky Dips

For some unfortunate reason, rumor has it garlic will ruin the magic of a kiss. But it’s not like I’m exhaling wintergreen after eating an arugula salad. Also, I’m not dating vampires. A garlicky kiss will not kill someone. I dipped pita in very garlicky hummus on a first date, kissed — a memory that was only enhanced by the alarming level of garlic — survived to tell the tale, and scored a second date.

Sushi

My mother thinks sushi is messy. It bulks your cheeks as you chew on a large chunk of tuna. There may be some spicy salmon clinging to your breath and bonito flakes to your lips. It might not appear seductive, but it’s sushi. That glossy slice of eel deserves to be devoured, no matter the company or how long I’ve known them.

Tacos

Tacos are my go-to first date food, because if I’m going to venture out of the cozy confines of my house, I hope it involves carnitas. The salsa inevitably spills all over the plate and table, and I find conversations fragmented as I wipe pico di gallo off my lap, but I never say sorry. Because as we both know, in the presence of tacos, there’s nothing to be sorry about.

Chocolate-Covered Key Lime Pie On A Stick

Chocolate can coat your teeth in a way that leaves them looking like you’re missing a few, and diving into a chocolate-covered dessert face first will apply a Pamela-Anderson-in-the-early-’90s kind of lip liner. On one first date, during which I decided to enjoy this concoction, I looked up only to be met with a blank stare. “Is there chocolate on my face?” I asked. “Uh, yes,” my date answered, clearly unreasonably embarrassed for me. And with a smooth wipe of a napkin, the chocolate was gone, our conversation continued, and my sweet tooth was satisfied.

Spaghetti

Red sauce is not demonic. Red — let us not forget — is the color of passion. And red, it turns out, looks good on me. Sure, the spaghetti pouring out of my mouth like a waterfall of carbohydrates was not the most elegant thing to happen on a first date. But I found the humor in it, laughing from meatball to meatball, which not so surprisingly staked its claim as a first inside joke of many with my pasta date.

Oysters

Slurping may seem the opposite of desirable when you’re presenting yourself in a hey-you-should-date-me way. But sometimes one cannot resist a flight of briny, salty sea gems. In my case, one shared flight turned into a full-fledged relationship, so maybe what they say about oysters being aphrodisiacs is true.