Attention LA daters: The pros have chimed in on the best places to drink and dine with your partner in crime at any stage of the game (and within any budget). Whether it’s light bites or a multi-course dinner, a first date or a first anniversary, a shorts-and-slides or dressed-to-impress vibe, consider this insider guide your new go-to date handbook.
Jonah Freedman, owner and designer of Freedman’s in LA, is a fan of this no-frills Americana haunt. “Your date may be skeptical at first: steakhouse chain in a place that essentially feels like a retirement community,” he says. He believes Houston’s Pasadena’s French dip and 50/50 martini (shaken) should quickly change their mind, and if not, “you know it’s a lost cause.” He also recommends the key lime pie if they have it or stopping at Cheesecake Factory on the way home “to feel like you are really living the Boca life.”
“KazuNori Downtown is good for a first date if you are feeling a bit skeptical,” says Freedman. “It’s casual, and with a maximum dine time of about 25 minutes, it’s perfect for those hesitant to commit to ‘dinner.’ You both get to figure out whether to wander over to some downtown cocktail bar after or to part ways amicably.” Awkwardness averted.
Freedman’s most aesthetically oriented recommendation comes in the form of an intimate dinner-only Italian joint. “Speranza is the best place for atmosphere. It’s like dining in this strange reclaimed Euro-jungle garden,” he says. “It’s private, intimate, and one of the most relaxing dining experiences you can have. Get a bottle of wine and slow down.” It’s a great place for long conversations, so “if you have nothing to say to each other, skip this one.”
Larry Greenwood, executive chef of The Front Yard at The Garland, takes a different approach in strategic date planning — he recommends going where love is inherently in the air. According to Garland, “Bestia is a true husband and wife restaurant. You can really feel the love that they’ve put into making this restaurant such a success. It’s a beautiful restaurant space, and it’s won so many awards, so I think any date would just be impressed that you got a reservation here!”
The Front Yard at The Garland
Greenwood may be partial, but his own stomping grounds also happen to make for a great date. “The Front Yard at The Garland in North Hollywood is great for couples looking for a romantic escape while still staying in the city,” he says. It is situated under towering sycamore trees and has 1970s-inspired design and a vibrant, bohemian Southern California vibe. Couples can cozy up with a glass of wine next to the outdoor fireplace or enjoy an intimate al fresco dining experience on the beautiful outdoor patio.
Garçons de Café
If you’re looking for something rather sleek, extremely French, and with approachable prices, Juan Pablo Torre, chef and owner of Bar Garcia, recommends Garçons de Café in DTLA. “This is a hidden gem in Downtown LA’s Spring Arcade Building. If you’re looking for something more casual that won’t break the bank, this is your spot.” He’s a fan of the great selection of cheeses and charcuterie, as well as the incredible wine and French Champagne (of course). “And no worries if you’re not a wine connoisseur; the place is run by two French guys who are always there to assist.”
Torre takes a more Italian route for his next recommendation. “If you want to impress someone with cuisine and ambience, this is the place,” he says. “The food at Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica is classic and delicious. Ask to be seated in Marco’s section; he’ll make it a lively evening for all parties.”
If you’re willing to risk not getting a table, take a cue from Chef Zachary Hamel of KASIH, whose top pick for a Little Tokyo date night is Hama Sushi. The Japanese transplant has just a handful of seats and a no-reservations policy. “Surprisingly, it’s very affordable and a good value for your money,” Hamel says. “Afterward, you can cross the street for good cocktails or some great Japanese whiskey at Wolf and Crane. The ambience there is nice with a dimly lit, welcoming vibe.”
Meeting up before sunset? Hamel suggests something a bit more casual. “If you’re into the daytime dates, Sqirl is a great place for a farm to table brunch experience.” Gulp down some coffee, and head to Echo Park Lake for a walk.
Highland Park Bowl
Thinking outside the box is always a great way to win over your date’s heart; Teresa Montaño, chef and owner of Otoño in Highland Park, agrees. “Highland Park Bowl has a very hip and special vintage ambience; bowling is the perfect activity to break the ice on a first date. And the Nutella pizza is fun and playful to share after a few drinks!”
Montaño’s brand new restaurant has “date spot” written all over it; she suggests sitting at the bar, enjoying gin and tonics and the creative tapas, and taking in the massive mural by Spanish street artists. “This place is for the culinary adventurists, Spanish wine lovers, and cocktail geeks, but we are here to please everyone who comes through our doors,” she says.
The Bazaar and Somni by José Andrés
“These restaurants are sexy and impressive,” Montaño says of the coterie of renowned restaurants owned by one of Spain’s most beloved chefs, José Andrés. “The crowd is good-looking and dressed sharply.” She recommends starting with modern cocktails at the bar at The Bazaar (like the margarita with salt air) and then checking in to your reservation at Somni for an outstanding, artistic, and intimate tasting menu. After dinner, diners can have a glass of sherry or coffee in the dark, velvety lounge.
Quarters Korean BBQ
“Dining at Quarters in Koreatown is a fun, interactive way to get to know someone,” says Hongki Lee, head sushi chef at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill in Los Angeles. “This place is luxury Korean barbecue at its finest.”
Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill
Lee recommends his home turf, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, if you “really want to impress someone.” Indeed, Blue Ribbon is always a solid choice with some of the best (and freshest) sushi in town, along with an insane miso honey fried chicken.
Kismet in Los Feliz is “a small, intimate, and simply incredible newer restaurant with a very date night vibe, serving shareable modern Middle Eastern-inspired fare,” says Adam Gertler, würstmacher (sausage maker) at Dog Haus. “The rabbit for two is a full meal presented beautifully with life-changing flaky bread, labneh, pickles, and tahini.” According to Gertler, they also have great wine, and “some exotic ciders that will change how you feel about ciders.”
Dog Haus Biergarten
Gertler also recommends his very own Dog Haus Biergarten as a great casual date spot for people just getting to know each other. “It has a fun vibe with a full bar and large beer selection,” he says. The outdoor communal tables contribute to a low-key, low-pressure vibe. “Plus, if the person you’re with can’t appreciate an awesome hot dog, burger, or sausage, they’re probably not the one.”