So you matched with someone you actually think is cute, they aren’t total creeps when you started chatting, and before you know it, the first date’s been etched into the calendar and you’re actually excited about this one. But then the day rolls around and your boss drops a stack of 150 production contracts on your desk to proofread at 6:45pm, and suddenly 7:30pm drinks and pasta is completely off the table. Let’s face it, most of your first date plans are going to end like this, but for the ones that don’t - here are our ideas that also won’t kill your wallet.
Check out more ways to save your job (and your soul) in the rest of our LA Assistant’s Survival Guide here.
You really do like sushi, but you also can’t drop another $70 recklessly ordering toro sashimi if you want to make rent this month. Choose Murakami - the insanely affordable sushi joint on Melrose with a quiet setting where you can actually hear each other (but that’s not so subdued that you seem like a sociopath for suggesting it). Their build-your-own sushi bowls (all around $16) are the true stars, but even their hand and cut roll situation is solid (and entirely sub-$10). But just kidding, the date starts in 10 minutes and you’re still in the Valley cross-checking the schedules of three child stars and whether or not they can make it to the Minions 4 premiere tomorrow.
Deep down you’re a very picky eater, but it’s the first date, and you want to appear to be the worldly, adventurous person your Tinder profile inaccurately portrays you as. Go to Wolfdown, whose big menu (there’s everything from patatas bravas to steamed pork buns) guarantees you’ll both find something you want. Located in a renovated bungalow in Silver Lake, the homey atmosphere will also help ease your first date nerves. Not mentioning your physical fear of fruit is all on you though.
Convincing anyone to grab dinner in Culver City on a weeknight generally ends in prolonged silences, but good news - the guy from Bumble said yes and now you’re taking him to The Wallace. The relaxed, modern space is a good first date look because it’s slightly romantic, but not so much so that you’re uncomfortable. The menu is solid and familiar (get the short rib ravioli) and Ugo around the corner is an ideal dessert stop afterwards.
It’s frankly impossible to not like The Tripel. The tiny space in Playa Del Rey has great beer, one of our favorite burgers in the city, and a local feel that’s what you need after a full week of the corporate crush. Every dish on the menu is under $20 (even that ridiculously good squid ink pasta) and if things go well, the ocean is just a five-minute walk away. But hopefully she can do next week instead because that senior agent you want to impress just asked if you want to go see Billy Joel at the Bowl with him tonight and obviously you’re doing that instead.
LA will never be a haven for top-notch Tex-Mex food, but over in downtown, Bar Ama is doing a great job making up for it. The casual cantina in the Historic Core has a relaxed setting and affordable food that’s both fun and delicious (read: queso). Also, the best thing at Bar Ama even isn’t on the menu - the puffy tacos. Just ask and you shall receive.
Village Idiot works for an affordable first date because it perfectly straddles the line of being a restaurant and a bar. Whether you’re there for some excellent craft beer or just a very underrated fish and chips situation, Village Idiot’s low-key, dimly-lit interior is ideal for getting the romantic mojo going. Also, you don’t need a reservation on weekdays, which softens the blow when you can’t actually go because you double-booked yourself with your date and a terrible singer/songwriter your boss wants you to go and scout.
Mission Cantina is one of most overlooked casual dinner spots in Hollywood. The tiny Mexican place on Sunset doesn’t look like much from the outside, but they serve some solid food at affordable prices in a mellow environment that actually makes you want to sit and get to know someone in. Plus, if your date can’t help you finish the margarita pitcher you just bought, at least you can call it quits now and not three sober dates later.
You got overly excited after you started texting with this guy and mentioned how much you love sushi. In reality though, you’re actually more of a speciality roll section kind of person. Head to Hara - a Westside sushi staple with maybe the best specialty rolls in Los Angeles. This is not where you go to get fresh nigiri and an uni sampler. This is where you go to eat gigantic, sauce-doused crunchy California rolls and take advantage of their happy hour that you actually won’t make it to because you had no idea it takes 90 minutes to get from Burbank to Brentwood at 6:30pm on a Wednesday.
Franklin and Co. tends to get lost in the frantic shuffle of Franklin Village, but this neighborhood tavern is a solid spot to figure out how much this person doesn’t look like their profile pictures. The food is solid (they have a giant pretzel to share), there are TVs on the wall, and there’s a crazy selection of whiskey if that’s where the night seems to be headed. Bonus: if you need an out, just lie and tell them your friend has a UCB 101 show next door. No one will follow you to that.
If you both work downtown, Barcito is one of the only casual, non-soul-sucking options for a laid-back first date. The colorful Argentinian spot has solid food that’s very shareable (get the octopus), and even though the Buenos Aires streetscapes plastered on the wall are somewhat cheesy (ok, they’re very cheesy), by the end of the meal, neither of you will care. He will care, however, when you get up and leave the restaurant after 10 minutes because your boss just texted you “SOS” in all caps.
You’re basically broke at this point, but you really like this person and have completely stopped caring how drunk you get on weekdays. Head to Bacari PDR, the wine bar right by the Playa Del Rey beach with dirt cheap (and delicious) tapas and drink specials. Come on a Wednesday and every glass of wine you drink is $1 less than the previous one. Don’t call us mathematicians, but odds are you’ll both be drinking for free at some point. Also, we promise this place isn’t as tacky as it sounds.
Plain and simple, Plan Check is the best first date spot in the city. The food is spot on (that jidori chicken keeps us up at night), the beer list is great, and the atmosphere inside is modern and sexy, but not in a way that makes you feel sad inside. Also, they have locations in Santa Monica and DTLA now, so no matter where your current sublet is, you’re never too far away.
Thanks to its no man’s land West LA location, you might not know about Upper West. But the atmosphere at this bright spot is fun and relaxed, and the food really has no business being as good as it is. Everything from the lamb nachitos to the ahi tuna tacos to maybe the best veggie burger in the city is worth ordering. Also, if you’re an early date kind of person, the 5-7pm happy hour gets you $5 house wine and $6 specialty cocktails. But your body is doing that thing where everything hurts so you’re just going to reschedule for next week.
You’re the kind of person who only goes on a first date to a coffee shop. But now that that’s over with, it’s time for date #2 and you need to step up your game. Take them to BS Taqueria, the colorful and casual downtown restaurant serving some of the best Mexican food in the area. This is modern, affordable Mexican, so think beet tortas, cauliflower al pastor, and tacos with clams inside them.