You’ve met someone. And you can actually make it through a whole meal together without looking at your phones. The problem is money. This person you’re seeing is a not-exactly-fully-employed actor, and what your boss considers “a living wage” might be true if you lived in a yurt in Vermont the state, not an actual apartment on Vermont the avenue. But just because you don’t want to drop half your paycheck on a meal, that doesn’t mean you can’t go eat together. These are the 24 best spots to go for a date night that won’t have you writing apology notes to your bank account tomorrow.
Kasih in Little Tokyo is a place that checks all the interesting, but affordable date boxes. Nothing on the share plate-heavy menu costs more than $15, and their drinks are strong and involve unusual combinations like banana-infused bourbon in an Old Fashioned. As a bonus, you’ll probably learn a lot about each other’s spice tolerance from the sambal sampler. If things are going well, there are plenty of good options close by for a post-dinner drink, like the back patio at Far Bar.
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.
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 dating app profile inaccurately portrays you as. Go to Wolfdown, where they serve a big menu (of everything from patatas bravas to steamed pork buns) that guarantees you’ll both find something you want. It’s also in a renovated bungalow, with a comfortable feel that should help put you a little more at ease. Not mentioning your physical fear of fruit is all on you though.
If you’re looking for a place in the Arts District where you can get a lot of food and wine without bringing on finance-induced stress headaches, Pour Haus is your answer. As soon as you walk in, they give you a taste of lambrusco and some popcorn to hold you over until you order, and during their daily happy hour they do a bunch of food and drink options for $5. Even once that’s over, nothing on the menu is over $11, and the wine list is really well-priced too.
You really 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).
Convincing anyone to grab dinner in Culver City on a weeknight generally ends in prolonged silences, but good news - the guy you’ve been DM-ing 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 immediately uncomfortable. The menu is all crowd-pleasers (get the short rib ravioli), and Ugo around the corner is an ideal dessert stop afterwards.
LA will never be known for top-notch Tex-Mex food, but DTLA’s 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 isn’t on the menu - the puffy tacos. Just ask and you shall receive.
The guy you’re seeing has never had an Instagram. So he definitely thinks he’s cool, but A-Frame is where you find out if he’s also fun, which is what you really care about. You’re going to feel like you’re at a luau, but it won’t be in any way similar to the one at Disneyland where they gave you a grass skirt to wear over your jeans. They serve excellent rum cocktails, and a loco moco you have no excuse not to order.
Village Idiot works for an affordable 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 when you have no idea if you’re actually into this person or not. Also, you never need a reservation.
Dates near the ocean give you a lot to discuss. You can talk about that time you snorkeled and a very friendly-looking turtle tried to eat your finger. Or maybe you can compare favorite seagull breeds. Ellie’s isn’t quite overlooking the beach, but it’s close enough that your turtle story won’t feel out of left field. Get a table on the quiet front patio, order a couple of the excellent homemade pastas, and always start with the bread and pork butter.
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 an environment that actually makes you want to sit and get to know someone. 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 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 goes for most of the night.
Franklin and Co. tends to get lost in the frantic shuffle of Franklin Village, but this neighborhood tavern is a good 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 our favorite casual, non-soul-sucking options for a first date in the area. The colorful Argentinian spot has good 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.
You’re basically broke at this point, but you really like this person and you both happen have wine listed as an interest. Head to Bacari PDR, the wine bar right by the Playa Del Rey beach with 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.
An affordable date night often means splitting a bunch of tiny plates that you’re not sure you’ll like. But sometime, you want something a little more straightforward. And that means burgers and beers at Father’s Office, where you’re going to be eating an excellent, ketchup-less burger and drinking some hard-to-find, fantastic craft beer with it.
Your first three dates have been in very dark bars, where you’ve (completely intentionally) only seen each other by candlelight. When you’re ready for a full, well-lit meal together, but don’t want to dive too deep into your annual flight-home-to-keep-your-parents-happy fund, Petty Cash is the way to go. The tacos are filling (go for the al pastor or the shrimp), and the margaritas are strong. You’ll also be surrounded by a lot of people on first dates, and you’ll appreciate that you’re mostly past the job interview phase of this relationship.
Plain and simple, Plan Check is the best first date spot in the city. The 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 it seem like you put way too much effort into the whole thing. Also, they have locations all over the city now, so no matter where your current sublet is, you’re never too far away.
Whenever one of you says you’re “down for whatever,” you end up spending more time talking about your options than you do actually sitting at dinner. Skip the back and forth and just go to this Los Feliz wine bar. There’s a big wine list, but just tell the bartender what you’re in the mood for and you’ll end up trying something new. The menu includes a cubano no one should miss, and on Thursdays, La Morra brings a mobile oven and makes wood-fired pizza that will make you think all pizza should come out of a big transportable fireplace.
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 excellent modern Mexican food - stuff like beet tortas, cauliflower al pastor, and mushroom and garlic tacos.
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 has no business being as good as it is. Everything from the lamb nachitos to the ahi tuna tacos to a carrot cake ice cream sandwich you’ll lose all remaining self-control over 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.