Where To Have Dinner With Someone You’re Sort Of Seeing But Don’t Necessarily Want To Call Your “Valentine”
Where to have dinner with your sneaky link.
So you’ve been seeing someone, but things aren’t quite “official.” Maybe it’s a sneaky link you met on a dating app last month or an ex who you’re on exceedingly good terms with. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, you might be starting to panic. Would it be weird to exchange gifts? What if that sends the wrong message? There’s no need to go pacing up and down the candy aisle. Plan a dinner at one of these places instead. They’re all kind of romantic, but they’re also casual enough that you won’t feel like you’re committing to a lifetime of quiet walks, half-finished crosswords, and shared toiletries.
Although Manuela, a Southern-ish restaurant in the Arts District, is housed in an actual gallery (and adjoining courtyard), the energy here is anything but stuffy. Their outdoor space is charming, looking more like a tiny European townsquare than a converted Downtown warehouse parking lot. It’s so gorgeous, you might even say something like “my heavens” when you enter, even though you’ve literally never said anything like that before.
Found Oyster is a great choice for an “Is this a date?” date. The food comes out fairly quickly (if things start to get rocky), the space is cozy and non-pretentious, and they have one of the best seafood selections around (think littleneck clams and scallop-loaded tostadas). Plus, they’re located right next to that huge East Hollywood Scientology building, so at the very least, you’ll find out if that’s a part of their history and whether or not you need to enter Witness Protection immediately.
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You might not be ready to commit to a full-on relationship right now, but at least you’re drinking Chardonnay on a patio semi-close to the beach with someone you're attracted to. Venie Beach Wine's wine list isn’t large, but it covers a lot of ground, and if you do get hungry, their dinner menu is quite solid (get the lambwich).
This Long Beach oyster bar has a little something for everyone. You can share a platter of sweet and briny mollusks at the bar inside or eat a crunchy fried oyster caesar salad on the string-lit sidewalk patio. And since Valentine’s Day lands on a Monday this year, you can take advantage of Liv’s half-off oyster deal between 4-9pm.
photo credit: Berbere
Berbere, the BYOB counter-service spot run by chef Tezeta Alemayehu (the person behind T&T Lifestyle at Smorgasburg), is home to incredible plant-based Ethiopian dishes that are easy for just about anyone to love. There’s no dramatic view or lush garden patio—it’s just a laid-back spot in Santa Monica where you can drink your own wine and scarf down stewed legumes, steamed vegetables, and a few rolls of injera.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
This Korean deli in the Arts District is just about as casual as a college dining hall, so there’s little to no chance your Val-Day “pal” will get the wrong idea. We recommend grabbing a table and a round of drinks first, and then heading back to the counter to order your food. From spicy kimchi pozole and chilled acorn noodles in shirodashi vinaigrette, to warm, doughy potato bread, the food at Yangban is exceptional and unlike anything you can really find in LA right now.
photo credit: Carla Choy
A massive Oaxacan restaurant in the South Bay (with locations in Palms and West Hollywood as well), Madre is the ideal place for dinner with someone you’re just hooking up with. First, there’s a massive list of mezcal and tequila to help you get over the fact that the waiter just said you two make an adorable couple. There’s plenty of space between tables, so you won’t get side-eye from neighbors if things go south and you have to make up an excuse about your parakeet’s fear of being home alone. And if things go well, there are a whole bunch of great things to share here: queso fundido, pork ribs in mole, and tlayudas.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Same Same Thai
Same Same in Silver Lake is just as much a wine bar as it is a Thai restaurant, with an always-rotating list of excellent American and European biodynamic wines. It’s the kind of place you can come by yourself on a quiet Wednesday night, hang at the bar, and sip unfiltered Slovenian wine in peace or roll in on Friday with friends and power through bottles of chilled Gamay like its alkaline water. Another plus is they don’t take reservations, making it a great option for a last-minute dinner date.