There’s no better feeling than getting ready for a date you’re excited about. She’s a great texter or he’s your total physical type or you’re just thrilled to have finally met someone who’s on the same side of the 405 as you. And then there are the dates you aren’t totally feeling. You know - most of the dates you end up going on. But even when sparks aren’t exactly flying, there’s still a successful way to navigate it. You need a place that’s cute, but unromantic, enjoyable, but with an easy out if things go south. Save your ace restaurants for when things get serious. Here are the date spots you need when you aren’t totally sure about this.
With not one, but two unneeded spin-offs of its original concept, Blue Plate is pretty much the NCIS of LA restaurant groups, but its first location on Montana in Santa Monica is still a solid spot to test the waters on that girl you can’t specifically remember from Bungalow last weekend. The space is cute and fairly laid-back, with a broad menu that works because you actually have no idea what this girl likes. There are grain bowls, steak tacos, and even a mac and cheese pancake appetizer - if you can both agree to stop holding back and order that, it's meant to be.
One of the great rookie dating mistakes is planning everything only at night. Day dates can be extremely successful, especially when you don’t want to burn an entire Saturday night on a guy who has “Breathe. Love. Burning Man” as his dating bio. Tart is a fantastic afternoon option because it’s almost entirely outdoors, the food isn’t going to offend you, and those alcoholic punch bowls will undo both of your insecurities. If your date suggests you both jump in the pool to take advantage of getting your meal half-off, at least you’ll know at that point it’ll never work.
It’s completely obvious that the guy you've been talking to hyper-filters all his photos, so you have no idea who’s about to walk in that door. Head to Spitz, the bright Mediterranean street food spot where you could spend two hours or 30 minutes of your night - all depending on how much you end up liking the person across from you. You order your food at the bar, so you won’t get bogged down waiting for a check from a disappearing waitress and if conversation dries up, there are tons of board games around to keep you occupied. Order the street cart fries.
You have your Mexican go-to spots. But you’re not bringing a girl your work friend set you up with who just moved from Tampa and is “adjusting to culture” to your most treasured territory. Take her to Mercado, the entirely mediocre Mexican restaurant on 3rd Street. The space itself is actually quite nice, with the requisite white brick design accents, hardwood floors, and plenty of natural light for her “I’m in LA!” social media posts. Their guacamole and margarita situation will have her LIVING.
This guy has now quoted Superbad over three times since you’ve sat down, but at least you’re drinking chardonnay on a patio semi-close to the beach. Their wine list isn’t large, but it covers a lot of ground, and if you do get hungry, their dinner menu is actually pretty solid (get the lambwich).
There’s nothing particularly remarkable about Freddy Smalls, but neither is Kaylie’s profile picture of her leaning against the pink wall on Melrose. The menu here is essentially bar food, but with things like the chicken parmesan sandwich and a steak-frites as well, you won’t be forced to eat loaded nachos together either. Which works, because Kaylie doesn’t eat chips, cheese, meat, or things on plates. Other bonus: Most of the seating is at high tops, assuring no awkwardly intimate booth action.
You’ve been Grindring with this cute guy all week and finally asked him out on a date. But after he suggested Mickey’s on a Tuesday, your expectations of a full sit-down meal have evaporated. Convince him to go to St. Felix. The bar/restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd. has a relaxed atmosphere (considering its location), solid food, and a happy hour that rivals just about anybody. Every day from 4pm-8pm all beer, wine, and spirits are majorly discounted with a massive food menu that stays entirely under $10.
Sushi is always a great option for date night, but getting stuck in a 90-minute omakase with a guy who just mentioned he’s going to the Warped Tour this summer is not. Head to Murakami, the insanely mellow sushi joint on Melrose that will get you in and out in 45 minutes every time. The regular sushi and sashimi is certainly passable here, but the move is to always go for their sushi bowls. The $15 Spicy Trio (spicy tuna, yellowtail, and salmon) is one of the best deals in the area.
Deep down you both know this isn’t going to work, but your mutual friend is so excited about hooking you up together, you just need to see it through. Escuela is an ideal choice because the tiny taco spot along Beverly has a casual romantic vibe that makes it equally possible to fall in love or get a little drunk and call it before 9pm. All the tacos are solid, their guacamole is fantastic, and their housemade chips are truly some of our favorite in the city. Also, it’s BYOB.
Diablo is certainly not the best taco spot on the Eastside, but its order-at-the-counter concept is ideal when you aren’t ready to commit to a full-service situation just yet. But don’t worry, this isn’t fast food either. Diablo has a cool, modern aesthetic that will make you want hang out if things are going well, and if they aren’t, at least you get some decent tacos along the way.
Marvin is more or less a neighborhood wine bar, but since when has a strongly poured glass of rose hurt while trying to find common ground with a guy who’s already mentioned he doesn’t do the emotional thing? The food is very solid (get the tomato toast and steak tartare), and if you’re worried about getting stuck in the corner of quiet wine bar all night, fear not. Marvin keeps the music up pretty loud, so you can tune out when he starts talking about his outdoor workout routines.
The Arts District sausage emporium (with a location in Venice too) can certainly get a bit rowdy at night, but its order-at-the-counter and go-sit-in-the-massive-back-room situation is the ideal set-up for a date you can’t really get a read on. The food is actually very solid (get the rattlesnake and rabbit) and its craft beer stock will get you talking in no time. Also, those fries are some of the best in LA.
A-Frame has had its ups and downs over the years, but has settled in as a solid neighborhood restaurant serving authentic Hawaiian food in a bright atmosphere that’s not immediately annoying. If you’re nervous about tonight’s date, head to the community tables outside on the patio where things are even more casual, and when conversation dries up, just start talking to someone else. Get the beer can chicken.