You’ve made it. After years of cramming for finals, slaving away on thesis papers, and learning how to function in public with debilitating hangovers, you’re finally graduating. It’s an exciting time, but as soon as that cap and gown arrived in the mail you knew it was time for one thing - planning the graduation dinner. Your parents/loved ones/whole crazy extended family are in town and finding a place that works for everyone is causing you more stress than the last four years combined. Take a breath. Here a 14 great spots for likely graduation dinner scenarios.
Perfect For: Parents Who’ve Watched Every Episode Of Chef’s Table And Won’t Shut Up About It
You got your parents a Netflix subscription for Christmas last year and now they think they’re on the James Beard Award committee. Your move at this point is to snag a reservation at Osteria Mozza. Not only will they get to check off seeing Nancy Silverton behind the mozzarella bar, but they’ll also get to say they ate some of the best pasta in Los Angeles.
Perfect For: When Your Grandparents Are In Town, But You Don’t Want To Eat At Hillstone
Grandpa is a man of habit, and if he doesn’t get his weekly three-olive martini with a cheeseburger chaser, he swears he’s never leaving the state again. Just tell him that in California, they call Hillstone Spago, and head straight for Beverly Hills. Grandpa’s martini and burger will be waiting for him, and you can order the off-menu spicy tuna hand rolls. Plus, Spago was basically invented for special occasions, so you know they’ll do it right.
Perfect For: When Your Mom Cries Every Five Minutes Because Her Baby Is All Grown Up Now
Your mom can get pretty emotional - particularly when big life events are going down. Take her and the rest of the family to C&O’s. The Italian restaurant right off the Venice boardwalk is cheesy, over-the-top, and immensely satisfying all at the same time. The food is better than you think it will be and the portions are massive, so absolutely no one is walking away hungry. But nothing beats the ambience on that massive back patio, complete with an all-restaurant sing-a-long to “That’s Amore” every hour. Oh look, mom’s sobbing again.
Perfect For: When You’re Doing Fine Dining But You Don’t Want To Feel Old
Mom called and says they want to take you somewhere “really special” for dinner, but you have an irrational fear of white tablecloths stemming from that time when you were seven, obsessed with magic, and attempted your favorite trick at the fanciest restaurant in town. Republique has all the fine dining things down - great service, an impressive space, killer French food - but there’s not a tablecloth in sight. It’s also not stuffy, you don’t have to whisper, and no one has to wear a suit. Top hats to pull rabbits out of are entirely optional.
Perfect For: When You Need A Margarita More Than They Do
Your dad’s switched rooms at the hotel three times for reasons he won’t tell anyone, your mom keeps mentioning she liked your hair better at Christmas, and Grandma won’t stop asking you why the auditorium was so cold today. You need a strong margarita. El Coyote is an LA classic and while the food will never win any awards, nobody will care. The atmosphere is fun, there’s plenty of room for everybody, and those margaritas might have lighter fluid in them.
Perfect For: Parents Expecting To Meet Your Significant Other Who Doesn’t Actually Exist
Trent from the law school has been out of the picture for over nine months, and yet your parents can’t seem to grasp that yet. They’re dying to meet him and what better place to do it than Odys and Penelope. The large restaurant along La Brea feels like you’re eating dinner at a steakhouse in Vail, complete with a giant stack of chopped wood looming over the dining room. Expect everything from tri-tip to branzino to a giant bowl of creamy caulifower that’ll be gone as soon as it hits the table. The bright side of your parents’ ultimate disappointment over not having Trent as a son-in-law? You don’t have to share that chocolate rye pie with anybody.
Perfect For: Parents Who Iron Their Jeans
Pistola is the kind of place that feels fancier than it actually is. Yes, there are white tablecloths and there’s a dry-aged Delmonico steak on the menu, but there’s also a TV on the wall and good music playing. And that means just about everybody walks away happy. Focus on the pastas (in particular that carbonara) - they’re actually the best things here.
Perfect For: When Your Aunt Doesn’t Have An Inside Voice
Aunt Karen hasn’t whispered since confession in 1982 and that’s not about to change for your graduation dinner. Take her and the rest of the extended family to Terroni, the casual Beverly Grove Italian restaurant where talking decibels aren’t even a consideration. The place isn’t some raucous party by any means, but when it gets loud, it stays loud. The food isn’t going to blow anybody away, but it’s familiar and accessible and that’s what matters tonight. If the group is running deep, there’s also a pretty cool private room hidden in the back.
Perfect For: Dads Who Talk About Terroir
A meal with your father involves one of two things: him freaking out because the wine list is terrible, or him freaking out because the wine list is amazing. Either way, he’s guaranteed to spend the first half hour of dinner ignoring the table and talking to the sommelier about his last trip to Burgundy. A.O.C. will satisfy all his wine-snob needs, and the menu is ideal for ordering way too many things and sharing them with the crew (note: you’ll need more than one of the roast chicken). If there are a ton of you, rent out the upstairs private dining room that feels equal parts Dad’s dream cellar situation and private club. And if not, just secure a table on the best-in-city courtyard.
Perfect For: When, For Some Reason, Everyone Wants To See You In A Cap And Gown
It’s not only Mom and Dad and the grandparents who came into town, but your third cousin Rita and your great-aunt’s best friend Doris. Sure, you’re graduating in media studies with a solid C average, but apparently no one cares about what you actually did in school. Distract them from your lack of honors with a private room at Broken Spanish. The giant slab of pork belly is an excellent way to kick off your post-college life.
Perfect For: When Your Uncle Hasn’t Left Santa Monica In Thirty Years
Uncle Roy refused to cross the 405 for his own child’s wedding, so he’s not about to start now. But dinner at Rustic Canyon isn’t any kind of compromise, with its daily-changing, vegetable-heavy menu would be an annoying parody of ‘California cuisine’ if it wasn’t so damn good. It can get pretty loud in here, so you’ll be able to easily tune out as Roy expands on why Silver Lake is actually the fifth circle of hell.
Perfect For: Parents Who Are (Figuratively) Younger Than You
They’re already planning their Burning Man outfits and have told you three times that the new Kendrick album is an instant classic. Just admit defeat and have your grad dinner at Catch, where they can play spot the Hadid and generally feel like the cool people they’ve decided they are. There’s nothing particularly great about the mostly seafood menu, but it’s also not terrible. Predictably, it is stupidly expensive - but your official cutoff officially starts tomorrow, so live it up now.
Perfect For: When It’s Just A Few Of You, And You’re All Kind Of Tired
It’s true, you graduated, but you also have had family in town for a week, and you just need something low-key. Let Cafe Birdie handle this one. It’s comfortable and welcoming, you can have a relaxed drink in the cocktail bar out the back before dinner, and then order a bowl of pork cheek ragu that under no circumstances should be shared with anyone else.
Perfect For: When Someone Insisted On Staying In Hollywood
You told them multiple times that even though they have similar names, Hollywood is nowhere near Westwood, but Dad found a hotel deal and wouldn’t let it go. Now he’s suggesting Katsuya and you need to take control of the situation. The answer is Gwen. The space is gorgeous, the place is appropriately special occasion-ish, and menus range from outrageous ten-course extravaganzas to a more Dad-friendly $55 three course option. Once he’s a bottle of wine in you can tell him about the $175 Wagyu supplement you slipped in.
Perfect For: When You Suspect Everyone Just Wants The Cheesecake Factory
You don’t necessarily blame your cousin for packaging your graduation around their family vacation to Disneyland, but it certainly doesn’t make anything easier. With three kids under the age of seven, your options are basically any place with mac and cheese on the menu and an efficient clean-up crew for when one starts blowing chunks at the table. Go to The Cheesecake Factory in Marina Del Rey. The massive place isn’t just the first location ever of the chain, it also has it’s own beach on a lagoon, which is as laughable as it is necessary when you need to step outside after being hit with projectile mac and cheese.