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 are some excellent restaurant choices for a range of dinner group types and sizes.
Perfect For: When You Don’t Need To Make A Big Deal About Graduating
College was fine and you’re certainly glad to be done with it, but you are also just ready to get on with things. For a meal that’s low-key but still feels like you’re celebrating something, try Lasa. It’s a family-run modern Filipino spot in a Chinatown strip mall, with some of the friendliest service we’ve encountered in this city, and fantastic food as well. You might not want to make a big deal about this, but the minute you tell the staff why you’re here, they’ll probably make the big deal for you.
Perfect For: Parents Who Iron Their Jeans
The term “business casual” was practically invented for your parents, who haven’t worn anything more casual than crisp jeans since 1986. Keep Mom and Dad in their comfort zone and take them to a steakhouse with a view: Mastro’s. There are white tablecloths and a giant bone-in rib-eye on the menu, but there’s also a TV on the wall to keep your brother occupied. Basically everyone is happy. Order a martini, take in the ocean view, and eat a bunch of steak to celebrate officially being an adult.
Perfect For: When You Want To Pay For Dinner Yourself
Now that you’re done with the learning portion of your life and are about to do real things like get a job and figure out how to get the gas turned on at your new tiny studio apartment, it’s time to thank the people who got you here. Your parents put up with you through that period where you turned your bedroom into a mini-club and played EDM very loudly every afternoon, so the least you can do is buy them dinner. This casual Thai spot in Downtown LA is big enough to fit all the cousins in town, and the food is simple but great.
Perfect For: When Your Dad Just Joined Instagram And Wants To Take Food Photos
No one has ever accused Dad of being an early adopter, but his lateness to Instagram is impressive even for him. Kismet in Los Feliz has enough good-looking dishes to keep your father tinkering with filters all night, but the bonus for the rest of the table is that the food here is fantastic too. This small-ish space is more of a place for immediate family, but they’re the only ones who’ll sit for 10 minutes while Dad composes his shot anyway.
Perfect for: When Everyone In The Group’s Parents Got Together To Rent A Venue, And You Need A Roof Deck
You’ve got years ahead of you to celebrate life achievements with your family, but this might be the last time you can gather all your college friends together in one place. And somehow, you’ve collectively convinced your parents to pass on the grad dinner, and have a party with everyone you know instead. Mama Shelter has all the required elements - excellent cocktails, views the parents can talk about, and enough food to keep you all decent in front of your families. At least until they go back to their hotels.
Perfect for: When It’s Just You And Your Mom, And Mom Wants To Go All Out
You get one last dinner before you have to start eating like the person with the entry-level starting salary you’re about to become. And Mom has decided you should do something special, seeing as you’re about to be eating scrambled eggs for every meal. At Dialogue, you’ll be served 21 courses of extremely inventive food, in a tiny room where you can watch the chef plate every dish. And be sure to add the wine pairing. You’ll get around 10 different wines that only make the food better, and will be something to remember when you’re drinking $10 grocery store wine next week.
Perfect For: When Your Parents Double-Booked Themselves, So It’s Just You And Your Siblings
Somehow, your parents thought it was a good idea to get a three-legged rescue dog a couple of weeks before your graduation, and now Dad has decided they can’t possibly leave Hank at home, so now it’ll just be you and your siblings. Skip the white-tablecloth place you’d probably go to if they were here, and show your siblings exactly why you went to school in California (the weather and the tacos) at Salazar.
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
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. 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 ambiance 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: 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 and now they think they’re on the James Beard Award committee. Your move at this point is to get 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 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 is going to 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: 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 30 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 Kendrick Lamar is the poet of our age. 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 while they do have an outrageous 10-course extravaganza, the a la carte options are probably more Dad-friendly. Once he’s a bottle of wine in you can tell him about the $190 Wagyu you ordered while he was in the bathroom.
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 second location ever of the Beverly Hills-based 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.