Not all date nights need to be meticulously-planned extravaganzas - sometimes it’s more of a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. This may be by circumstance (your boss suddenly decided to give you a Summer Friday), or by habit (you’re very, very bad at thinking ahead). Either way, planning a last-minute date night that’s actually great can be a bit tricky.
How to do it successfully? Go for walk-in only restaurants (the ones that don’t involve a three-hour wait), or spots where scoring a reservation isn’t much of a problem. Which is exactly what you’ll find below.
You’ve been meaning to try this Silver Lake spot, and just never seem to be able to get your sh*t together. Make it happen for your next date night. We definitely don’t advise trying to walk in - the space is pretty tiny - but if you’re willing to eat slightly early or wait till 8:30pm, day-of reservations are usually easy.
OK, so you’re probably going to have to wait a bit for a table at Button Mash, the weird yet amazing arcade/restaurant that serves both Chinese food and burgers. But you also get to play the arcade games of your youth while you do so (which is more convenient than running around trying to catch Pokémon). When it’s time to eat, order the low-key best burger in town. And all of the Dan Dan noodles.
You’re probably wondering what the best restaurant in the city is doing on this list. It’s here because of seven seats at the tiny bar at the back of the restaurant, which are reserved for walk-ins. Show up at the right time (we’d try 6:30pm or 9pm), and feel very good about yourselves as you eat your weight in foie gras.
Dumplings are a good low-key date choice, and for those times when driving out to the SGV isn’t an option (so basically all the time), ROC is our go-to city spot. The Sawtelle location has a big space, hefty portions of soup dumplings, and plenty of available tables for two - mostly because everyone else around these parts is lining up for ramen.
Esters feels like it was created specifically with last-minute dates in mind. There’s a cute patio area out front, lots of seats around the bar, and they don’t take reservations. You’ll also find more than the standard wine bar fare here - beyond the (very good) cheese and charcuterie, there are also salads, beef tartare, and an avocado toast with bacon that makes breakfast for dinner a highly acceptable date meal option.
Forgot your anniversary (maybe because you inexplicably celebrate the first time you met, even though you actually hated each other and didn’t start dating for three months)? Barrique will help you apologize. This place has romance written all over it, from the candlelit dining room and simple Italian food to the extremely charming waiters. If it were further up the street in Santa Monica, this place would be mobbed, but being down on the quiet Venice end of Main Street means you can walk in without much of a problem, and proceed to eat all the pasta.
You’ve had about a million brunches at Salt’s Cure, but you might not have stopped in for dinner. This is a mistake. The meat-centric menu shines in the evening (get the pork loin), and now that they’re in a bigger space, you can often walk in and get a spot pretty quickly.
South End is the pizza place Venice locals would prefer you didn’t know about, but we’re here to ruin that in the name of your love life. Although this spot is busy most nights of the week, the wait isn’t ever very long. Plus, you get to spend it in the parking lot of a strip mall sipping a (probably free) glass of red wine. If you don’t like the sound of that scenario, we value different things.
Yes, it’s on a stretch of Olympic in Beverly Hills you might have only known as the area where all the good kosher bakeries are. But Sotto is here serving some of the best Southern Italian food in town - and despite being in a basement, it’s also pretty romantic. Thanks to the fact that it’s not exactly in a bustling part of the city, it’s also never mobbed.
If your perfect date night doesn’t involve Mexican-style barbecue (i.e. killer grilled meats) eaten outside with cocktails, then you haven’t been to Salazar. We’ve heard that there can be hour-long waits at this new Frogtown spot, but we’ve come by at 7pm and grabbed a table pretty fast.
For when all you want is simple Italian food, an old-school vibe, and to not spend $100 on dinner, Jones is here for you. And also for when you want the best damn apple pie in town. Visual bonus: Everyone’s good-looking here.
For when you feel like comfort food (that’s actually good), in an environment that’s a big step up from sticky booths and bad lighting - there’s The Bellwether, a low-key romantic option. Post up at the bar, order a patty melt, and we guarantee satisfaction at one of our favorite restaurants in The Valley.