Getting your friends to plan ahead is like trying to get the city to pave that pothole you hit every day on commute. It’s not impossible, but it’ll only happen if you bug them incessantly for months.
More likely, a group text will kick off at around 4pm in which everyone maniacally tries to figure out a restaurant that will be able to take the everyone involved that same night. Fortunately, the restaurants on this guide have plenty of room and they’re all relatively easy to get into.
You don’t need this meal to be too complicated. What you do need is guaranteed open tables, plenty of room to spread out, and food that anyone will like. That’s where Spoke comes in. It’s an all-outdoor cafe/bicycle shop in Frogtown that has excellent local beer and wine, and a veggie burger that’s going to make you wonder if you really need beef burgers after all. There are outdoor heaters and a couple of fire pits for “winter,” a bin of LPs filled mostly with ’80s bands you forgot about, and a record player to play them on. So, you can all hum along to a very-scratched up version of Jessie’s Girl in between bites.
A night out for Korean BBQ typically tends to be a whole production involving long wait times or all-you-can-eat deals you didn’t ask for. But Magal is the opposite. This small, bright, loud spot takes last-minute reservations and the quality of meat and banchan is excellent. And even if you don’t normally like EDM, you’ll find that slowly but surely stuffing your face with bulgogi and soju to the beat of house music is a religious experience not unlike blasting Alanis Morisette while driving down Sunset alone at night.
There’s a reason you’ve been to so many group meals at Wurstkuche on Lincoln. This place makes last-minute scrambles very easy. You order at the counter, sit at long, biergarten-style wooden picnic tables, and eat fancy hotdogs, excellent Belgian fries, and sausages ranging from traditional bratwurst to others involving rattlesnake and rabbit. There might be a bit of a line at the counter, but there are always enough tables to make it work.
This new spot in a Torrance mall wouldn’t seem out of place in the Arts District. It’s absolutely massive, has a bunch of big leather booths, and abstract paintings involving hummingbirds. Also, they have some fantastic Oaxacan food. You should investigate the very long mezcal and tequila lists, but if you’re feeling intimidated, the regular mezcal margarita is quite good. There’s excellent queso fundido unlike anything else you’ll find in LA, so order two: one for the whole group, and one you can keep to yourself.
All three of the Night + Markets have some of the most consistently great Thai food in town. But it’s also important to know that if your last-minute dinner just grew from six to six plus significant others, the Weho location has a back patio that you can typically reserve day-of. You’ll pay $55 per person, and they serve almost all their best things family style, so just make sure Tyler doesn’t hoard the crispy rice down at his end of the table.
An Italian spot in an extremely busy part of Hollywood, Vino Bistro has excellent Italian small plates that are ideal for sharing. You could make a reservation, but if it’s a super last-minute thing (maybe you just walked out of the Arclight next door), the space is big enough to take a whole group of walk-ins. There’s also an absolutely massive wine selection, and you can order the entire cheese and charcuterie menu for $24, which is easily enough food for everyone to try a little bit of everything.
If you put off planning your birthday party for three weeks, and now you need a place that’ll fit eight people and a dog, head to Mohawk Bend. Not only does this Echo Park spot have the best local beer selection in LA, they also have a long row of high-tops that are ideal for an impromptu drunk pizza party. The vegan-friendly menu isn’t going to change your mind about meatless chicken, but there are enough options involving meat and cheese to keep anyone happy.
When you walk into this dim sum spot in the SGV, it might seem like they’ve mistaken you for someone wearing a crown - there are red velvet walls, black velvet banquet tables, and a full binder of menu items. Despite the Alice In Wonderland feel, there’s no better place for some last-minute dim sum. Everything is family-style, and the Old Alley Pork - stewed pork in a super sweet sauce - is going to have you investigating that alley behind your house for more secret delicious stewed meat. Don’t do that.
Your beach day lasted a lot longer than expected, and now everyone’s hungry. Head straight to the patio at La Cabaña for huge burritos and very good steak fajitas. They also have plenty of shareable stuff that’s ideal for a group - tableside guac, unlimited chips and salsa, and margarita pitchers that will make you wonder if you’re just imagining the (very real) mariachi band playing on the roof.
You want a place that’s easy to stroll into unannounced with a big group, but you also want something a little more interesting than various kinds of upscale bar food. Go to Winsome. This Echo Park spot usually has space on their patio (one of the best on the Eastside), and the food isn’t stuff you see every day: bone marrow street corn, shaved cauliflower salad, and hanger steak involving very good creamed arugula. The cocktails are also inventive, and some of them come in those waxy blue and purple squiggly cups from the ’90s.
El Coyote doesn’t take reservations, but it’s one of those secretly huge restaurants where you find a different room every time you go to the bathroom. The margaritas are truly dangerous, and while the food isn’t life-changing, everyone in your group is going to find something they like. And most importantly, even with at 8pm on a Saturday, you’re not going to wait more than 20 minutes for a table.