There was a time when dates were a big deal. You had to pick the right outfit, part your hair in the correct way, come up with witty conversation topics, and generally make a lot of effort. Once you get married, you might think those days are in the past, and that you’re destined for many years of eating delivery on the couch while wearing stretchy pants and watching HGTV.
But in reality, date nights when you’re married are great. You’re not trying to offer a thoughtful take on cryptocurrency or prove that you’re someone who always wears matching socks. You just get to eat a nice dinner with a person who also thinks Bitcoin is a scam and doesn’t need to talk about it again. You can even wear your stretchy pants to dinner if you want to. It’s yet another perk of married life.
The last time you ate pizza at a restaurant (instead of from a Trader Joe’s box) was your third date - so, roughly 12 years ago. Break that streak at Milo + Olive. This Santa Monica spot is casual enough that you can wear whatever you threw on after work, but still feels date-night appropriate. Plus, the pizzas are excellent and inventive, like pork belly sausage and kale, and potato with rosemary cream. Sit at the bar in front of the open kitchen with a bottle of wine, watch the pies get made, and be glad you’re not the one cooking dinner for once. And don’t leave without getting a garlic knot.
If your spouse is really into symmetry and incredibly fresh seafood, then take them to Ceviche Project. This Silver Lake spot is like something out of a Steve Zissou fever dream, with a white-clad crew grabbing oysters and snow crab claws from an icy chest behind the bar and calypso music crackling on a record player. The dining room is full of clean lines, shiny marble, and bright brass fixtures, meaning there is atmosphere to spare - but the seafood outshines everything. From scallop shooters with uni to snow crab claws with a spicy chile de arbol sauce, these are complex, creative, dare-we-say sexy dishes, whether you love Wes Anderson or not.
You’re married, which means on some level, your ideal date night probably involves decompressing with some stiff cocktails and bonding over your mutual misanthropy (attending PTA meetings will do that to you). And if an elderly jazz duo are singing, even better. So get to The Dresden. You can skip a full meal here, and instead get a table in the Lounge for drinks and a performance by Marty & Elayne, who have been a staple since 1981, and are guaranteed to be more entertaining than another PTA budget presentation.
No one suggests a 5pm dinner for a second date. But now that you’re married, you can have all the geriatric dinners you want. Which is good, because 5pm also happens to be the best time to get a table at Petit Trois. You won’t have to wait around in a strip mall parking lot, you’ll get a spot at the bar rather than one of the awkward wall-facing seats, and you won’t have to worry about elbowing your neighbor’s steak tartare by accident. Plus, even if you’re having dinner while the sun’s still up, at least you’re doing it in a place that feels like a Parisian bistro, while eating incredible French classics.
You have to break the news that your Italian vacation is going to have to be pushed back because of work. For the third time. Good thing Cafe Birdie is home to some extremely comforting food. Start at Good Housekeeping (the bar in the backyard) for a couple of drinks, and then head inside to the dining room for pastas that will remind him that he doesn’t need to go to Italy for great ragu, and excellent salads that you could only get in California. We’d forgive you.
It’s dark, the waiters are wearing tuxedos, and the drinks are so strong you’ll be texting the babysitter and asking her to stay another hour. Dear John’s brings a bit of Old Hollywood to Culver City, and while they don’t require you to wear a suit or your finest faux fur, you’ll probably wish you did. Especially after a couple martinis, a big steak, and time-machine classics like lobster thermidor or a tableside-tossed Caesar salad. Dear John’s feels a bit like the Culver version of Dan Tana’s, only without Ron Jeremy hitting on your wife - and that’s probably a good thing.
We feel confident calling Union the best restaurant in Pasadena, which means it’s also the best date-night spot, and absolutely worth the drive, even if you live all the way in the South Bay. It’s intimate but not stuffy, with a menu that features incredible pastas - like torchetti with pork ragu and fried rosemary, and squid ink lumache with lobster and truffle butter - and a staff that’s more than willing to let you sample several glasses of wine. Also, if they have the porchetta, order it… devouring a massive cut of crispy, tender pork together is half the fun of being married.
In a town full of romantic Italian restaurants, Barrique is the most romantic Italian restaurant of them all. It’s in a two-story yellow bungalow house on Main St. in Venice, and has all the makings of an ideal date venue - a side balcony with only enough room for a couple of tables for two, many Italian-accented waiters, and some seriously great food. This is your spot for anniversaries, birthday dinners, or “We don’t need an excuse, we just want to go somewhere fancy” dinners.
You have your routines, most of which involve trading off cooking duties so the other person can watch The Bachelor. But when it’s time to mix things up, try Oriel. This wine bar with not-very-wine-bar food is in a hidden pocket of Chinatown, and between the dimly lit bar and the elevated light rail line the building sits under, you can pretend you’re in NYC. Which all means you should start a new routine - drinking a bottle of wine you’ve never had before, eating a very good steak, and inevitably watching the episode of The Bachelor you recorded when you get back home.
OK, first off, Jumbo’s is not a strip club; it’s a Burlesque bar. Or at least a Burlesque-esque bar. So while the dancers don’t get nude on stage, they don’t spend the entire time reenacting the “Lady Marmalade” music video, either. A night here is slightly debaucherous and definitely leans heavily on the dive-bar side of things, but it’s also the kind of place where just about everyone can cut loose. If you’re looking for a slightly, uh, non-traditional date night, this is it. You don’t even have to tell the kids where you went.
A former country store turned roadhouse hidden in the Santa Monica Mountains, The Old Place has been serving big steaks and stiff drinks since the ’70s, yet it still remains one of LA County’s best-kept secrets. A favorite of celebs since the days of Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, it’s a perfect spot for a rustic, romantic dinner - just make sure you email for reservations in advance, as this small, sepia-toned saloon fills up fast. Oh, and come hungry, because the homestyle steaks, stews, and pot pies are beyond filling, and the portions are huge. There’s also a great little wine shop next door if you’re looking to grab a bottle for dinner, or just in need of a nightcap.
Your “spiritual” sister-in-law gave you two a relationship self-help book called Bring Back The Magic. We’re not sure The Magic Castle is really what she had in mind, but that’s how you’re going to interpret her advice. You’ll need to find a magician to put you on the list to get in here, but a trip to this actual castle in the Hollywood Hills is worth the hassle. There are secret passageways, magic shows happening behind every door, and a surprisingly not-entirely-terrible restaurant.
Sometimes you just need to not be in the house. But also, you don’t want to have to think about where to go or what to eat. Chez Tex is sort of a wine bar, sort of a neighborhood hangout, and feels like an extension of your dining room where people bring you glasses of pinot. It’s a fun place to sit at the bar, chat with the owners over some paella and a nice piece of fish, and realize you went on a date without actually intending to.
Italian restaurants and date nights are about as married as you are. But if it works, it works. Seeing as Osteria Mozza is one of the best Italian restaurants in the city, it’s also one of the best date-night places around. For something a little different, get a couple of seats at the first-come, first-served mozzarella bar. They’ll serve you an inadvisably large amount of cheese, although we’d advise you to leave some room for their pastas, too.
You secured grandparents as babysitters, which means you can be gone as long as you want. When time (and money) aren’t really factors, you should head for The NoMad. This hotel bar/restaurant really knows what it’s doing on pretty much every front. Start with a drink at the Giannini bar - a cocktail for two served in a rooster-shaped vessel seems appropriate - before moving to The Restaurant. There, you’ll sit on some sort of velvet chair, be able to talk about all the people you saw in the lobby, and share an entire chicken that has truffle stuffed under its skin. And probably end up impulse-booking a room at the hotel by the end.
Shibumi might not immediately strike you as a great place for a date. It’s on a very nondescript strip in Downtown LA, and the restaurant itself feels a little stark when you walk in. But get bar seats, let the server pick a sake for you, and then order a bunch of the familiar-but-different Japanese dishes to share. You’ll instantly feel like you’re in on a secret the rest of the city doesn’t know about.
You met in college, and proceeded to spend almost all your time at your local bar, eating burgers and drinking beer. And while married life isn’t exactly that, you always have Hinano when you need a reminder of how it all began. This Venice dive bar has sawdust on the floor, pool tables in the back, and burgers grilled behind the bar. They’ll probably start playing Aerosmith, too, if you ask.
You’ve been fighting about whose responsibility it is to refill the Brita all week, and you know you need to make up. A good way to start would be lovingly hand-feeding each other Ethiopian food. The practice is called Gursha, and it’s a pretty key part of a meal at Messob. But Gursha isn’t the only reason to eat here - the food is fantastic, and if there are just two of you, you’ll probably get to sit at one of the traditional hand-woven tables. You’ll just have to figure out whether the two of you can tackle the enormous Super Messob Exclusive plate. Just kidding, of course you can.