Where To Have A Date When It’s A Really, Really Big Deal
12 restaurants perfect for celebrating any occasion - except popping the question (because that’s just awkward for everyone).
There are a lot of different kinds of dates - blind dates, third dates, dates to escape the kids. Then, there are special-occasion dates. These might include anniversaries or birthdays, or maybe you just realized it’s been two years since you really did something super-nice together, and you want to change that.
Regardless of the occasion, your meal should feel just as special as the thing you’re celebrating - a trip to your favorite taco truck isn’t going to cut it here. You need a place with more than just great food, like maybe a secret dinner party spot, or a hidden omakase sushi restaurant, or just an awe-inspiring view. So just choose one of these restaurants, all of which will help make this night memorable, no matter what you’re celebrating. (As long as it’s not a proposal. Please, please, don’t ever propose in a restaurant.)
photo credit: Roman Roze
Animal has been around since 2008 - basically 100 years ago in LA restaurant time - so it’s easy to forget how special this place is. All the imitators out there don’t help either, so we’re here to remind you that this is still one of the best places for a special-occasion meal. It’s ideal when you want to be surrounded by people, but still have a lot of privacy - it’s dark and loud inside, but not so much so that you can’t hear the person you’re celebrating with. The chicken liver toast, pig ear, and Boner Burger (it’s not a special occasion unless someone says the word “boner”) are as good as ever, and there’s some newer stuff you should check out too, like the eggplant katsu and Dungeness crab.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Costa Mesa isn’t exactly close - it’s about an hour from Downtown LA - but considering that’s how long it takes to get across the city during rush hour, it’s a small price to pay for a really special meal at Taco María. So is $79 - the cost of their incredibly inventive four-course tasting menu. Two people is the perfect number for this place, because there are two options for every course, so you can just order the entire menu. You’ll eat things like peanut and smoked sturgeon tacos, and the most interesting peas and rice salad you’ll ever taste. The drive back to LA will fly by when you’re talking about this meal.
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photo credit: Holly Liss
If you’re going to attempt to make a reservation at N/Naka, it better be for a special occasion - because it involves setting an alarm on a Sunday at 10am, and booking a table three months in advance. It’s a $225, 13-course kaiseki with an optional $125 wine/sake pairing - if those prices don’t make you immediately scroll past this, then this might be the place for you. Because from the food to the service, everything here is absolute perfection. The meal will include things raw, steamed, fried, grilled, and cooked just about every way you could imagine. And it’s all amazing.
Bestia is another spot where snagging a table requires a small prayer to the Reservation Gods, but this one doesn’t come with a mortgage payment-sized price tag attached. It’s a massive, fun Italian restaurant in the Arts District where meals are all-night affairs. You’ll spend two-and-a-half hours drinking wine and eating some of the best cured meats, pastas, and pizzas around. The menu is enormous, so if you’re here for your 40th birthday, or your 20th anniversary, tell your server that - they’ll make sure you order the right way.
If you feel like you’ve exhausted every spot in town for a special-occasion meal, think again. To get into Wolvesmouth, you sign up for an email list, and buy a $165 ticket as soon as they tell you to. Then, they’ll send you to a secret location for the meal. And this is something you should absolutely do, because this dinner party is one of the most fun nights out in town. It’s surprisingly low-key for how evasive tickets are - there are usually about 12 people, and everyone’s sharing the bottles of wine they brought for the occasion (it’s BYOB). A meal here features seven courses, and usually involves a lot of meat and seafood, like albacore with crab and papaya, and rabbit-mole poblano. The food is colorful, elaborate, and great.
A sushi bar accessed through the dish room of a totally different restaurant in an Encino strip mall definitely seems gimmicky. But gimmicks are part of the game at Sushi Bar, and we don’t have any problem with them when they result in a meal this fun. You sit down in an intimate bar where your name is marked on a tiny chalkboard, and the bartender (who serves as the master of ceremonies) introduces the chefs and each course. It feels like you’re at a magic show where you get to eat fantastic, hard-to-find seafood like firefly shrimp, jellyfish, and jumbo clam. Taking the escalator back down to your car, you two won’t be thinking about any of the gimmicks, just about how good that fish was.
Dialogue is permanently closed
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Dialogue is one of the most expensive restaurants in LA. It’s $235 per person, not including optional beverage pairings that start at $135. But we can guarantee that it’ll be unlike any meal you’ve ever had before (especially when you consider it’s in a Santa Monica food court). There are 21 courses, which don’t follow the standard light-to-heavy flow of most tasting menus - you’ll have things like caviar and peanut butter, followed by king crab with popcorn, and french onion soup puffs that involve a burning candle and look like an art installation piece.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Getting out of the city for a day can feel like a special occasion in itself. But if this is some extra-special occasion, milk it for all its worth with a trip to Santa Barbara. And when you’re there, your first stop for dinner should be Bibi Ji. This upscale Indian spot has an incredible wine list and a great a la carte menu, but our move is always to get the Chef’s Tasting Menu and wine pairing, which is $50 per person (plus $30 for the wine), and includes a selection from the menu, plus the fantastic thali platter with curries. And - although it doesn’t come with the tasting menu - always order the uni fried rice, which comes in a still-moving sea urchin. It’s salty, fishy, and excellent. Stop by McConnell’s Ice Cream next door to really complete the night.
Very few restaurants in LA have any dress code whatsoever (that’s why Quentin Tarantino gets away with wearing board shorts at Nobu) but 71Above suggests wearing suit jackets or dresses - making it an ideal special-occasion spot. So does the three-course tasting menu, which includes suitably fancy options like champagne-poached oyster with uni and king trumpet mushrooms with truffles. But what you’re really here for are the completely unparalleled views of Los Angeles. If that’s the sort of thing that appeals to you, it’s hard to find anything more romantic than watching the sunset from 71 stories above the city.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Via Veneto is an expensive spot in Santa Monica that seems custom-built for memorable special-occasion meals. The servers wear ties and call you “Signora,” and the dining room is dark, loud, and wouldn’t feel out of place in Lower Manhattan. You’ll eat things like lobster carpaccio and veal chops the size of your head, and have two too many glasses of wine from the massive wine list. If you’ve got a birthday date that you want to be low-key (but also kind of not), Via Veneto is your spot.
Just because this is a special occasion doesn’t mean you don’t also want to get blasted on hard-to-find liquor. And that’s exactly what you can do at Old Lightning, the secret bar behind Scopa in Venice. This low-lit spot has bottles of liquor acquired through auctions, estate sales, and (we imagine) some back-alley deals with dealers of rare mezcal. They’ve also got a whole menu of tiki-inspired drinks, with ancient rums from distilleries that don’t exist anymore. Just prepare to spend more at a bar than you ever have before - even when you bought everyone at your company Christmas party a round of shots.