We all have those meals we look forward to. Maybe your best friends from college are in town and you know things are going to get crazy, or you’re at your favorite restaurant in the world with the one person you love the most.
But for every meal that you hope never ends, there are at least two of them that you wish would never happen. It’s an unavoidable part of life: sometimes you have to deal with weird groupings of people in uncomfortable situations that drag on forever. It’s awkward. Very, very awkward. But there is one aspect of these meals that you can control: the restaurant. And here are 14 great options for life’s most awkward meals. Stay strong out there.
Perfect For: Dining with an ex.
It happened. The dreaded “wanna catch up?” text from the ex. You’ve both moved on and are in other relatively successful relationships, but frankly, you accept just so you can get it done and over with. Your move is Zankou. Not because this fast-casual Mediterranean chain has above-average chicken shawarma and enough cheap hummus to knock out a small horse. But because meals here are quick and you’re never more than ten feet from the nearest door. Also, they don’t serve alcohol. Repeat after us: You do not want alcohol.
Perfect For: Asking for a raise.
It’s been two years and you’re still on that starter salary they promised wouldn’t last long. Don’t march into your boss’ office and start throwing things around - take them out for lunch at Sushi Fumi. If you’re here to impress, go for the omakase (at $65 it means you only have to do the canned tuna diet for a week instead of two), or just order a bunch of rolls. And just as things are wrapping up, write your number on a piece of paper and slide it on over. We’re impressed and you haven’t even paid yet.
Perfect For: Dining when you both know the relationship is over.
At this point, things are so toxic, neither of you knows who to blame for what anymore. But you’re hungry and kind of want a burger with teriyaki sauce dumped on top of it. Get to your nearest Islands for passable times and burgers with no less than 10 toppings on them. Your waitress will definitely make eyes at you, which will feel good in the moment, but suddenly you can’t find your girlfriend, and you realize you’re taking an Uber home.
Perfect For: Dining with a friend of a friend who wants to get into the ‘industry’.
Another day, another person coming out of the woodwork who has decided that being an accountant isn’t for them: they’re destined to be a screenwriter. As the token Hollywood person in your group, you get to take the recovering number cruncher to dinner and tell them everything you know. Who cares if you’re only in the mailroom and have no actual advice - just take them to Cecconi’s, point out all the agents, and get the accountant to pay for the lobster spaghetti.
Perfect For: Debuting a terrible haircut.
Your hairdresser came at you with a weedwacker this morning, and your public engagement options are limited. Good news - Jones might be the darkest restaurant in Los Angeles. The Italian spot on the Weho/Hollywood border has solid cocktails, a cool crowd, good food, and maybe the best dessert in town with that apple pie skillet. And who knows, maybe the box cut spiked up in front will be all rage thanks to you.
Perfect For: Lunch with your aunt that will be as quick as possible.
She’s been sending you texts that always begin “Dear Sarah” and end with “Love Hannah (your aunt)” for months wanting to catch up “just the two of us,” and it can’t be put off any longer. It’s time to be strategic - suggest Froma on Melrose during your lunch break for maximum control of the situation. She can have a salad, you can have the Alpino, and you can both have a glass of wine to keep things manageable. And, you’ll have to leave after 50 minutes to get back to the office - leaving ten minutes for some breathing exercises in the car to help with recovery.
Perfect for: Catching up with that blogger friend who Snapchats the entire meal.
Is there a worse sentence in the English language than “Wait, I just need to Snap this before you start eating”? Probably yes, but that one is still right up there. Next time you’re seeing Jade (she’s no longer Jane because “It wasn’t good for my brand”), be prepared and meet her at Croft Alley. She’ll be happy with the string light-covered courtyard and rustic wood tables, and you can order a not-at-all-photogenic cauliflower grilled cheese and be able to eat it immediately.
Perfect For: Meeting your mom’s new life partner Jean.
Your mom’s 61 years old and finally living her truest life. You couldn’t be happier for her. But now comes the part where you meet the person she left your dad for and you need pancakes. And biscuits. And every other kind of breakfast food in the vicinity. Luckily, John O’Groats in West LA is ready for you. The Westside staple is all family vibes, with a homey interior ideal for talking, reminiscing, and learning all about Jean’s impressive arrowhead collection.
Perfect For: Lunch with that relative who just moved to LA.
Your aunt’s brother-in-law’s cousin’s kid has just moved to LA to “figure his sh*t out,” and turns out you’re the only person within 100 miles he knows. So obviously he wants to be BFFs. Give him a sampling of the best (eating at the end of a pier) and worst (PCH traffic) of LA life with lunch at Malibu Farm Cafe. The simple but tasty food comes out quickly (handy if they’re kind of insane), and Randy will probably start wondering out loud whether he should live out here in Malibu. Just nod and let him figure that one out himself.
Perfect For: Coming out to your conservative parents.
Your mom organizes the local Church cake walk every Saturday and dad watches The 700 Club like it’s Monday Night Football. Coming out to your LA friends was a dream. Coming out to mom and dad? A different story. You might have to explain what those green tofu balls are on the menu, but overall, Button Mash is total crowd pleaser. This arcade bar in Echo Park has fantastic food, a contagious energy, and lots and lots of arcade games. And what better way to put aside our differences than a rousing game of AC/DC pinball?
Perfect For: Confronting your boyfriend about his affair.
It’s time to face facts and tell him you know everything. But let’s do this with a bang: get a table at Rustic Canyon and ask for a quiet corner. Order the most expensive bottle of wine and all the food you can think of, put the hammer down on him, and then leave (maybe with that bottle of wine in hand). On the scale of things, sticking him with the bill is the most polite of all possible reactions.
Perfect For: Telling your roommate that you’re in love with them.
He’s your best friend. You guys have been through everything together, even that one time you beat him in Mario Kart 43 times in a row. But recently, you’ve realized your feelings might not be so platonic, and you need to tell him in a neutral zone. Go to your joint-favorite bar down the street, Village Idiot, for a relaxed atmosphere, some potato pie, and lots and lots and lots of IPAs. Good luck.
Perfect For: Meeting your biological dad for the first time.
It’s taken you fifteen years to track him down, but there he was, hanging out in the Midwest this whole time. Now he’s coming to LA and you have zero idea how the hell to handle this now that it’s actually happening. Osteria La Buca has a number of advantages: he probably likes Italian food (or at least isn’t scared of it), it’s quiet enough, and you can sit in a corner with your back to the room so no one sees your inevitable tears.