Adulthood is really just a series of awkward social interactions. And while most of them are first dates, drinks with coworkers, or dinners with distant relatives who randomly show up in town, occasionally, you are also forced to merge different friend groups. And good luck with that.
Maybe it’s your birthday and you’re suddenly tasked with introducing your college friends to your work friends, or perhaps you and your significant other have finally decided to introduce inner circles. Either way, bringing two groups of people together can be anxiety-inducing. That’s why you need places with plenty of room, food everybody likes, and an atmosphere conducive to bridging new friendships. This guide is here to help.
El Coyote needs little introduction, but just in case you’re new to LA or have an allergy to good times, we’ll break it down for you - this iconic Beverly Grove Mexican restaurant has been open since the 1930s and is one of the most recognizable restaurants in the city. What it lacks in great food (seriously, nothing is above mediocre), it makes up for in lethal margaritas, a party-like atmosphere every day of the week, and a giant space that can accommodate a group of any size with little-to-no advance notice.
The idea of having a full dinner inside a private room where the restaurant stores its pasta-making equipment might seem a bit odd, but as soon as the music gets playing (there’s an iPhone hook-up) and the wine starts flowing (it’s $25 per person for unlimited house wine and beer), all awkwardness quickly vanishes at Osteria La Buca. The casual Italian restaurant in Hollywood has tremendous food (the bucatini carbonara is legendary) and a consistently festive atmosphere that will make every person in your group feel like they’re part of the party.
If a 90-minute open bar (beer, wine, and sangria only) isn’t enough to get your separate groups of friends talking to each other, then this meal was doomed from the start. Bacari actually has several locations around town, but it’s their outpost on W. 3rd St. in Beverly Grove that has everything you need when combining two groups of people you enjoy separately, but maybe not together - solid small plates, a huge patio that feels like you’re in a European town square, and enough alcohol specials to bridge all lulls in the conversation.
The Del Rey location of the iconic Inglewood restaurant isn’t the largest space on this list, but as long as your group doesn’t exceed ten or so people, you’ll still find plenty of space to spread out and enjoy a meal. That said, with seafood this fresh, it’s worth scrunching into a table for a few hours. Whether it’s the raw shrimp aguachiles, the marlin tacos, or a giant whole snook for the table, this is some of our favorite seafood in LA, and if your friends don’t agree, it’s time to start making some cuts.
No one is going to tell you that Casita has the best Mexican food in town, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter at this queer Silver Lake institution is the expansive dining room that’s always one round of margaritas away from a dance party, the drag shows happening in the basement, and the fact that two of your friends have already exchanged numbers.
Train stations are usually where you meet up before going somewhere else, but in the case of Imperial Western, plan to stay a while. Located inside Union Station, this massive bar/restaurant is great for potentially uncomfortable social interactions, because absolutely everybody can find something to keep themselves entertained. Perhaps some people in your group are interested in sipping martinis and discussing art deco interior design with their pinkies in the air. Maybe others just want to drink too much craft beer and play shuffleboard. You, on the other hand, just want to go to town on the best oysters served inside a train station in America. It’s all possible at Imperial Western.
Koreatown is definitely not lacking in noisy BBQ spots that are ideal for your even noisier friend groups, but our favorite is Ahgassi Gopchang. The massive spot on 6th St. is a little tricky to find (you have to enter through a back parking lot behind a row of commercial buildings), but once you find it, you’ll enter into a loud, smoke-filled celebration that goes until 2am every single night. Lines can get long at peak times, but just know that you’re waiting on some of the finest cuts of meat in the neighborhood. The skirt steak, marinated short rib, and large intestine are all must-orders.
Block Party has been around for several years now, and is best-known for being that place where you can dump a bunch of your friends on one patio and good things will unfold. The mostly outdoors spot in Highland Park has an excellent craft beer list, alcoholic slushies, and cruise ship-sized shuffleboard to get everybody talking. They don’t serve any food, but you can order-in any outside food you want.
Located on the second story of a West LA strip mall, Sichuan Impression has a massive dining room than can accommodate a group of just about any size. But the real reason you need to come here is because this San Gabriel Valley original serves the best Chinese food on the Westside, period. Whether it’s the sinuses-clearing mapo tofu, the crowd-pleasing spicy wontons, or the tea-smoked pork ribs that’ll ruin all other ribs for you, this is food that brings people together, because even when the conversation starts to lull, you can always talk about how good the food tastes.
This casual Japanese restaurant in Koreatown flies completely under the radar, but if you’re in the mood for a big group dinner that could potentially get a little wild, go immediately to Tokyo Hamburg. The thing to order here is the namesake Original Tokyo Hamburg, a DIY smashburger situation where everybody cooks their own patties on hot stones that they bring to the table. It’s fun, interactive, and one of our favorite burgers in LA, plus, it gets everybody in your group comfortable with the fact that they’re sitting next to someone they have nothing in common with. Make sure several bowls of udon and a plate of okonomiyaki hit the table as well.
You don’t have to look far in Los Angeles to find somebody making their own beer, but a casual bar/restaurant in downtown Long Beach that distills its own gin and vodka? Not so much. Portuguese Bend is fairly new, but has already established itself as one of the best places for a big group outing in a neighborhood. The corner space is large and cavernous, with a wrap-around front patio ideal for people-watching and solid pub snacks that’ll keep everybody happy. As far as drinks go, we love their vodka-and-chili-infused Moonlighter, and if you’re a gin drinker, get their Smoke Bay in a martini.
Garlic & Chives is a modern Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon and home to some of our favorite - and the most inventive - food in the area. No matter what day of the week you come here, you’ll find a lively atmosphere and a bunch of other tables also trying to merge their respective friend groups. It’s hard to order poorly at Garlic & Chives, but let’s just say if you don’t get the pomelo salad, shaken beef, and whole roasted garlic crab for the table, you’ve done your friends a greater disservice than making them sit a table with somebody who’s currently trying to message them on a dating app.
Long before we collectively lost our minds about Eataly, there was Eatalian Cafe. Located in a giant warehouse in Gardena, Eatalian Cafe is in no way a cafe. It’s a massive Italian food emporium complete with an espresso bar, gelato stand, bakery, and a long, wrap-around pizza bar. If you’re stuck trying to figure out where to go with your six outspoken friends from college and the four shy friends you’ve collected over the years at pilates, head here. Everyone can pretty much get what they want, and you won’t be stuck eating family style with Kyle who keeps shouting at the server in an Italian accent.
The time has finally come for your inner circle to meet your significant other’s inner circle, and the pressure of a full sit-down dinner is just too much. Good news - there’s always Lunasia. The all-day dim sum spot in Alhambra is a SGV staple, and serves some of our favorite pork siu-mai dumplings in town. The gigantic dining room feels more like a banquet hall than a restaurant, and is filled with massive round tables that guarantee everyone will have multiple options for conversation.