After months of lockdown restrictions, LA is slowly returning to its former state of normalcy. Covid vaccine rates are on the rise, the weather has turned from pleasant to really pleasant, and our pets are officially sick of being forced to watch old episodes of Survivor with us every night. It’s finally time to emerge from our apartment cocoons like the vaccinated (or soon-to-be) butterflies our lord and savior Anthony Fauci said we’d be.
As exciting as the prospect of spring socializing may seem, it’s possible you’re a bit rusty when it comes to making dining decisions beyond “I found this turkey burger in the back of the freezer?” Maybe you’re not sure how to navigate the dizzying universe of outdoor dining options, or you said yes to seeing a friend who, frankly, you have no intention of talking to for more than an hour. Or perhaps this is all still a bit too much and you’re in need of some low-key options that’ll help minimize the conveyor belt of social anxieties currently operating inside of you. That’s where we come in.
We’ve gathered these LA restaurants that will make socializing just a touch easier. And remember, whether you’ve been vaccinated or not, everyone still has to follow the protocols laid out by the County health department. So go forth, wear a mask, sanitize, generously tip your servers, and have fun being social this spring.
The Win-Dow at American Beauty
This Venice takeout window is a great option for when you want to make like a legal written document and keep things brief. Whether that means finally meeting up with a coworker you’ve been avoiding, or testing the waters with a potential love interest, a meal at The Win-Dow can be as long/short, laid-back/serious as you want. Kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure game, but with excellent burgers. If you’re going the easy-breezy route, just grab one of their $4 burgers (it comes topped with caramelized onions, pickles, and a slice of silky American cheese) then hastily make some excuse about having to FaceTime your grandmother. However, if you’re vibing and want to hang out a bit longer, American Beauty’s adjoining steakhouse just reopened for outdoor dining. Snag a table, order the ribeye, and hope they don’t bring up The Joe Rogan Experience.
Maybe it’s been over a year since you’ve sat on a restaurant patio, and you’re looking for a place that feels momentous, but comfortable too. Grab a table at El Coyote. The classic Mexican restaurant in Beverly Grove has transformed its massive parking lot into one of the largest new outdoor dining spaces in town. There are multiple tents, heaters everywhere, and copious amounts of space in between tables. Most importantly though, a meal here still feels celebratory and a few rounds of their house margaritas will take the edge off anything that needs the edge taken off of. They aren’t taking reservations, but there’s a waitlist online that we recommend using on the weekends.
After a heated back and forth with your houseplants, you have ultimately decided you just aren’t ready for a full sit-down meal with friends yet. There’s a comfortability issue, sure, but also you aren’t prepared to field questions like, “Why did you no-show at all of our virtual birthdays last year?” or “How are you?” Instead, go the route of Yess Aquatic in the Arts District. This seafood truck at the corner of 7th and Mateo is cranking out inventive, on-the-go seafood dishes like Nashville-style hot fried shark sandwiches, sashimi salad, and a prawn bánh mì that’s guaranteed to be more emotionally soothing than your friend’s verbal accusations.
Gamboge is a new Cambodian restaurant in Lincoln Heights that makes outdoor dining actually feel easy. All it takes is two steps: first place your order at the window, then make your way to their beautiful, serene patio out back. The tables are spaced out, the food comes out relatively quickly, and the lady taking your order is effervescent, cheery, and seems genuinely happy to be there - which serves as the perfect boost of confidence when the most interaction you’ve had with another person over the past year was when your next-door neighbor trapped you into an hour-long conversation about his favorite second-hand stores. There’s hardly a bad dish on the menu here, but our favorites include the grilled pork shoulder numpang sandwich, bright-pink Kmher salad filled with shredded chicken, cabbage, and fried shallots, and a simple braised tomato and sardine dish that comes with a properly crusty baguette that we dream about on a near-daily basis.
F*ck it, you want to go big tonight. While that might conjure up visions of valet lines and bottle service for some people, in your eyes, that means a high-end, unique experience. Snag a reservation at Kato. This modern, prix-fixe-only Taiwanese restaurant in West LA is great for a big-deal dinner that doesn’t feel like a big-deal dinner. Their tiny parking lot patio has under ten tables, it’s completely BYOB, and there’s Ja Rule playing on the loudspeaker. At $150 per person plus tax and tip, it won’t be an inexpensive evening, but at the end of the day, eating dishes like perfectly-charcoaled wagyu beef in tendon broth and boniato yam tapioca topped with frozen brown butter outside a strip mall on Santa Monica Blvd. is about as LA as it gets. And that’s what you want for your first night back in society.
After months of upvoting each other’s posts and messaging online, you’re finally ready to hang out with the person you met on an architecture porn subreddit. Head to Idle Hour. The iconic wooden barrel it’s housed in is one of LA’s greatest examples of programmatic architecture - and is just a great thing to stare out when you run out of getting-to-know-you questions. While you’ll have to wait a bit longer to actually drink inside the barrel, their excellent back patio is open every Tuesday through Sunday with a daily Happy Hour and brunch on the weekends.
It’s not even a secret at this point that you and your dog have codependency issues. Your barista knows about it, your landlord knows about it, and your therapist knows way too much about it. The idea of spending a night without Mr. Kibbles is basically a non-starter, so make it easy on yourself and go to Santa Monica Brew Works. Open since 2014, SM Brew Works is the Westside’s only craft brewery, and it’s a good one too. They’ve reopened their massive outdoor space complete with picnic tables, string lights, and of course, an abundance of cute local dogs. They’re only operating Thursday through Sunday right now, but keep an eye on their Instagram for their most updated hours, food truck schedules, and can releases.
Romance has been hard to come by this past year. Most of our attempts have included some combination of candle wax on the dining room table, curated pasta playlists, and locking our dog in the bedroom for companionship (then feeling, like, really guilty about it). Which is all to say, you also might be having trouble remembering how an actual date works. If that’s the case, head to The Brothers Sushi. The high-end sushi bar in the Valley has a cozy outdoor patio that’s secluded from the noise and bustle of the Ventura freeway, and serves everything from stone-grilled Wagyu to sushi omakase, as well as steamed crab legs and house sake that’s made in Fukushima.
After months of only having to answer to sourdough starter, holding your own at a table full of humans is asking a lot. Take some of the pressure off and go to Hamburger Mary’s. The iconic West Hollywood drag bar is operating on an adjacent parking lot filled with astroturf, plenty of shade (both kinds, henny), strong drinks, and of course, drag queens. The most popular time to come is during their weekend brunch service, but there frankly isn’t a night on the calendar when you’ll walk away bored.
Spoke Bicycle is part cafe, part bicycle repair shop, and the most Eastside place that’s ever existed. Nobody comes here to rip shots and grind to a daytime DJ set, and that’s exactly why you do want to come here. Spoke is for people looking to sit around with their friends and discuss efficacy rates, eat fantastic veggie burgers, and drink a lot of wine and beer. Afterwards, you can even rent a bike and head down the bike path. Currently open Wednesday through Sunday, 10am-4pm (9am on the weekends).
Located on the grounds of the Yamashiro castle in Hollywood in what can only be described as “a boulder,” an outing at this tiny Japanese restaurant and sake bar will make you feel more like a put-together, Person of Taste, and less like someone who spent the last twelve months deep-diving on Snowpiercer + Willy Wonka theories (the truth is out there). Consider this the perfect restaurant to emerge from pandemic hibernation - their outdoor seating area is spaced out and airy, the views of Los Angeles are pretty much unparalleled, and you’ll enjoy a rotating menu filled with interesting snacks like mushroom inari and perilla bowls, paired with rare sakes and natural wines.
We all have that friend who insists on going to the newest, most exciting restaurant in town. That restaurant right now in LA is Gigi’s, a French spot in Hollywood that opened in November 2020 in Hollywood. It won’t be easy to get a reservation, but when you do, you’ll be rewarded with lots of sips of wine before committing to a glass, excellent steak tartare, and an opportunity to finally wear that outfit you bought in 2019. Also, if you know there’s little chance of sustaining a 90-minute conversation with someone, it’s a great option for a quick drink, a snack, and getting back to your couch by 9pm.
This huge restaurant in the Fashion District has been completely renovated for socially-distanced dining. They now have a lush courtyard filled with billowing white tents, strategically placed heat lamps, and plenty of trees to provide you with some much-needed shade and seclusion. All of those create a serene and sophisticated energy that’s perfect for a low-key date night or impressing a distant relative whose sole purpose is to find out how you’re actually doing so they can report back to your mom. The salumi here is excellent, and their drinks list is full of Italian wines and seasonal cocktails. But no meal at Rossoblu is complete without their signature ragu bolognese - made with a red sauce so perfect, it borders on being scientific.
Between the sizzling stone grills, Kpop music videos blaring from the speakers, and huge pitchers of beer on every table, this Japanese restaurant in Ktown isn’t just a good time. It’s the ideal place to hang with a couple friends, get just a little bit drunk, and let any residual social anxities just melt away, like a chocolate bar left in the car. The name of the game here is DIY smash burgers - softball-sized patties that arrive at the table covered in grilled onions that you break off in chunks and cook on a hot stone grill. The seared sashimi tartare is as fresh as anything you’d find at a sushi bar, plus there’s an all-day Happy Hour that includes sake, draft beer, and $1 oysters. And by the end of the night, someone’s bound to start singing along to the Blackpink in the background.
You’re ready to get back out in the world, but you want to keep it casual (at least in the beginning), head to Thanks Pizza. This order-at-the-counter shop is located on the rooftop food court of California Marketplace in Koreatown and is a great place to hang out without having to worry about reservations or your one friend who still doesn’t know how to show up on time. The pizza here is thoughtfully built with outside-the-box toppings like the spicy, pungent garlic chicken, and tangy mascarpone. We rank the latter as one of the best pizzas we’ve eaten all year. Another bonus at Thanks is that each pizza comes in individual portions (nine or 12 inches), assuring nobody else’s hands are getting on your dinner.
Some people like to slowly ease their way into a hot tub, while others prefer to rip the band-aid off and plunge right in. If you fall into the latter category, Golden Bull is your spot. This Santa Monica American spot has transformed its side parking lot into one of the more impressive outdoor dining spaces in town and the locals have responded. Plain and simple, this place is happening. Come any night of the week and you’ll find everything from first dates to family meals to groups of friends looking for a post-beach Happy Hour hangout. It’s definitely a scene, but one that’s still fun, safe, and perfect for getting back into your social groove.
From premium filets to leaner loin cuts smothered in cheese, this chill izakaya in Torrance specializes in pork tonkatsu. Each set comes with an elegant tray of rice, miso soup, and salad, and if you’re in the mood to drink, pairs perfectly with a glass of beer. Plus, their indoor dining setup has individual rooms for each party – so you won’t have to worry about being too close to anyone. This will free you up to focus on remembering how to make the appropriate amount of eye contact (50% while talking, 70% while listening) while discussing Dua Lipa’s Grammy performance this year. Maybe you should just play the video at your table?
You aren’t totally sure where you want to eat right now, but you do know you want to stare at the ocean while you do it. We recommend Reel Inn. The festive seafood shack right at the mouth of Topanga Canyon on PCH often gets overlooked by its Malibu competitors, but that’s exactly what you want, considering a crowded patio is more personally stressful than this video of a cat hanging onto an airplane. The massive menu is filled with everything from fried oysters to fish and chips to shrimp tacos, meaning everybody in your party will find something they like, and not feel tempted to go splitsies.
Your social calendar the past year was basically limited to watering your ficus and tweeting about The Masked Singer reveals (honestly, who else is still processing the Kermit The Frog reveal?). Suddenly though, weekends are starting to fill up a bit and you’re struggling to decide which events you want to commit to. If it involves Glendale Tap, say yes. This Eastside dive bar has quickly become one of the best spots in LA for rare and interesting beer, with a casual outdoor patio adorned with ambient string lits, well-spaced picnic tables, and a tremendous line-up of rotating food pop-ups like Kuya Lord and B’ivrit. Keep an eye on their Instagram for all the latest details.