The world is reopening, people are dining out, and your phone is absolutely blowing up. And no, it’s not solely because of vaccine eligibility alerts. It’s old friends reaching out to see how you are and if you’re down to grab a drink sometime soon. We’re entering the era of playing catch-up, and after a year of isolation and doing card tricks with our houseplants, you just might up for going out to a restaurant. Just be sure you pick a place that’s conducive to having a great conversation - you need a comfortable atmosphere, good food, strong cocktails, and most importantly, an easy exit plan just in case things start to run long. Here are 12 restaurants and bars that fit the bill.
This Venice beer garden/sausage emporium has always been a good option for meeting up with people you don’t see often. The environment is casual, but always a bit of a party, and if and when the conversation does dry up, you can bring up the fact that you’re both eating rattlesnake. Their menu is filled with different sausages ranging from traditional bratwurst to chicken apple, but we recommend sticking to the ones you can’t find in the Trader Joe’s frozen aisle. As for the aforementioned rattlesnake, which comes with rabbit and jalapeño peppers, it’s spicy, savory, and easily our favorite thing on the menu. We also like the buffalo with cherries and mint and the pleasantly herbaceous pheasant. Be sure to get a few orders of their thick Belgian fries as well.
This new Australian cafe in West Hollywood has immediately upgraded the neighborhood’s casual lunch options. The counter-service cafe is somewhat hidden (it’s behind Rag & Bone on Melrose), but once you find it, you’ll stumble onto a sunny, quiet patio ideal for catching up with that one friend who inexplicably talks like they’re telling you a secret. The menu covers a lot of ground, but whether you’re in the mood for a Mediterranean chop salad, sprinkle-topped fairy bread, or avocado toast topped with fava beans and cornichons, everything tastes good and is ideal for snacking on while your friend confesses they gave up wearing underwear in quarantine.
We’ve really missed our party friends in quarantine. You know, those magical people who you can call at a moment’s notice and are always down for a drink or three. We’re meeting them now at Cha Cha Cha. The Mexican rooftop spot in the Arts District is cool, casual, and one mezcal negroni away from a full-out party. Their massive palm tree and string light-adorned patio is easily the best new outdoor dining space in the city, and with panoramic views of Downtown and historic warehouses looming in the distance, it’s a good reminder of why you fell in love with LA. The food is also delicious - we love the tuna tostada, which comes with a savory and spicy chile morita aioli, and the steak pa’taquear. It’s essentially a $44 build-your-own taco station that comes with perfectly-charred New York strip steak, charred tomato, and red wine salsa, and is more than enough for two people.
Gamboge is a new Cambodian restaurant in Lincoln Heights that makes outdoor dining actually feel easy, which is ideal considering the last time you saw this friend in 2019, you’re almost positive there was sexual tension. A meal here happens in two steps: first, place your order at the window, then make your way to their beautiful patio out back where you can both hash out what the deal is. The tables are spaced out, the food comes out relatively quickly, and there isn’t a bad dish on the menu. 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 crunchy baguette you’ll be dreaming about that night.
Not only does Dudley Market serve some of our favorite seafood in Los Angeles, this neighborhood spot also has a fantastic location one block off the Venice boardwalk. It feels like one of those fake, too-good-to-be-true settings only reserved for Diane Keaton in a rom-com, but it’s real and exactly where you and your bestie should be hanging out right now. You’ll eat a bunch of excellent seafood like oysters and whole fried rockfish that were caught that day, drink way too much natural wine, and talk exceedingly about how good this all feels. Also, if the onion jam-topped burger is on the menu when you’re there, get it - it’s one of our favorites on the Westside.
You thought quarantine would officially end the unsolicited “hey, let’s grab a drink!” text from random friends, but they’re now back with a vengence. When they start coming through, have Father’s Office ready to go as a suggestion. The order-at-the-bar gastropub in Culver City is a great place to grab a burger and a beer, while always keeping one eye on the exit in the event your friend only wants to talk about cryptocurrency.
Oste is a new Italian spot that’s a welcomed alternative to the many wood-fired and Detroit-style pizza shops popping up around town. This new Beverly Grove spot specializes in pinsa, a delicious Roman-style flatbread that’s unlike anything you can really find in LA. It’s perfect for sharing, but considering you’re meeting the one friend who acts like they aren’t hungry and then vultures everyone else’s food, just get two and avoid the drama. Their lush, outdoor seating area is filled with lots of plants and pretty gold accents, so any meal here will feel like a special occasion.
Playa Provisions is an all-day, multi-concept restaurant in Playa del Rey that’s the kind of place you can come with anybody, anytime and feel comfortable. And that’s what you need considering you wrote this friend off for good last April after they showed up drunk to your two-year-old’s Zoom birthday. Come in the morning and chat over coffee and breakfast sandwiches at King Beach Cafe or head to Dockside at night for lobster rolls, oysters, and fire pits. Either way, you’ll be eating something delicious while you listen to Diane stumble through her apology.
Holcomb only had a few months of operation under its belt before the pandemic hit, but this casual Highland Park spot is still one of the most exciting natural wine bars in town. Their list is always changing, but they concentrate on skin contact, unfiltered European varietals, plus a solid snack menu that will keep you and your friend nourished while tallying up everyone who got pregnant this past year. Their expanded front patio is open seven days a week from 5-10pm.
Have you ever sat down with a friend and realized you actually have too much to talk about? Welcome to the next six months. That also means you need restaurants where you can hang out for a while and let the good times roll. You need Casita Del Campo. The old-school Mexican restaurant in Silver Lake has strong margaritas, a menu filled with giant enchilada platters and big plates of meat, and multiple outdoor patios where you and said friend can take over a corner and walk through every last detail of 2020 together.
The Blue Dog Beer Tavern
Even though Blue Dog is a block from the 405 in Sherman Oaks, it feels more like a hometown bar somewhere in Maine. And considering your friend’s been stowed away in a cabin in Maine since last March, it’s a thoughtful place to suggest. Whether it’s your first time or you’re here twice a week, everyone treats you like a regular and they have one of the best tap lists in The Valley. That said, don’t leave here without ordering a burger. There are actually seven different options on the menu, and while they’re all pretty good, we love the “Fire Starter.” It’s topped with pepper jack cheese, crispy onions, jalapeño bottle caps, and their house honey-chipotle sauce all piled high on a half chuck/half brisket patty.