What happens when that “We should totally get dinner sometime!” conversation becomes a reality? You end up having to eat a meal with a third-tier friend. Maybe it’s someone you took an improv class with in the winter of 2016, or a person at your gym who you knew tangentially in college. No matter how this person got into your (very loosely defined) circle of friends, they’re there to stay. So here are some places to grab a bite that won’t cost too much money or take up too much of your time. And you never know - maybe they’ll be in the second-tier by the time the meal’s over.
Dinner with someone you only kind of like can be daunting, so instead, grab a quick lunch at Interstellar. Located just steps away from Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, this small café nails down a lot of dishes from a lot of cuisines - there’s katsu curry covered in a dark-orange gravy, breakfast burritos, bulgogi burgers, club sandwiches, and if you can believe it, so much more. We’ve never tried anything here that we wouldn’t fully endorse, like texting in the bathroom for five minutes or the iced coffee.
Jame Enoteca is our favorite place to eat pasta in the South Bay. Located right near to the airport, it’s a convenient place to grab dinner with a friend before they fly out, or swing by after dropping someone off at LAX. Have we dreamt about their silky, handmade mandilli pasta covered in a rich, nutty pesto sauce? Maybe. Make sure to order their parmesan-heavy kale salad and a few meatballs for the table.
Good Clean Fun is a new natural wine bar and restaurant in Downtown LA, ideal for both long and short hangs. It’s a pretty customizable experience, with a lengthy wine, beer, and sake list (filled with cute names like “Art & Science Fruit pet nat” or “Swick WYD? Chardonnay”) if you’re just looking to sip something quickly then bounce. But if you, half-way through, remember how much you and your college roommate get along, there’s also a compact Italian-leaning food menu to order from. We like the pasta bucatini with red sauce, which comes with super thick noodles and goes well with white wine and gossiping about mutual friends.
Housed in a vintage auto shop, Glendale Tap is the kind of neighborhood bar every other neighborhood should be jealous of. Over the last year, the Atwater Village spot has become one the city’s best craft beer shops, featuring a rotating list of hard-to-find IPAs, sours from De Garde, and barrel-aged stouts shipped in from Alaska. It’s casual and fun, so even if you end up coming here with the most boring person on the planet (your fourth cousin, no offense), you’ll still have a lot of fun.
Like fire and water, or an e-girl and her finance boyfriend, a meal at Mama D’s African Cuisine practices the art of balance. From slightly spicy ndole to a dark-green eru, this excellent Cameroonian restaurant in Boyle Heights serves dishes that are packed with a ton of flavor. They’ve set-up a patio in the parking lot, lit by a row of string lights overhead - a.k.a. the perfect environment for listening to exactly 40-80 minutes of small talk.
When you can’t wriggle out of one more “Hey! Are you free this week?” text from your acquaintance, this counter-service Australian café in West Hollywood is where you should go. The menu covers a lot of ground, including a Mediterranean chopped salad, sprinkle-topped fairy bread, or avocado toast, but everything tastes pretty good.
This cozy Southern restaurant on W. Pico Blvd. makes the best shrimp and grits in the city. Buttery, meaty shrimp pieces bathe in a Creole beurre monte sauce, then are served over a bed of creamy parmesan grits. Who cares if your kind-of-friend from high school hasn’t asked you a single personal question for the last hour? Your mouth will be pretty distracted, regardless.
You’re kind of ”meh” about this person, but you’re way more than ”meh” about pizza - which is why you’re having this meal at Roberta’s. You can’t go wrong with any of the pies, but our favorites are the Bee Sting (with chili oil, honey, and soppressata) and the Lamb Of God (with lamb sausage and ricotta). The rest of the menu doesn’t quite live up to the pizzas, so stick to those. Located in Culver’s Platform complex, you’re basically eating in a mall restaurant, but third-tier friends are the mall restaurants of your friend group, anyway.
Rosaliné is a flashy Weho spot that’s ideal for a dinner with that friend from college you don’t have anything in common with (besides sitting next to each other in the first and only Wesleyan Ornithology Club meeting). It’s a Peruvian-ish spot with a lot of fish and a good selection of family-style paellas. The food comes out quickly, and maybe you’ll discover a shared appreciation of large pans of rice and seafood. If the conversation starts to lag, you can always just fall back on talking about how it looks like a botanical garden in here.
Joy is an excellent, casual Taiwanese spot in Highland Park that happens to be one of the best places in town when you’re trying to get in-and-out in 30 minutes or less. You’ll be tempted to order the whole menu, and we won’t stand in the way of that, but it might slow things down a bit. So limit yourself to the essentials - the thousand layer pancake, the minced pork over rice, and the cold sides. The food’s so good, your friend won’t even realize how quick your meal was.
Escuela is one of those restaurants that everybody knows about, but everybody forgets about - which, oddly enough, is exactly how you’d describe Miranda from college. Luckily, this casual Beverly Grove taco spot is exactly where you want to go when she sends her bi-annual “catch up” text. All the tacos are good (the pork ribs and shrimp are our favorites), the table chips are among the best in town, and its convenient Grove-adjacent location works for just about everybody. Also, there’s a true BYOB policy, if the night heads in that direction.
It’s plausible that this Franklin Village restaurant/bar was created solely for people to grab a quick drink with their third-tier friends. Located on the same block as UCB, Birds is the unofficial spillover-room for improv actors who don’t have an off button and their flustered ex-roommates who got coaxed into seeing a Harold show. It’s a chaotic environment, but one that at least has strong cocktails, surprisingly good roast chicken, and a loud enough dining room that you don’t even notice when your friend slips into an Australian accent for no apparent reason.
Sitting at a loud bar is a great way to pretend you didn’t hear that sorta-friend when they start getting too personal. That’s why we head straight to the huge bar at DTLA Tex-Mex spot Bar Amá. Order some queso and the off-the-menu puffy tacos or the green enchiladas. Their deadly margaritas should also ease the pain of listening to Geoff drone on about how he’s never found a therapist he likes. We get it, Geoff, but we’re not going to acknowledge it. We only do that for our first-tier friends.
You’re not even positive how you met this person, so you definitely don’t know what they like to eat. Fortunately, Messhall in Los Feliz has a huge menu, and anyone can find something that they like. Our favorites all come from the wood-fired grill, like the baby back ribs and the oakwood salmon. The shrimp and grits are also very good, and every Tuesday they’ve got dollar oysters.
You honestly don’t know what this friend does for a living, but you do know they post a lot about sushi on social media, so you can assume that Hara is a safe bet. This popular Santa Monica spot isn’t where you come for life-changing omakase or the freshest nigiri west of the 405, but if you’re in the mood for gigantic specialty rolls, half-off Sapporo, and a loud dining room that will keep you both distracted, head to this casual sushi spot immediately.
This vegetable-focused spot in Silver Lake is an extremely good option when you want to walk in, go through your prepared list of small talk, and be out in 45 minutes. The menu is full of things that your imaginary wellness coach would approve of, such as heirloom melon and seared chicken with snap peas. It’s also a very nice space, and the cocktails are way better than you’d expect, considering they have names like “Blossoms,” “Strawberry,” and “Arugula.”
One strategy to get through this meal with your boyfriend’s sister is to have a positive attitude - another, much more realistic one, is with $6 Happy Hour martinis. That’s what you’ll find at Electric Owl, along with a smashed cheeseburger with griddled onions that we think about while we’re falling asleep at night. Be sure to sit in the bar area out front - it’s buzzier than the dining room, and you can secretly watch sports over her shoulder while she’s talking about the cat-sitting start-up she’s working on.
Despite a name that sounds like somewhere you’d eat after riding Big Thunder Mountain, Boneyard Bistro is one of the most consistent BBQ restaurants in LA. It’s also a great place to meet up with Tyler, who still works at CAA and wants to know everything about your life now that you’ve left the business. You can’t really go wrong with any of the meats here, just make sure you get them Santa Maria-style, meaning they’re dry-rubbed and smoked over red oak. Add in some fried mac and cheese and any beer from their 42 taps, and suddenly, you don’t even care how many times Tyler mentioned a project “Has real traction.”
Manhattan Beach has no shortage of laid-back beachside sports bars, but Fishbar is our favorite. It’s the kind of place you can roll into after work, order some beer and tremendous fish tacos, and quietly watch sports on TV while your cousin’s best friend talks about the pros and cons of Bitcoin.
If you’re looking to eat decent pasta and get rowdy with a bunch of people whose numbers you didn’t have saved in your phone until a month ago, go to Scopa. This chaotic Italian spot is one of the loudest, most popular restaurants on the Westside - and that means even if you’re sitting next to the person who’s talking, you won’t really be able to hear them. Considering you’re only half-listening to their speech about bird glaucoma anyway, it’s not the worst setting to be in.
This converted bungalow is easily the most popular brunch spot in Long Beach, and everybody’s here for three things: A great patio, massive Bloody Marys, and Long Beach’s unofficial food icon, the Mac N’ Cheetos. It’s a giant bowl of mac and cheese, covered in hot Cheetos, topped with everything from short rib to fried chicken, and somehow, it still tastes pretty good. This is one of those rare places where brunch with your roommate quickly turns into brunch with your roommate and her five friends you camped at Coachella with three years ago, and you aren’t even mad.
Commerson is a good choice when a friend is in the market to maybe move up a tier or two. The casual seafood-leaning spot in Mid-Wilshire has a bunch of very good, shareable plates like sweet pea agnolotti, seasonal ceviche, and a shrimp-and-chorizo burger, plus solid cocktails and flat-screens if you realize you both root for the same team. If things are really clicking, take your friendship date across the street to Little Bar, one of our favorite dives in the neighborhood.