What happens when that “We should totally get dinner sometime!” conversation becomes a reality? That’s 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 from your gym who you knew tangentially in college. No matter how this person got into your (very loosely defined) circle of friends, you’re overdue for a catch up. So here are places suited for those occasions: restaurants that offer a solid meal without taking too much of your money or time. And you never know—maybe that third-tier friend will end up in the second-tier by the time the meal’s over.
Time is valuable, which means you should spend your evenings doing things you enjoy, rather than getting dinner with Sarah from your ceramics workshop. Suggest breakfast at Clark Street Diner instead, where you can chit-chat over some (good) diner coffee, delicious pastries, or a full breakfast spread if you plan to stick around. This retro Hollywood diner also has lots of great options to kick off the day, including a classic pancake breakfast, silky French omelets, and a patty melt that is so good you won’t regret changing your dinner plans to a 9am meetup.
All Season Brewing
You’re surprised that your work acquaintance actually followed up on grabbing drinks, which means you suddenly need a reliable spot on a Tuesday night. All Season Brewing Company is just the place. Its Mid-Wilshire location makes it fairly central, they serve a variety of great draft beers, and it’s lively enough to feel like you’re hitting the town without having to deal with long lines and $20 cocktails. Everyone orders at the brewery’s counter so no worries about splitting the tab, and there’s Chicas Tacos in the back if beers spill into a surprisingly fun evening of tacos and skee-ball.
Taking a third-tier friend to KazuNori can be equated to buying someone a birthday cake at Ralph’s and saying you made it yourself: it looks like you put in way more effort than you actually did. With six locations around town, this sushi hand roll spot is the right combination of good, reliable, and seemingly upscale (even though it’s technically fast-casual). Sit down at the bar for either a set menu or just a couple scallop hand rolls, and listen to your guest tell you what they’ve been up to the past six (seven?) years. The best part is you’ll probably be in and out in under 30 minutes.
photo credit: Holly Liss
If you haven’t seen your childhood friend since middle school, chances are you’ll be doing a lot of listening at dinner. This requires a not-too-loud, laid back patio with minimal distractions, like the one at Salazar in Frogtown. This Mexican restaurant’s outdoor space feels like a desert retreat with cacti and candlelit tables after sunset. Both the margaritas and chips and salsa here are great if you’re stopping by for drinks, or you can order a few tacos al pastor for an impromptu casual meal with your long-winded friend.
Tartine Sycamore is the kind of place you go when a friend-of-a-friend cold emails you about your job (a.k.a. they want to "pick your brain" for career advice). The Hollywood bakery and restaurant is a reliable spot for a quick lunch, whether it’s their great grilled cheese with sour cherries or a salmon tartine on chewy-tender sourdough. Enjoy your average-quality small talk, some high-quality bread, and be on your way.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
When an acquaintance is in town for business and wants to catch up, suggest Jame Enoteca. Located in El Segundo a short drive from LAX, this Italian restaurant is perfect for treating someone to a great meal and maybe (just maybe) offering them a ride to or from the airport. Sure, no sane person enjoys circling the pickup/dropoff loop at LAX, but at least you can reward yourself with hand-rolled al dente pasta, like the pacchieri with spicy pork sugo or the silky mandili in nutty pesto sauce.
Your third-tier friend from Chicago will probably talk about the weather in LA for a half-hour straight, so you might as well take them to a nice rooftop like Margot. This Mediterranean restaurant serves a bit of everything, including pastas, Spanish tapas, and big platters of meat for sharing. But this Culver City spot really excels in the cocktail and ambiance department, making it a good option for catching a sunset with a spritz as you listen to out-of-towner hot takes about your city.
Little Sister - El Segundo
There are four locations of Little Sister around LA—two in the South Bay, one downtown, and another in Irvine—and of them all, the one in El Segundo at The Point is best suited for the “pop in, pop out” lunch with that person you haven’t seen since 2019. First: this is a mall, so parking is easy. Second: the Vietnamese food here is fantastic and served with lots of fresh herbs, so you can eat things like shrimp and pork belly summer rolls or a crispy Vietnamese crepe and not be too weighed down in case you want to eat with higher-tier friends later. And although it’s a sit-down spot, service is pretty fast. Ideal for when you don’t want to hear about what Tim from Accounting is up to while you wait for the check.
Let’s say you just met someone last week at a mutual friend’s party and barely know them. You probably want to choose a spot like Woon that’s easy for walk-ins, conducive to chatting, and quick enough that you don’t have to sit through awkward pauses if the conversation runs dry. This HiFi restaurant serves a mix of Cantonese- and Shanghai-style dishes, like chewy beef noodles, crispy scallion pancakes, and bao buns stuffed with tender pork belly, all of which come out within ten minutes of ordering. If dinner goes well, stick around to have Taiwanese beers on the outdoor patio.
photo credit: DYLAN + JENI
Similar to how you can’t tell whether some people in your social circle are a friend or an acquaintance, this Korean-inspired deli in the Arts District blurs the line between fast-casual and sit-down restaurant. You order at the counter from a varied menu of things like soy-infused deli pickles, kimchi panzanella salad, and a perfectly roasted sea bream with toasted breadcrumbs. The food comes out fast (if not instantly for the premade dishes) so how much time you spend at this meal is really up to you. And if you and your guest happen to hit it off reminiscing, head back to the counter for soft serve or order cocktails at the upstairs bodega.
photo credit: De La Nonna
De La Nonna
You might not know a ton about this borderline pal of yours, but chances are you both like pizza. Try De La Nonna. This Arts District spot is as flexible as your friends are flaky, and that's precisely what makes it one of the best casual pizza places in the city. De La Nonna is easy to walk into, you can order a few rectangular pies over the counter, and you can leave with full meal for about $20 per person. Over the weekend, there might be a live DJ spinning disco beats inside. But no matter when you visit, there will be enough energy here to keep your conversation from getting too awkward.