Living in Los Angeles means having a lot of visitors. But not everyone’s here to see you - they’re often here for work or a vacation, or just have an extra-long layover at LAX. And when a random aunt has a business trip in the South Bay and wants to meet up, you’re not going to say no. After all, she’s family (or so you’ve been told), so you have to see her for a meal before never talking to her again. It’s the polite thing to do. These are the 15 best places for a dinner with a family member you only sort of know.
Your second cousin is in Pasadena for an astronomy conference (you’re not sure why, you thought he was a dentist), and he wants Mexican food. Take him to Maestro, an Old Town Pas spot serving unique takes on upscale Mexican. To start, get some oysters - they come with a briny, spicy-as-hell shrimp aguachile - then bond over the lamb barbacoa, which is basically a build-your-own taco plate, and also fantastic.
You found out last Thanksgiving that your stepsister comes to LA three times a year to do work for her law firm - but never thought to look you up. She promised the next time will be different, but only if you can book a table at someplace close to her firm’s office in DTLA. So you’re going to Otium, the massive restaurant next to the Broad. The food isn’t amazing, but you’ll both find something you like, including a whole fried fish curry with mussels, and spinach bucatini with bacon and clams. It also resembles a museum inside, so even though Kristen doesn’t have time to go to the real Broad, there’s still plenty for her to look at.
When you get a last-minute call from Aunt Pam asking if you’re free for dinner, Ostrich Farm is the place to go. It’s always lively, so you won’t have to worry about anyone being able to hear the family gossip she’s filling you in on, but it’s also not so busy that you’ll be waiting forever to get a table (and we all know how Pam feels about waiting). Get the creamy polenta or the ribeye with fries, and do not, under any circumstances, skip the chocolate pie with homemade marshmallows.
For whatever reason, your cousin is bringing all of her kids to town for a work trip in The Valley. So go to The Front Yard, the restaurant on the grounds of The Garland hotel. You two can catch up in the restaurant while the kids try to drown each other in the hotel pool, and while the food is just OK, you can’t go wrong with either the burger or the pot pie. But the real reason you’re there are the great (and very strong) cocktails. They’ll get you through a meal with even your most distant of relatives.
Your uncle lives in New Jersey, and doesn’t have any idea how truly massive LA is - and you were too polite to say how you live over an hour from where he’s staying in El Segundo. There is good news, though: You have an excuse to go to Jame Enoteca, and eat excellent pasta like sweet corn cappellini, spicy paccheri, and braised beef cheek scarpinocc. Not only is the pasta good, and highly worth a drive across the city, but it will also put an end to your uncle’s ludicrous claim that Hoboken has the best Italian food in the U.S. There’s a good wine list, too, and don’t even think about skipping the key lime pie.
Birdie G’s is an American comfort food spot in Santa Monica that pulls off the trick of being exciting but not frightening to unadventurous eaters. They serve fantastic versions of classics like mustard-y German potato salad, Sloppy Joes, and a matzo brei that includes fried oysters and pork belly. The next time you have a family member who feels uncomfortable straying far from the Cheesecake Factory, expand their horizons by taking them here.
Just because your mom hasn’t spoken to your aunt since that thing about grandma’s will doesn’t mean you’re getting out of that dinner with your cousin. And Madre! in Torrance is an ideal place to go to rekindle this relationship, because of two things: The excellent, shareable Oaxacan food, and the best mezcal selection in LA. Order some spicy mezcal margaritas, the queso fundido, and the pecado de moles - three types of mole with excellent stewed pork inside. They also have live music most nights, so if things start to get awkward, you can just watch the mariachi band together in silence.
Son Of A Gun is another excellent place for a last-minute dinner with some family member who’s only in town for a few hours but wants something great. There are always tables available day-of, and the New England-style seafood is as good as you’ll find in LA. They’ve got great, shareable options like the trout amandine and the country ham, and less-shareable options like a lobster roll, shrimp toast, or fried chicken sandwich if the idea of sharing freaks out your random second cousin. But no matter what you get here, you’ll feel like you ordered right.
You don’t know your uncle that well. It’s not because of any dramatic family happenings, he just lived on the opposite side of the country your whole life. But now that you both live in LA, he wants to take you “somewhere fun” to catch up. Ronan is that somewhere fun. It’s a neighborhood pizza spot on Melrose in Weho that serves much better pizza than most neighborhood pizza spots - like the MF Starboy with squash flowers, ricotta, and white anchovy, and the Spicy Chomper with four cheeses and soppressata. Don’t be afraid to get heavily involved with their cocktails, either - especially the Rickey Menage, with grapefruit three ways and gin.
Mizlala is a Mediterranean spot near the Galleria in Sherman Oaks that works well for any meal that you don’t want to last too long. Your first priority should be the Moroccan chicken, and if you can convince whichever semi-stranger you’re eating with that it’s not weird to share food, you should also get the eggplant moussaka and artichoke hummus. They’ve got wine, and you can easily get in-and-out in about an hour, which is ideal when you discover the reason you don’t hang out with this branch of your family tree.
A cousin is visiting his in-laws in Encino, and he needs to get out of the house for a meal. Use this as an excuse to go check out Shin Sushi, one of the best omakases in LA. It hasn’t been around for as long as some of the other deep Valley sushi spots, but that doesn’t matter - this is as high quality of fish as you will find in a restaurant. You’ll eat uni from Santa Barbara, bluefin from Boston, and aji from Japan all over the course of a meal, along with some much less-common treats, like firefly shrimp and baby barracuda.
Dama’s a big, expensive-looking restaurant in Downtown LA that anyone’s wealthy in-laws will love. But that doesn’t mean you won’t like it, too. Because even though the open-air dining room and fancy wooden furniture might remind you of a resort restaurant, this Latin spot has way better food and cocktails than anything you’d eat at a Marriott in Santo Domingo. The oxtail tacos, white bean dip, and calamari sandwich are all worth your time - just leave room for some banana soft-serve, too.
Cosa Buona is a great spot in Echo Park that’s ideal when all you want to do is spend an hour catching up with your family over wine and pizza. This spot is busy enough that you won’t feel awkward about how loud your uncle gets, but not so loud that he’ll complain about not being able to hear anything the whole time. Get a couple of bottles of red, mozzarella sticks, and a few pies (we like the amatriciana with spicy guanciale), and everyone will be happy.
This fun Venice spot is a great place when you’re meeting your cousin and his family of six. La Cabaña’s patio is perfect for big groups, with enough space for the adults to get drunk on deadly margaritas while the kids gawk at the mariachi band. Be sure to order the tableside guacamole - it’s some of the best in town - and the chicken enchilada platter. Most of the food isn’t going to blow you away, but at least your cousin’s picky kids will eat it.