It happens like clockwork. Someone in your group text suggests eating somewhere “fun and different!” You throw out a bunch of suggestions involving far-flung neighborhoods and bone marrow cocktails, and they promptly respond that they refuse to travel outside of the neighborhood they currently live in. Ground-breaking. Suddenly, the conversation has turned completely useless and you just want to find a place that everybody will commit to as quickly as possible. In these moments, you need a place that has two key elements: a central location and straightforward food that’ll keep everybody happy. Here are 11 great options.
There isn’t anything particularly different or mind-blowing about The Cliffdiver, and that’s exactly why it’s such a good fit for Malibu. This casual Mexican restaurant right on PCH has solid enough food (including an excellent quesadilla), an indoor/outdoor dining room ideal for lounging around with friends, and a big front patio with lawn games. It’s the perfect place to head after a day at the beach with friends who all mentioned they wanted something “interesting and authentically Malibu,” but haven’t realized that’s not a thing.
Angelini Osteria is a classic Italian restaurant on Beverly Blvd. where the Hancock Park old guard (a bunch of lawyers and their families) go to eat dinner on the weekends. That’s the kind of setting you want when you’re with your boyfriend’s mother who hasn’t been east of La Brea since 1983, but who also mentioned she’s “down for whatever.” You’re not fooled. She wants a restaurant with excellent, recognizable pastas, plenty of wine, and a dining room where big pearl necklaces are accepted status symbols. Angelini has all three in spades.
Your roommate keeps mentioning how they want to do a San Gabriel Valley day, but every time you clear a Saturday, they back out. Cut your losses and go to Woon instead. The family-run Chinese restaurant in Historic Filipinotown has a small menu full of excellent Shanghainese dishes like tofu fish cakes and beef noodles, plus a casual front patio made for lounging around drinking wine all day. Don’t leave without getting an ice cream bao, a dessert so good it will win over even the least-adventurous eater at the table.
Every time your family comes to town they beg you to take them to restaurants they can’t get back home, but you’ve learned what that’s code for: Restaurants similar to the ones they can get back home, only with way better food. And that’s why you’re taking them to Hatchet Hall. The upscale Southern spot in Culver City serves absolutely tremendous comfort food - fried cabbage, roasted duck, and a white cheddar cornbread that’s worthy of its own religion, in a lively space that reads somewhere between a bespoke lamp store and The Haunted Mansion. Considering you’ve already told them you’re not going to Disneyland this trip, it’s really killing two birds with one stone.
Rosaline isn’t a great restaurant, but it is a pretty good one that greatly benefits from its prime location at the intersection of Melrose and La Cienega. The menu is modern Peruvian, which means you’ll be eating tons of ceviche, big plates of meat, and family-style paellas. It’s all solid and interesting, but not so different that your friend who’s still “warming up to uncooked fish” won’t be able to find something to eat.
Getting your Eastside friends to leave the Eastside is like getting Bette Midler to agree to a Hocus Pocus sequel - it’s not going to happen. So you might as well just cut your losses and suggest Farfalla from the get-go. The casual Italian spot in Los Feliz has a massive menu with a bunch of sections that you can completely ignore (pizzas and entrees) and one section that you can’t - the pastas. The ravioli di magro and pesto gnocchi are the biggest standouts, but you should also throw in the farfalle with salmon because everyone knows that bowtie pasta has the most fun. The same can be said for your friends when they’re in their comfort zones.
One might expect a “globally inspired” restaurant that’s been open since 2011 to feel somewhat tired at this point, but not Tar & Roses. There’s a genuine excitement at this popular Santa Monica spot - from both the waitstaff and the patrons - and it’s because the food is better than ever. You’re going to eat shellfish curry, strawberry crostatas, and a plate of oxtail dumplings you’ll want to walk you down the aisle at your wedding. This is comfort food that you can impress people with, and that includes your friend who’s afraid to eat anything that isn’t white.
Every week someone from your improv class mentions grabbing food after class, and every week you stand on the curb for 20 minutes throwing out suggestions until you head to the same sh*tty corner bar like always. This week, go to Stout. The beer and burger bar on Cahuenga is a Hollywood staple, and though there are now several locations around town, the burgers are still great - especially the brie and fig jam-topped Six Weeker. The relaxed atmosphere is the perfect place to reflect on why an improvised scene about the Challenger Disaster was a bad idea.
Playa Amor is inside of a never-ending shopping center in Long Beach and, from the outside, looks like a knockoff Chevy’s. But Playa Amor is much more than just sizzling fajitas and whisky limeades. This modern spot serves fantastic Mexican/Southwestern food in a low-key party atmosphere that’s great for having one-too-many margaritas with your friends. There’s a wrap-around patio facing a not-sad pond, live music on the weekends, and mole tater tots you’re going to want to get involved with.
When Spartina opened a few years ago, it was extremely popular. The Italian menu was full of solid pasta, pizzas, and small plates, and its prime Melrose location was convenient for just about anybody. Guess what? Those things are still true - and now you can easily get a table. There’s a massive front patio with string lights and heat lamps, and the inside is clean and modern, but not so fancy that you can’t pull off a first date. All this is to say you’ll feel comfortable here, and that’s important when you’re eating with someone who refuses to go east of La Brea.
It’s clear at this point that your boyfriend has a shawarma addiction. He’s ordered take-out from every place that serves it within two miles of your apartment and has a spreadsheet to prove it. So on those rare nights when he suggests trying something completely different, you know better. And you know to go to Mini Kebob. This Glendale institution is the size of a broom closet, and they have one of the best meat-on-a-stick situations in LA. The order-at-the-counter setup is easy and efficient, making it an excellent to-go dinner option. Cash only.
The South Bay beach cities are lovely, but they’re also geographical venus fly traps - once you’re there, you’re not leaving. So when your best friend in Manhattan Beach says he’s tired of going to all the same places over and over again, you know what he actually means. And that’s why you should suggest Jame Enoteca. The casual Italian restaurant in an El Segundo strip mall makes some of our favorite pasta in LA (including a kale salad that makes you genuinely excited to be eating a kale salad), and is only a few minutes from the beach. That’s as far inland as Connor will go anyway.
When you walk into Hippo, the Italian-ish restaurant in Highland Park, you might think you don’t need another restaurant like this in your life. The room is industrial with high ceilings and a graphic flower pattern, and the menu is filled with crudo, pasta, and meats cooked on a grill. But what Hippo lacks in originality, it makes up for in comfort and good food. Those pastas and crudos are excellent, the servers talk to you like they’re your neighbors, and whether you admit it to yourself or not, flower-painted walls look nice.
Roxanne from accounting is rallying the office for a group dinner tonight and doesn’t want the “same old thing.” Yes, she does. And so do Gary, Denise, Frank, Karen, and Sue. Go to Bar Ama. This modern Tex-Mex spot serves great food that everybody will like, has a relaxed but lively atmosphere, and a central downtown location that’s only a few blocks away from your office building. You’re going to want to order the green enchiladas, the off-menu puffy tacos, and our favorite queso dip in the city.