Dating today is weird. Apps rule the romance world, and that’s probably not going to change unless the Apocalypse happens. Still, we remain staunch believers in the art of the first date (Lesson one: Don’t talk about Doomsday). You don’t have to take every open mic musician you match with to dinner, but if you want to make an impression and actually look like you give a damn about getting to know someone, an old-school first date is the way to go. Here’s how it’s done:
For starters, you need a place where you can hear each other. Nothing kills momentum more than having to scream “What??” after every question they ask you. Secondly, don’t go over the top. This is a real first date, not The Bachelor, so save the prix-fixe menus and helicopter rides for later. Casual always wins out. And lastly, be tasteful. This might seem obvious, but you need a place that proves you know what you’re doing, without overdoing it. You want sexy, not scene-y. Accessible, but not amateur. Still breathing? Good. Because this is where we come in. Here’s an updated list of LA’s best first date spots.
Dating apps are unpredictable, so test the mysterious, uncharted waters at Found Oyster. Simply put, this is a great choice for a first date - the food comes out fairly quickly (if things start to get rocky), the space is cozy and non-pretentious, and they have one of the best seafood selections around (think littleneck clams and scallop-loaded tostadas). Plus, they’re located right next to that huge East Hollywood Scientology building, so at the very least, you’ll find out if that’s a part of their history and whether or not you need to enter Witness Protection like, immediately.
From the wall filled with bottles of California wines to the beautifully designed space and the Swinton-y name, Tilda is a wine bar/bottle shop that seems like it was custom-made for first dates. Cozy and compact, they make the most of their tight quarters, featuring a long list of natural wines, as well as plates made for sharing (naturally), like cheese boards, plates of charcuterie, and a tinned fish platter that comes with a crusty baguette, butter, and salsa verde that is, by far, the best thing on the menu. Although, upon reflection, a can of anchovies probably isn’t ideal for meeting someone for the first time - so reserve this for when they say they’re 6’1” but are actually closer to 5’11.”
After a particularly rough experience where, in a twisted effort to see you again, a one-night stand asked you to come over to their house and T-shirt model for their Depop store, you’re back on the proverbial dating horse. Get back in the saddle at Tsubaki. This izakaya in Echo Park is everything you want on a first date - it’s fun and low-commitment, and everything on the menu, from the trout crudo to the yakisoba and the chicken meatballs, is excellent, and generally costs around $8-20. Plus, they have one of the best sake selections in town - which is important when you’re getting to know the person across from you (namely, if they’re giving off a “Please T-shirt model for me” vibe).
Oriel is basically Romance Central - if a meal here doesn’t get the gears turning on this potential relationship, you just might be the two least-compatible people on Earth. With a slightly hidden location under the Gold Line tracks, entering this dimly lit wine bar in Chinatown is like stepping into a New York film noir, or a scene from Chinatown. In addition, all of the French food at this casual date spot is fantastic (get the bavette steak), and the wine list is full of interesting and well-priced selections that will hopefully get those romance gears working harder and faster than Scarlett Johansson’s PR team.
Located on the grounds of Yamashiro, in what can only be described as “a boulder,” Kensho is a tiny Japanese restaurant and sake bar that will make you look more like a put-together, Young Person of Taste, and less like a person who just cut open an empty tube of toothpaste in an effort to save money. And although Kensho is great at night, we almost like it more on weekend mornings, when you can really immerse yourself in the views of the Hollywood Hills and the excellent Japanese breakfast set, a multi-course meal that comes with koshihikari rice, house salad, tsukemono vegetables, miso soup, okonomiyaki, halibut, and whatever dessert they’re making that day.
In the most rom-com moment of all time, after finding you on the brink of tears in the garage, your hot neighbor not only fixed your tires, but also asked you on date (we were going to say “But also fixed your heart,” but we couldn’t type that out without gagging). So be chill, and return the favor by taking her to Gran Blanco. This Westside bar/restaurant, located next to the Venice sign, is luckily nowhere near as cheesy as that may sound. Instead, the interior is bright and airy, and they serve delicious - and strong - cocktails, like the Celery Southside, which is made with gin. Plus, they’ve got one of the best burgers in LA. If that doesn’t say “Thank you for saving me and also, maybe we should kiss a little,” we don’t know what does.
When all you want to do is grab your date by the shoulders and scream “I’M TRYING TO IMPRESS YOU” (Note: Please do not do this), take them to Mignon. This low-lit, almost-subterranean spot in DTLA is cozy and plenty romantic, and does the impossible - marries excellent French food with affordable prices. The menu is tight and compact (which means you’ll have more time to focus on making the recommended amount of eye contact), and includes an impressive list of mostly natural European wines, and foods like buttery escargots à la Bourguignonne, a killer $24 steak, and a speck-and-butter sandwich so good, we’d consider ditching our date for it.
Ronan is perfect for when you want to show your date that you have great taste, but aren’t high maintenance - and that you want to eat really good pizza. Located in West Hollywood, Ronan not only serves some of the best pies around (get the Spicy Chomper with soppressatta), and the number-one burrata in town, they’re also a casual neighborhood spot, which means you’ll be perfectly at ease when they ask “So, why are you single?”
Esters is a wine bar where you’ll never hear anyone use the word “mouthfeel,” which is exactly how we like it. It’s on a side street in Santa Monica, and is one of the best options in the neighborhood for a first date. Head to the patio, get a bottle, and order a couple of their insanely good grilled cheeses with ’nduja spread. They also have a whole selection of wine to take home, if it seems like the night might continue past dinner.
OK, so you may have overestimated your height on Tinder. And maybe you’re not as much of a “film buff” as your profile makes you out to be. But you actually enjoy talking to this person, and they’ve asked if you’re free for dinner tonight. Your best shot at success is to impress them with your taste in restaurants. Book a table at Rosaliné, the modern Peruvian restaurant that’s upscale enough to feel special, and interesting enough to make it look like you know your way around LA’s restaurants. Sit on the patio, share a ceviche, and try to remember what you learned about Martin Scorsese in that one undergrad film class you took.
Weho’s train station-themed Electric Owl is a great place to go when you want this first date to be affordable and full of booze. The bar is usually packed after work, but head to the calm back dining room to drink martinis and figure out whether this person really likes you, or just likes that you work for a management company he wants to sign with. Finding out his feelings on the incredible smashburger - on a parmesan bun with griddled shallots - is also a good litmus test to see how things are going to go.
If the idea of a first date inside a wine bar in Sherman Oaks sounds like a geriatric nightmare, Augustine is here to prove you very wrong. This casual spot right on Ventura is the kind of place you walk into and mutter “Wow, this is really cool” under your breath without even realizing it. The space isn’t big, but with a wrap-around bar, two-seater booths, and a front couch area, there are plenty of places to burrow in for the night. The bartenders will happily let you taste as many wines as you’d like until finding the one you want, and if you get hungry, there’s a solid menu full of cheese, charcuterie, and everything else that tastes good while drinking wine.
A massive Oaxacan restaurant in the South Bay, Madre is the ideal place for a first date that you’re not feeling too sure about. First, there’s a massive list of mezcal and tequila to help you get over your first-date-since-a-break-up jitters. There’s plenty of space between tables, so you won’t get side-eye from neighbors if things go south and you have to make up an excuse about your parakeet’s fear of being home alone. And if things go well, there are a whole bunch of great things to share here: queso fundido, pork ribs in mole, and tlayudas.
Your friend is setting you up with a guy from her work because you “both LOVE music.” You have your doubts about how much conversation you’ll get out of that starting point, so it’s good to give yourself an out. Same Same, the wine bar/Thai restaurant in Silver Lake, is an excellent option. You can have a glass or two of wine at the bar, and if you find more in common than your mutual interest in records, you can move to a booth to share some very good, very spicy Thai food. And if you want to dip out early, order the khao soi to go. You’re already here, you may as well.
The booths at Black Market Liquor Bar might be designed specifically for first dates - they’re big, round, and have enough privacy that the people a table over won’t hear all your job interview-like first date questions. This spot on Ventura in Studio City also has great cocktails and a solid craft beer list, which also helps. The food is all very shareable, so order some wings and fried cauliflower, and find out this person’s ten-year plan.
Marvin should be busier than it is, but we’re not going to complain, because this wine bar and restaurant has become one of our go-tos for first dates. The neighborhood spot in Beverly Grove has a great wine list and solid food (get the rigatoni Bolognese), and a space that feels welcoming, like a cool friend’s dining room. A visit to Marvin isn’t crazy expensive, either, so it’s an ideal choice if you don’t want to invest in a date with someone you suspect didn’t write that hilarious Tinder bio themselves.
Not sure whether you’re ready to commit to an entire dinner? Barcito is the best of both worlds - suggest meeting for a drink at this Argentinian bar Downtown, and if all is going well, it can easily morph into dinner without having to get in an Uber.
Escuela is perfect for many things, but it might be most perfect for first dates. It sits on the right side of casual, but won’t ever feel like you didn’t actually put some thought into the night. The tacos are good, the housemade tortilla chips are even better, and you can BYO nice bottle of wine and not pay more than you should have to for it. And, if conversation starts to lag, you can always start inventing scenarios for just why there are so many wooden shoes hanging from the ceiling.
So that girl who always pops up on your Tinder at the Downtown office finally agreed to meet up after work one day. This might not be a formal first date, but welcome to 2020, mom. And our choice here is Bar Amá. The casual Tex-Mex spot is trendy enough to make it clear you’re not an axe murderer, and chill enough that you won’t look stupid. Just make sure you don’t eat all the queso in front of her. Easier said than done.
Tacos are a pretty ideal first date food. And while Petty Cash’s aren’t the best in the city, they’re still good, and the non-taco portion of the menu is stellar. The vibe is sexy, cool, and not at all smothering. Petty Cash is also in the business of lighting their drinks on fire, and that just always wins for us.
Not every first date has to be over a bowl of penne or tall glass of merlot. If you get the feeling your date is looking for something a bit more left of center, Button Mash is your spot. We’ll be clear here – this is an arcade bar. In a strip mall. Still listening? Good. Because aside from pinball and Pac-Man, the Chinese food here is excellent. Dan dan noodles and video games? Yes please.
Dating in LA comes with several typical ice-breakers. Are you in the business? How bad is that Coachella line-up? Wait, you eat meat? If the answer to the last one is even remotely close to a yes, head to Father’s Office - because a burger is always what everyone wants. We’re choosing the Culver location due to its less frantic setting and ideal front patio.