Dating today is weird. Tinder, Grindr, Bumble, OkCupid, Hinge, Hitch, and something called Coffee Meets Bagel rule the romance world and there’s probably no going back. Still, we remain staunch believers in the art of the first date. 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. There’s no rose on the table and you don’t need to share your whole life story in hopes of making it to the next episode. 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 sceney. Accessible, but not amateur. Still breathing? Good. Because now’s where we come in. Here’s an updated list of LA’s best first date spots.
If you want this person to think you’re much cooler than you really are, take them to Ma’am Sir. The space is leafy and bright, and it’s usually full of people drinking cocktails, eating longganisa sandwiches, and generally treating it like it’s their neighborhood hangout (even if they drove here from Santa Monica). Make a reservation because this place fills up even on weeknights.
Margot is the ideal destination for a Westside date night with views. It’s on the roof of Platform in Culver City, so you should try to times your reservation with the sunset. You’ll both walk away happy if you focus on the shared plates and the pastas. The cocktails come garnished with pretty flowers, and there’s something about drinking them next to a fire that makes it really easy for someone to convince themselves that they like you.
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 this situation. 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.
If you could only go to one place for every first date you have, we’d suggest you choose L&E Oyster. We don’t actually suggest you take all your first dates to the same place, but the point is that L&E Oyster is the ideal date spot: intimate but not stuffy, with good food across the board. You can sit at the more traditional restaurant downstairs, or head to the second floor for their bar, because L&E understands that you need options. Plus, it’s right down the street from the Silver Lake reservoir and cool venues like the Satellite, if you feel like keeping the date going.
Okay, 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 while your date is in the restroom.
Weho’s train station-themed Electric Owl is a great place when you want this first date to be affordable and possibly full of booze. The bar is usually packed after work, but head to the calm back dining room to drink martinis and flush 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 hell-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.
Dinner and a movie can be an awkward first date. You just met, and now you’re forced to sit together silently while The Rock tries to save his family from a natural disaster. But some people swear by it, so if you’re on a date with one of those people, go to the Arclight in Hollywood, then walk a block to Vino Bistro. Sit at the bar, and the man pouring your wine will treat you like a long-lost cousin as he tops you off and tells you which Italian cheese and charcuterie to get. If you do as he says, add on the beef carpaccio and the lobster gnocchi, and you two will leave this place happy.
We’re not sure whether ERB is a bar with great food or a restaurant doing great drinks. Either way, it’s an ideal first date option when you’re not quite ready to do the whole sit-down/table service thing, but you still want to eat some good food. Order burgers and drinks and head to the patio, where you can eat under the stars in the most casual way possible.
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-slash-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 hearing things, 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.
If you both like meat - a lot - then this is a great, kind-of-unique first date option. Despite what you might assume about BBQ places, the space looks perfect for a first date: it’s got that whole modern-but-charming look down, there’s table service, and the food is presented nicely. It has all the appeal of a fancy restaurant, except instead of tiny plates of halibut you’re getting ribs.
The booths at Black Market Liquor Bar might be specifically-designed 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 pasta 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.
If you suggest a pop-up restaurant where you’re floating in the air at a table hanging from a crane, you’re probably going to scare them off. Go with Chez Tex instead, the cutest neighborhood bistro they most likely have never heard of. You’ll win points for creativity straight off the bat, and then even more once the chatty owners start pouring you glasses of wine and the inventive plates of food start coming out.
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.
Despite what you may think, we aren’t advocating a brunch date here. Superba Food + Bread is kind of a secret in that nobody seems to know that they’re open for dinner, and once the sun goes down it becomes the kind of low-key spot that Venice does so well. There’s plenty of wine (the patio seems made for multiple glasses of rosé), and the lamb ribs are very tasty.
How many LA relationships have started inside this restaurant? We’ll assume a lot. There’s not much this casual pizzeria inside the MozzaPlex doesn’t do well and that includes getting you comfortable with someone your friend from CAA knows and thought you’d be perfect for. The pizzas are the obvious headliners but just about anything on the menu is worth ordering. Stick around for the late night happy hour too.
So that girl who always pops 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 2017, Mom. And our choice here is Bar Ama. The casual Tex-Mex spot is trendy enough to make it clear you’re not an axe murderer and chill enough so you don’t look stupid. Just make sure you don’t eat all the queso in front of her. Easier said than done.
By our estimation, this is the best first date spot in the city. Let us explain. Plan Check’s vibe strikes that crucial middle ground of being laid-back and casual, yet sleek and sexy all at the same time. The food is good and that beer list is one of the most underrated in the city. And this is a first date after all. Good beer goes a long way.
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 vibe 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 Atari, the Chinese food here is excellent. Dan dan noodles and video games? Yes please.
If anyone turns down pizza, they’re not to be trusted and a relationship was never in the cards. But if they do accept the offer and you’re on the Westside, Milo and Olive is your move. They finally expanded the space, too, so you’ll no longer be sitting on top of each other (at least not yet).
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.