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 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.
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.
Your date spent last year backpacking around the world. You spent last weekend trying to put together an IKEA dresser. For a dinner that says you at least have it in you to be cool and exciting, book a table at B.S. Taqueria. The livelier sibling of Broken Spanish, B.S. Taqueria is doing the same great Mexican food and cocktails in a way more casual setting. The food is mostly tacos and bar bites, so you can try a lot of different dishes without getting too full. Definitely end the night with churros, because you’re fun like that.
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.
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.
We all have that friend who’s just cool. The one who can pull off multiple shades of denim (at the same time), and who seems to know about all the city’s secret shows before you even find out secret shows are a thing. Kismet is like that friend - the Silver Lake Mediterranean spot’s bright, modern interior is cool, and the food is great. The Persian cucumbers and the flakey bread are the right places to start, and if you sense a spark, you can always go all in with the $80 rabbit for two. Anywhere else, that would be a weird choice. But Kismet pulls it off.
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.
Here’s a killer first date move: escape the office early, make your way down to Manhattan Beach, and have dinner in the nicest seafood shack you’ve ever seen. You’ll seem adventurous, he’ll be impressed, and you’ll both be eating oysters within 45 minutes. No social media though: you want to still have a job on Monday.
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.
You’ve been trying to get together for weeks, but your schedules never match up. Suddenly, she’s free tonight and it’s go time. It’s pretty much a guarantee that Osteria La Buca will have a table, and if she’s not into the best carbonara in the whole damn city, then at least you’ll know it’s a lost cause from the get go.
You have to be pretty confident to go with tacos for a first date (the messiness factor can be tricky), but once you’ve gotten over this mental hurdle, go straight for Salazar. The all-outdoors setting is a romantic alternative to a white tablecloth situation, and the tacos are excellent.
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.
The Viagra-washed sidewalks of Montana Ave. might seem like the worst place for a good first date, but fear not. Forma is the youthful, fun, and downright delicious Italian spot that’s the long awaited answer to all the nameless, stuffy joints that tend to populate the area. Oh, and there’s a guy named the “cheese scraper” here. Just don’t talk to him, because he won’t talk back to you.
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.