Impressing someone is pretty easy. Just tell them their hair looks nice and take them to dinner at a place with expensive French wine and truffles on the menu. But sometimes you want to seem a little more nonchalant - like when you’re going out to dinner with someone and you aren’t sure if it’s a date, for example. Or, you’re meeting up with an ex for the first time since you broke up and you want to show her that you don’t care who’s better off now (but also that you’re definitely better off now). Here’s where to do that. All of these places are fairly casual, but they serve food that pretty much anyone should find impressive.
If you’re looking to impress someone, Brentwood probably isn’t your first choice destination. But that’s why Belle Vie is so great. On a stretch of Wilshire that’s mostly bars for recent college grads, you’ll find this casual French bistro full of locals and decor that was probably bought at a yard sale in Provence. They have a great wine list, French-with-a-twist food (like beef burgundy tacos), and an owner who’ll remember your name after just one visit.
Pull up with a date to a generic-looking restaurant in an El Segundo strip mall, and that date might jump out of the car and start running towards the beach. If he does, he was the wrong person for you anyway, because Jame Enoteca is the opposite of generic. It’s a small, family-run Italian place with homemade pasta that should be on El Segundo’s city flag. There are handkerchief noodles in walnut pesto, cappellini in a fantastically simple tomato sauce, and the best damn kale salad we’ve ever had. So it’s about as far as you could possibly be from an unlimited breadsticks type situation.
Your brother’s in town for the weekend, and wants to go to the big-name chain restaurant at his hotel. Tell him you’re picking him up at 7, and take him to Mh Zh instead. From the incredible Mediterranean menu that’s written on a paper bag, to the chairs that are basically fancy cardboard boxes on the sidewalk, this restaurant is very far from that steakhouse Jeff wanted, in the best way possible. And if Jeff is worried he’s not going to get the giant piece of meat he was after, know that you can order pretty much the whole menu - ribeye included - for around $100. That’s one-third of what dinner at the hotel would have cost.
You’ll probably drive by this omakase in Redondo Beach at least once before you find it, mainly because you’re trying to avoid eye contact with the gaudy cigar store next door. Once inside, you’ll find a simple, all-wood interior, two chefs behind the bar, and some extremely good sushi. For $60 you can get the 15-course premium omakase, and at that price, there’s no other South Bay sushi spot we like more.
You’re meeting someone from your best friend’s work, and it could be a date, or it could also just be a friendly networking dinner. Luckily, Baco Mercat works for both. Sure, it has granite floors and gold-accented mirrors, but there are also brown paper mats on the tables and people who live in the neighborhood getting rowdy at the bar. Start with Happy Hour drinks at the bar, and if it does end up being a date, get a table and order a couple of El Toron bäcos.
All Time looks like a coffee shop and that’s because it is. At night though, this Los Feliz spot becomes a weird, fantastic place that feels like a party in someone’s backyard. The handwritten menu has excellent versions of crowd-pleasing dishes like ribeye and a focaccia drowned in burrata and tomatoes. Plus if you’re figuring out which wine to get, there are almost-illegible notes on the wine list about what kind of buzzed you’ll get on the gamay. Next time you want to show a date you’re serious while also playing it cool, this is your spot.
You want something simple for this catch-up meal with your old roommate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show him you have better taste now than that year when you only ate Lunchables. This tiny izakaya near Dodger Stadium has a relatively simple set-up - a few tables, some brick walls, and a couple seats at the bar - and the Japanese small plates are incredible. The octopus skewers and strip steak and mushrooms are the most important things to get, but you can’t really screw up an order here. The sake list is full of good, affordable bottles, and the servers will make sure your glass is full the whole night.
When you’re meeting someone you want to work for, you need to show them that you’ll be a great employee - one with great taste who is not at all high maintenance. The kind of person who eats regularly at Ronan. It’s a casual neighborhood spot, but one that happens to have excellent pizza, a beef tartare we think about in the middle of our workday, and what might be the city’s best burrata. We never knew cheese needed a sidecar of vodka before we came here, but that’s the only way we’ll eat it now.
When you realize how many times you’ve driven past Papilles without noticing it, you’re going to get upset. This French bistro is one of LA’s most charming restaurants - a place where you can walk in any night of the week and eat excellent steak frites followed by coffee chocolate mousse. All that, along with the $38 prix fixe makes it the perfect spot to take someone you want to impress.
There’s nothing particularly impressive about a bar in Hollywood with a patio full of 27-year-olds drinking affordable beer. But you’re not going to Electric Owl (only) for that - you’re really here for the smashburger. It’s covered in housemade cheddar cheese and horseradish aioli we’d buy by the bottle, and comes with a side of tater tots to make all your middle school dreams come true.
Taking someone for a $200 omakase is certainly impressive. But even more impressive is taking them to a wine bar and sushi spot in Sherman Oaks where the omakase is only $80, but the fish is excellent. They care just as much about the wine here as they do about the sushi (they’ll pair it with your fish), and there’s a very high likelihood you’ll end up sticking around for a couple more glasses after you’re done with dinner.
Osteria La Buca is an excellent Italian spot in a part of town where restaurants could easily skate by serving people mediocre food quickly enough so that the babysitter’s overtime doesn’t kick in. You can pretty much always get a table, but it’ll still be packed enough that your date will think you’re cool. You’ll want to order both the guanciale pizza and the carbonara to share.