The past year or so made just about every element of life exponentially harder. But finding and maintaining love? Essentially impossible. As things continue to reopen in LA though, the notion of in-person dating is back on the table. And you know what? You’re ready. After a year of swiping, virtual movie nights, and Facetiming with strangers who label themselves as “a modern-day nomad,” the idea of putting yourself out there and seeing what happens sounds downright incredible. So let’s get to it. Here’s where to finally meet up with someone you met online.
So, you have a history of showing up to Zoom dates looking like you just spent two hours in the backseat of a convertible. Time to prove you really can clean up well, and the place to do it is Cha Cha Cha. The rooftop Mexican restaurant in the Arts District is home to our favorite new patio in LA with lush landscaping, plenty of string lights, and expansive views of Downtown. It’s the kind of space that makes everybody look like they aren’t in windblown in a convertible, but sprawled seductively across the hood - even before that second round of mezcal negronis hits. For food, we love the chile morita aioli-topped tuna tostada, the citrus-y shrimp ceviche, and the $44 steak pa’taquear, which is essentially a build-your-own taco station with New York strip steak, charred tomato, and red wine salsa that can easily feed two people.
The fact that dates no longer end with one simple click of the “Leave” button has you stressing. Eating at a table? With someone else? No thanks. The good news is you can head to Playita instead. The new, order-at-the-window mariscos stand in Silver Lake is the perfect spot for a day date when you want to stay on your feet and keep things moving. There’s a small shaded patio out front, so we recommend placing your order (the perfectly-battered shrimp tacos and campechana are musts) and then eating everything there as quickly as possible before exploring Sunset Junction on foot together.
Sure, you haven’t met in person and have only kissed through a smudged screen, but you both know it - you’re in love. Time to celebrate. While there are tons of great options for big nights out right now, you’re in the market for something personal. Go to Gozen. A meal at this high-end kaiseki spot in West Hollywood will certainly set you back (prix-fixe menus range from $80-260 per person), but if you’re good with that price point, Gozen completely delivers on its value. You’ll eat things like smoked duck with tapenade, sushi that was flown that day from Japan, and strips of Kobe beef prime chuck cooked tableside. The intimate space also only has a handful of tables to go around, making the entire experience feel like you’re dining in your own private teahouse even though you’re at a restaurant on La Cienega.
One of our favorite new spots of 2020, Found Oyster is back with a new outdoor space called “The Boat Deck,” which is essentially a built-out patio on Fountain in East Hollywood. It’s only open Thursday through Sunday until 8pm, but that’s a relief considering your body hasn’t been outside past 9pm since 2019. No shame in taking things slow. The menu is filled with tremendously fresh seafood - think littlenecks and oysters on the half shell, steamers and fries, and a lobster bisque roll you and your date will be Lady And The Tramping together. You’ll definitely want to make a reservation beforehand.
You might be thinking that a 60-year-old dive bar in Santa Monica is an interesting first date choice, but this isn’t the Chez Jay of old. After an extensive update, the large back patio comes adorned with fire pits, string lights, and big comfy chairs ideal for making you look super cute. We like the crispy chicken sandwich with house slaw or the cheeseburger, but if you aren’t all that hungry, stick to martinis and an order of calamari.
Few places have our late-night heart quite like Dan Sung Sa. This seminal Ktown tavern is a great early-in-the-game date option when the idea of sitting politely at a table with a napkin in your lap sounds torturous. While we dream of the day we can once again be inside eating cheese corn, pounding soju, and writing love notes on the wall, their outdoor patio is still a blast and will easily prove if your date is down for a good time or not. Open seven days a week from 4pm-2am, walk-ins are welcome, or call (213) 487-9100 to reserve a table.
This colorful Mexican spot in Beverly Hills is fancy, fun, and a great option when you’re excited to go on a date with someone where the connection has nothing to do with your wifi signal. The menu is filled with dishes like crispy salmon skin chicharrónes, a gamey, tender short rib quesadilla covered in fresh herbs, and some really incredible costilla tacos with Bordelaise sauce. And, unlike other upscale places in the neighborhood, you’ll only need about two dishes per person since the portions are generous.
Ospi is an excellent Italian restaurant in Venice that comes from the same people behind one of our other favorite Italian restaurants on the Westside - Jame Enoteca. Expect a wide-ranging menu full of antipasti, pizza, pasta, and big plates of meat (the lamb neck and pine nut cannelloni is a standout), plus a prime corner location to show off how hot you and your date look together. If you’re the kind of person who likes to flex your new restaurant knowledge on date night, make a reservation at Ospi.
Located on the grounds of Yamashiro, Kensho is a tiny Japanese wine bar with views that include the Hollywood Sign, the sun setting over the surrounding hills, and your date realizing that six months of virtual dating was absolutely worth it. The menu is filled with snacks like mushroom inari, a perilla bowl, and charcuterie plates, but keep an eye on their calendar, as different pop-ups happen throughout the week (Thursday and Friday yakitori night is a must). Make sure you get involved with their excellent natural wine and sake as well.
Santa Monica Canyon’s Golden Bull is an iconic spot that’s been around (almost) since Will Rogers himself lived nearby. Say that with enough confidence, and it’s likely your date is going to be impressed. This beach-adjacent American spot has transformed its side parking lot into one of the more impressive outdoor dining spaces in town and the locals have responded. Plain and simple, this place is happening. But considering you spent the last six months watching movies together on a laptop screen, you’re ready for some action. Plus, if things go well, you can always cross the tunnel to the sand afterward for a romantic night stroll.
On paper, you’re technically meeting this person for the first time. In reality, you know everything about them and passed the awkward, small talk phase months ago. Skip the regular first date spots and head up to The Old Place. This historic saloon up in the Santa Monica Mountains is one of our favorite day-destinations in LA and a great way to see if you can spend several consecutive hours with someone. We recommend leaving yourself some extra time to explore the surrounding shops before your meal, and then head over to the takeout window, order up some homemade cinnamon rolls and grilled steak sandwiches, and hang out on the property.
This cozy neighborhood restaurant is one of our favorite date spots not just in Highland Park, but all of LA. They’ve reopened their spacious back patio on Figueroa, so expect lots of great wine, affordable Italian dishes like pork ragu and butternut squash cappellacci, and plenty of heat lamps to keep you from becoming, as your friends put it, “a frigid nightmare.” Reservations are highly encouraged.
Wine bars have always been great for first dates, and there’s no point in breaking the mold now. If you’re in The Valley, head to Augustine. This excellent neighborhood bar in Sherman Oaks recently reopened after a long quarantine hiatus with outdoor sidewalk seating, plus limited indoor seating that even includes some chairs at the bar. Wherever you end up sitting, know you’re in great hands with a staff who’ll happily let you sip and swirl until you find the exact wine you want.