Recently, a friend texted me:
I need a few good restaurants for a date in Los Angeles, for $50-$100 for two people, that also have a good vibe.
And, though he just asked for just a few, I sent him my top 8 choices for LA restaurants that, if you order right, give you a lot of bang for your buck — culinarily, aesthetically, or experientially. And they’d make for great date places. (Most of these places are in the Hollywood area, because that’s where we’re based.)
One more thing… the friend that texted me is extremely picky, so I catered a bit to his tastes. Which means that these restaurants are great choices if you don’t really know your date’s food tastes. There’s nothing TOO crazy on this list, but even the most “challenging options” have at least one or two recognizable things on their menu. And, if all else fails, the places themselves are all worth the trip…
1. Mare on Melrose
This is my top suggestion. It’s a “hidden” restaurant (you have to walk through Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese, through their back office, and then it’s like you stepped into an outdoor restaurant wonderland. It’s mainly seafood, but we ignore that part and share a bunch of their “plates.” We recommend the veggies, the broccolini, and the skirt steak. Plus you can each get one of their delicious muddled cocktails, and it’s all around $60 (pre tax and tip — assume that for all of these suggestions).
2. Mud Hen on Highland
This is my favorite “I don’t even want to think about it, let’s just go here because it always makes me happy” place. My favorite thing to do is go during their happy hour and order (almost) everything on the menu. If you go for dinner, you can easily sit in their pretty outdoor area, split an entree and an appetizer with two beers, and it’ll be around $50.
But I HIGHLY recommend their kaya toast for an extra treat — it’s one of the weirdest most delicious thing you’ll ever eat.
3. La Assiette on Melrose
I feel like this place is made for a fun and easy date night. The restaurant is dark and romantic, and the menu is pretty much only steak and fries. They also do this cool thing where they give you “seconds.” While one order of “Steak Frites” — steak + fries + side salad — is $27, if you split it (and, based on my experience you totally don’t need two orders) they add an extra $10. Which is still super-affordable for steak and fries for two! Finish that dinner up with a walk to the 31 Flavors down the street, and you just won date night.
4. Pizzaria Mozza on Highland
This is part of the “Mozzaplex” which consists of three restaurants so good, that Jonathan Gold included them ALL on his list of the best restaurants in LA. Pizzaria Mozza is the affordable one, but that doesn’t mean it’s less delicious! HOLY SHIT, the pizza is fantastic. Get a pizza and a 250 ml carafe of wine — which is basically a third of a bottle — for $35. (FYI: The wine list may freak you out, but if you want a red, according to this post, you should get the La Mozza Morellino di Scansano “I Perazzi.”)
5. Estrella on Sunset
I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve been to this place, both for brunch and lunches that kind of turned into early dinners, because we end up ordering EVERYTHING on the menu. (I highly highly recommend going for brunch, because there’s the king of all brunch orders: The Rolling Stone. But that’s a post for another day.) There’s also that peanut butter and banana toast that kills me. No wait! The mac n cheese! Gah! No matter when you go, the place has got an amazing vibe, as well as an outdoor fireplace, ooh, and succulents everywhere. If you go for brunch, you can split 3 or 4 things plus a french press coffee to share for $50.
6. Mercado on Cahuenga and on 3rd st
I wish this place had a punch ticket for every visit, I’d have a free meal, or at least a free blood orange margarita, by now! It’s what I call a “hipster mexican” restaurant, but don’t hold that against it! It’s really fucking delicious. I recommend their guacamole, enchiladas, and carne asada — all of those are easily split-able.
7. Jon & Vinny on Fairfax
This is what became of Damiano’s. Go for brunch, lunch, or dinner — no matter when, the menu is insanely good. Great pizza, great pasta, great salads, great desserts, great EVERYTHING. It’s just a super-solid little joint that’s sure to please everyone.
8. Petit Trois on Highland
Here’s my little wild card. It’s a TINY French place, in the same strip mall with a dry cleaner and a Yum Yum donuts. It’s the smaller, cheaper version of one of the fanciest French places in town (right next door under the “Raffalo’s pizza” sign). Petit Trois doesn’t take reservations, and, since the place is so small, the waits can be epic. Either pop in for an early dinner, or put your name in, then go down the street for a drink at Mud Hen while you wait. Even though it’s suuuuper French — escargot et al — their “Big Mec” has been voted the best burger in LA by, like, everyone — including me. Split a burger, fries, and some wine, while you squeeze yourself, side by side, at their counter. It’s pretty cramped, but very romantic.
Okay, fellow Angelenos… what are YOUR favorite restaurants that give you a lot of vibey bang for your buck?