They say that love don’t cost a thing… but “they” obviously never tried to date in Los Angeles. From long-distance Ubers to cocktails that cost more than bottom-shelf bottles, trying to get a meal with your crush can be an inexorably expensive experience - unless you’re literally dining and dashing at the Whole Foods 365 salad bar.
But just because you don’t feel like dropping half of your paycheck on a meal doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat together. Here are 22 of the best date spots that won’t also cause you to overdraw your account.
We can’t put our finger on it, but something about sipping naturally distilled sake and eating Siberian caviar toast while overlooking the Hollywood Hills doesn’t immediately scream “affordable date night.” But that’s exactly what we like about Kensho - it has all the trappings of an impressive, overdraft-adjacent restaurant, but in reality, you can order the entire menu for just around $100. That menu changes often, but if they have it, make sure to order the crab rice, and save room for the creamy soba-cha (roasted buckwheat) ice cream.
Woon is a small, casual spot in Historic Filipinotown that’s perfect for a low-key date night. Everything on the menu is good, but we’re partial to the tofu fish cake and fried rice with Chinese sausage, and you’re (legally) not allowed to leave without getting the near-perfect beef noodles. Plus the prices can’t be beat - we’re talking $6 sides and $5 salads, and the most expensive thing on the menu is a whopping $11. It’s so affordable, you can probably pay for all of it with the rest of your Venmo balance - which means it’s technically free, right?
Just because you consider birthday money to be taxable income doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to get a meal with someone you really like. Mh Zh is an incredible Israeli/Mediterranean restaurant in Silver Lake where you sit on wooden boxes, order off of brown paper bags, and can “fire the menu” (a.k.a. order absolutely everything) for around $130. That may be a bit high for your budget, so if you’d rather stay a la carte, the ever-changing offerings are generally affordable, with the ribeye being the most expensive thing at $24. But be warned: Mh Zh has one fatal flaw - their lack of a liquor license.
You can only [insert whichever streaming service you mooch from your roommate here] and chill for so long until it starts getting sad. But if you want the comfort of being in a house without it being your house, head to Lasa. Located in Chinatown, it’s a casual family-owned restaurant that serves Filipino dishes with a twist. Be strategic here - there are some pricier things on the menu, like the whole fried pompano (which is $34 and the most expensive thing they offer), but that’s why we recommend sticking with small plates and sharing them. Except the Filipino spaghetti. Never share that.
While we’re still extremely on the fence about Daw Yee Myanmar Corner’s eclectic interior (Is it cute? Is it campy? Are we slowly falling in love with that pink unicorn head on the wall?), what’s undeniable is that this place is serving truly top-notch Burmese food at incredible prices. Everything is under $14, including a crazy good tea leaf salad, stacks of buttery platha (Burmese flatbread), and Ohnoh noodles, a curry noodle soup that’s by far our favorite thing on the menu.
Wood Spoon is the kind of place where you walk in and immediately feel at ease. The DTLA spot is filled with mismatched chairs and old framed photos, and couldn’t be further away from one of those cold, exaggerated restaurants that make you become hyper-aware of the fact that, until last week, you thought a 401(k) literally meant saving $401,000. The menu is filled with flavor-packed Brazilian dishes that hover around the $20-$30 mark, like seafood soup in coconut sauce, deep-fried shrimp dumplings, and the de facto best chicken pot pie we’ve ever had.
No matter where you fall on the Thai-expertise spectrum (is there a Buzzfeed quiz for this yet?), with its menu of more than 115 items, there’s something for everyone at Ruen Pair. Open until 3am on Friday and Saturday (2am every other night of the week), everything at this hopping East Hollywood spot costs less than $13. And while it’s not necessarily wrong to order the pad thai or papaya salad here, it’s our job to make sure you’re aware of their outstanding egg dishes like the salted radish omelette and the deep fried egg salad.
It’s frankly impossible to not like The Tripel. The tiny space in Playa del Rey has great beer, one of our favorite burgers in the city, and a local feel that’s exactly what you need after a full week of the corporate crush. Every dish on the menu is under $20 (even that ridiculously good squid ink pasta) and if things go well, the ocean is just a five-minute walk away.
Kasih in Little Tokyo is a place that checks all affordable-date boxes. Most of the smaller, shareable plates cost less than $20, and their drinks are strong and involve unusual combinations like banana-infused bourbon in an Old Fashioned. As a bonus, you’ll probably learn a lot about each other’s spice tolerance from the sambal sampler. There are plenty of good options close by for a post-dinner drink, like the back patio at Far Bar.
If you’re looking for a place in the Arts District where you can get a lot of food and wine without bringing on finance-induced stress headaches, Pour Haus is your answer. As soon as you walk in, they give you a taste of lambrusco and some popcorn to hold you over until you order, and during their daily Happy Hour they do a bunch of food and drink options for $5. Even when that’s over, nothing on the menu is over $11, and the wine list is really well-priced, too.
Convincing anyone to grab dinner in Culver City on a weeknight generally ends in prolonged silence, but good news - the guy you’ve been DM-ing said yes and now you’re taking him to The Wallace. The relaxed, modern space is a good first-date look, because it’s slightly romantic, but not so much so that you’re immediately uncomfortable. The menu is all crowd-pleasers (get the short rib ravioli), and Ugo around the corner is an ideal dessert stop afterwards.
LA will never be known for top-notch Tex-Mex food, but DTLA’s Bar Amá is doing a great job making up for it. The casual cantina in the Historic Core has a relaxed setting and affordable food that’s both fun and delicious (read: queso). Also, the best thing at Bar Amá isn’t on the menu - the puffy tacos. Just ask and you shall receive.
Village Idiot works for an affordable date because it perfectly straddles the line of being a restaurant and a bar. Whether you’re there for some excellent craft beer or just a very underrated fish and chips situation, Village Idiot’s low-key, dimly lit interior is ideal for when you have no idea if you’re actually into this person or not. Also, you never need a reservation.
Dates near the ocean give you a lot to discuss. You can talk about that time you snorkeled and a very friendly looking turtle tried to eat your finger. Or maybe you can compare favorite seagull breeds. Ellie’s isn’t quite overlooking the beach, but it’s close enough that your turtle story won’t feel out of left field. Get a table on the quiet front patio, order a couple of the excellent homemade pastas, and always start with the grilled bread with pork butter.
Mission Cantina is one of most overlooked casual dinner spots in Hollywood. The tiny Mexican place on Sunset doesn’t look like much from the outside, but they serve some solid food at affordable prices in an environment that actually makes you want to sit and get to know someone. Plus, if your date can’t help you finish the margarita pitcher you just bought, at least you can call it quits now - and not three sober dates later.
Franklin and Co. tends to get lost in the frantic shuffle of Franklin Village, but this neighborhood tavern is a good spot to figure out how much this person doesn’t look like their profile pictures. The food is solid (they have a giant pretzel to share), there are TVs on the wall, and there’s a crazy selection of whiskey if that’s where the night seems to be headed. Bonus: If you need an out, just lie and tell them your friend has a UCB 101 show next door. No one will follow you to that.
If you both work Downtown, Barcito is one of our favorite casual, non-soul-sucking options for a first date in the area. The colorful Argentinian spot has good food that’s very shareable (get the octopus), and even though the Buenos Aires streetscapes plastered on the wall are somewhat cheesy (OK, they’re very cheesy), by the end of the meal, neither of you will care.
You’re basically broke at this point, but you really like this person and you both happen have wine listed as an interest. Head to Bacari PDR, the wine bar right by the beach with cheap (and delicious) tapas and drink specials - including a 90-minute open bar for $25 per person that’s guaranteed to make this date interesting. Also, we promise this place isn’t as tacky as it sounds.
An affordable date night often means splitting a bunch of tiny plates that you’re not sure you’ll like. But sometimes, you want something a little more straightforward. And that means burgers and beers at Father’s Office, where you’re going to be eating an excellent, ketchup-less burger and drinking hard-to-find, fantastic craft beer with it.
Plain and simple, Plan Check is the best first-date spot in the city. The jidori chicken keeps us up at night, the beer list is great, and the atmosphere inside is modern and sexy, but not in a way that makes it seem like you put way too much effort into the whole thing. Also, they have locations all over the city now, so no matter where your current sublet is, you’re never too far away.
Whenever one of you says you’re “down for whatever,” you end up spending more time talking about your options than you do actually sitting at dinner. Skip the back and forth and just go to this Los Feliz wine bar. There’s a big wine list, but just tell the bartender what you’re in the mood for and you’ll end up trying something new. The menu includes a Cubano no one should miss, and on Wednesdays, La Morra brings a mobile oven and makes wood-fired pizza that will make you think all pizza should come out of a big transportable fireplace.
Thanks to its no-man’s-land West LA location, you might not know about Upper West. But the atmosphere at this bright spot is fun and relaxed, and the food has no business being as good as it is. Everything from the lamb crepes to the ahi tuna tacos to a carrot cake ice cream sandwich you’ll lose all remaining self-control over is worth ordering. Also, if you’re an early date kind of person, the 5-7pm Happy Hour (all night long on Mondays) gets you $5 house wine and $6 specialty cocktails.