Not all date nights need to be meticulously-planned extravaganzas - sometimes it’s more of a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. This may be by circumstance (your boss is finally leaving the office before 8pm), or by habit (you’re very, very bad at thinking ahead). Either way, planning a last-minute date night that’s actually great can be a bit tricky.
How to do it successfully? Go for walk-in only restaurants (the ones that don’t involve a three-hour wait), or spots where getting a reservation isn’t much of a problem. Which is exactly what you’ll find below.
You might think we’re joking, putting one of the hardest to get into restaurants in town on this guide, but we’re very serious. Because the bar area at Felix is walk-in only, serves the full menu, and if you arrive before 6pm or after 9pm, you should be able to get a spot without much of a wait. You’ll get the best pasta on the Westside, and a smug feeling that you didn’t have to wait six weeks for a table.
A pizza-by-the-slice place where you’ll most likely stand in line for half an hour might not sound like a great option for date night. But that just means you haven’t been to Triple Beam. This Highland Park spot does Roman-style pizza, meaning you hold up your hands to show them how big your slice should be, and they’ll cut it up with scissors for you. Whatever wait you’re faced with here, the crust alone (and the fact that you can order the whole menu for under $30) will make it worth it. If you’re lucky, they’ll bring you wine to sip in line, and then there’s a big patio to hang out in once you get your food.
You’re finally both free on the same night, but you put so much effort into figuring out when you could finally get together for a first date that you have no brain space left to pick a place. So just make things easy on yourself and go to Marvin. It’s an easy-to-get-into wine bar on Beverly, with great food and a romantic feel. You can start at the bar for a drink while you feel out the situation, and graduate to tomato toast if they answer the Lakers vs. Clippers question correctly. If things go really well, head to a table and order the very good pork chop.
You promised you’d be available tonight a week ago, but your boss just handed you a pile of spreadsheets, mumbled “tomorrow,” and left. Keep your date and meet at Melody for a drink before you head back to your computer. It’s a neighborhood-y spot in a converted bungalow in Silver Lake that you can pretend is your living room if you need to. Order the smoked brandade dip to go with your wine, order your person another glass before you go to say sorry, and leave in time to not get fired tomorrow.
You definitely forgot it was your 2.5 year anniversary, and you definitely promised you weren’t going to forget that kind of thing again. Lukshon is both half-anniversary appropriate (so, nice enough for a special night, but not too nice) and relatively easy to get into. They do an excellent spicy gimlet and lots of Asian small plates covering everything from dumplings to a lobster banh mi.
As evidenced by the number of them on this guide, wine bars are an ideal last-minute date spot. Walking in is easy, and swirling glasses of sauvignon and pretending that you know what terroir is at least gives you something to talk about. Oriel is a great choice in Chinatown, thanks to a wine list full of unusual bottles, and really good French small plates to go with it.
You’ve been meaning to try this Silver Lake spot, and just never seem to be able to get your sh*t together. Make it happen for your next date night. We definitely don’t advise trying to walk in - the space is pretty tiny - but if you’re willing to eat slightly early or wait till a little later, day-of reservations are usually easy.
OK, so you’re probably going to have to wait a bit for a table at Button Mash, the weird yet amazing arcade/restaurant that serves both Chinese food and burgers. But you also get to play the arcade games of your youth while you do so. When it’s time to eat, order the low-key best burger in town. And all of the Dan Dan noodles.
You’re probably wondering what the best restaurant in the city is doing on this list. It’s here because of seven seats at the tiny bar at the back of the restaurant, which are reserved for walk-ins. Show up at the right time (we’d try 6:30pm or 9pm), and feel very good about yourselves as you eat your weight in foie gras.
Esters has many elements that make it ideal for last-minute dates. There’s a patio area out front and lots of seats around the bar, and they don’t take reservations. You’ll also find more than the standard wine bar food here - beyond the (very good) cheese and charcuterie, there are also salads, beef tartare, and an avocado toast with bacon that makes breakfast for dinner a highly acceptable date meal option.
You’ve had about a million brunches at Salt’s Cure, but you might not have stopped in for dinner. This is a mistake. The meat-centric menu shines in the evening (get the pork loin), and now that they’re in a bigger space, you can often walk in and get a spot pretty quickly.
South End is the pizza place Venice locals would prefer you didn’t know about, but we’re here to ruin that in the name of your love life. Although this spot is busy most nights of the week, the wait isn’t ever very long. Plus, you get to spend it in the parking lot of a strip mall sipping a (probably free) glass of red wine. If you don’t like the sound of that scenario, we value different things.
For when all you want is simple Italian food, an old-school feel, and to not spend $100 on dinner, Jones is here for you. And also for when you want the best damn apple pie in town. Visual bonus: everyone’s good-looking here.
If your perfect date night doesn’t involve Mexican-style barbecue (i.e. grilled meats) eaten outside with cocktails, then you haven’t been to Salazar. Waits at this Frogtown spot can get intense, so come for an early-evening date. They might question why you’re asking them to eat dinner with you at 5:30, but once you bring them to this place, they’ll understand.