Several American cities are known for great art or commerce or even revolution, but few can offer the same truly romantic ambiance all year-round that Los Angeles does—balmy weather, painterly light, and a stylish, laid-back atmosphere. Those things, paired with the city’s proximity to farms and vineyards, make L.A. the ideal place for an alluring dinner any time of year but especially on Valentine’s Day since Angelenos are, after all, the country’s experts in creating magic. Here, a range of perfect meals for perfect dates all around the city.
Cara Cara. This rooftop restaurant from chef Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne is, literally, a towering achievement atop downtown’s Proper Hotel. Banquettes or seats around the stylish firepit provide excellent skyline views. The Portuguese-influenced menu is also a draw, complete with cumin-spiced piri piri fried-chicken strips and crackly focaccia with white trumpet mushrooms or roasted pears. A setting this sumptuous calls for sparkling wines and mocktails named “free spirits.”
1100 S. Broadway, Downtown, properhotel.com
Some Like It Hot
Damian. Mexico City culinary icon Enrique Olvera and his team have carved out a unique industrial-chic setting in the Arts District, particularly on the plant-lined patio, where a colorful mural and scenic skylights add to the fun for diners who flock here to enjoy modern Mexican food, like luxurious lobster al pastor and uni tostada over a Caesar salad. Weekend brunch is a great time to visit, when masa-battered fried chicken is served with live marimba accompaniment. If your date’s still on the fence, the hibiscus meringue with Chantilly cream and pomegranate has been known to be persuasive.
2132 E. 7th Pl., Arts District, damiandtla.com
Orsa & Winston. Josef Centeno offers an intimate, five-course tasting menu in downtown’s Old Bank District. Couples can get comfortable in banquettes or sit near the open kitchen to interact with the folks crafting their food. The menu ostensibly draws on Japanese and Italian culinary traditions but actually casts a more global net. No two dinners are ever the same here, and diners can’t preview menus online. Centeno wouldn’t have it any other way, which adds electricity to each meal. Don’t worry about where the current menu will lead; just trust that you’re in good hands.
122 W. 4th St., Downtown, orsaandwinston.com
Mazal. Mazal is a good place to go on a double or triple date. The more plates of food covering your table on the patio, the more it feels like you’re eating in the backyard of people who love you. The Israeli restaurant features a vegetarian menu that will satisfy all diners. The tahini is subtitled “sesame tears” on the menu, and the thick-cut, air-fried Maghrebi potatoes are served on a bed of it. For the full experience, add Moroccan carrots and beets or roasted cauliflower with cilantro sauce and labneh. For the second round, get the mozzarella flatbread with sliced grapes and wildflower honey that’s essentially a romantic pizza. The fun is keeping the food coming. Also key here: string lights in the alleyway and lots of wine.
110 N. San Fernando Rd., Lincoln Heights, mazal.la
Sake To Me
Ototo. Ototo is a sake bar and izakaya that serves Japanese “drinking snacks” to enjoy with your beer, wine, or its spotlighted sake. The wood furniture, cement, and brick accent walls are darkly lit, creating the cozy sense of a drinking tavern as warm refuge when it’s cold out, despite being in the middle of L.A. The snacks range from a Japanese-style potato salad to salty karaage, but the star of the menu is the kabocha tempura. Follow the fried food with a shaki shaki salad: shaved cabbage and fennel in a sesame dressing. But the best thing for your party to do at Ototo is to explore the many interesting sakes on the menu together. Try something new, and see where it takes you.
1360 Allison Ave., Echo Park, ototo.la
Tables For Two
Providence. For the ultimate special occasion, head to the city’s mecca for a blending of sustainable fare and multiple-Michelin-starred seafood. On any given night, acclaimed chef-owner Michael Cimarusti’s tasting menus dazzle. Providence is one of the last true fine dining restaurants in L.A., and experiencing course after course in the quietly luxurious dining room is unforgettable. On February 14, Cimarusti creates unique dishes designed for romance; they’ve included “dark and mysterious” grilled wild striped bass with black truffles and “flirtatious” lychee with red raspberry and shiso. Pastry chef Mac Daniel Dimla prepares new desserts for the occasion and sweet treats for couples to take home, including milk-and-honey bonbons and Providence’s own house-made bean-to-bar chocolate.
5955 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, providencela.com
A.O.C. West Hollywood. When it comes to making sure your sweetheart is happy on V Day, returning to the tried-and-true is always a smart move. This Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne classic just celebrated 20 years in Los Angeles—an accomplishment achieved with attentive, consistently stellar service and Goin’s flawlessly executed cooking. Sitting by the toasty fireplace, snuggling in a comfy booth, or sharing a table on the starry patio, couples here can’t help but get lost in each other (and the Spanish fried chicken with romesco aïoli).
8700 W. 3rd St. Beverly Grove, aocwinebar.com
Found Oyster. Found Oyster is inspired by what it calls the mix of “classic East Coast seafood shacks with West Coast flavors.” It sort of does feel like that, if the “West Coast flavor” means being down the street from the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre. If opting for full oyster romance, this is a fun dining environment. The Baywatch Platter comes with a dozen oysters, peel-and-eat prawns, and a tuna crudo—enough to feel like you had a seafood dinner without the bill breaking triple digits. Add the daily oysters, if a dozen isn’t enough, but the scallop tostada with apple and basil is a highlight. There’s wine and champagne to celebrate special occasions, but the vibe really does call for a Coors with your catch. A slice of Fat + Flour pie completes the working-class cosplay.
4880 Fountain Ave., East Hollywood, foundoyster.com
Ginger’s. Chef Jason Witzl’s tasting menu changes monthly at this snug 12-seat table in a space beside sister restaurant Ellie’s. For January, that meant an Italian-style Feast of the Seven Fishes starring Maine lobster and whole striped bass with Long Beach mushrooms. But offerings shift with the seasons and as inspiration strikes. The communal experience is the closest thing we have to a Southern-style boardinghouse meal, only this one is candlelit and comes with wine pairings. Just do as they do in Nashville: pass to the left.
204 Orange Ave., Long Beach, ellieslbc.com
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