L.A.’s most romantic restaurants
Forget the Topanga stereotypes of burning sage and healing crystals (OK, they sell those here, too). Off Old Topanga Road, love-stricken diners can enter a bucolic, wooded city escape: a multi-tiered outdoor dining space draped in lights, lilac and oak trees—and, yes, the wafting scent of incense that hits you on your way in. Take in the serene, creekside surroundings under heat lamps and twinkling stars. Start with a glass from their organic-leaning wine list and follow with roasted-mushroom toast with sherry tarragon cream, and then, grass-fed filet mignon with truffled mashed potatoes or a dish of black-vinegar-braised short ribs with BBQ-spiced carrots. Nostalgic Angelenos will be happy to know that it’s still veg-, vegan- and gluten-free–friendly, and has been romancing diners for roughly 45 years.
This rooftop bistro is one of the prettiest in town—patterned tile floors, dead-on view of the Central Library and other DTLA landmarks, potted trees full of twinkly lights, and not to mention beautiful locals, plus a few hundred of their closest friends. Inside, the eclectic French décor displays a series of tasteful boudoir paintings over the bar and a scattering of plush sofas. Sample the wide selection of Kir and wines (and bubbly) by the glass and drop in for happy hour—dubbed “Apéritif Hour”—on weekdays from 4 to 6pm.
While ocean views are a dime a dozen in L.A., Nobu’s rival any we’ve seen, with waves crashing down below, some sandy footsteps away from the Malibu pier. And while the dramatic oceanscape, complete with a beach-house–like patio, is an obvious draw that seems all looks and no substance, this Japanese restaurant doesn’t give it all away at once—there’s food chops to back its good-looks reputation. Sushi whiz Nobu Matsuhisa’s food is still as good as ever; sit on the patio or take a seat at the sushi counter and let the chef guide you through Peruvian-inflected tiradito, uni mini tacos and sashimi so fresh, you can taste the Pacific. (Take note: Every night of the week is packed; reservations are a must.)
Soft, flattering lighting that bounces off the delicate gold wallpaper? Check. An artful, at times decadent, menu that’s perfect for sharing bites with your date? Double check. Traditional Japanese technique meets California flavor at this intimate bungalow on the edge of Chateau Marmont, where restaurateur Reika Alexander offers beautiful sashimi, rice pots, sizzling small plates and omnivorous or vegan kaiseki meals. Pro tip: For an even more intimate experience, huddle over sake and cocktails at the front bar.
There’s romance even in the story of this Eagle Rock gem: The cozy Craftsman bungalow turned bistro is run by—of course—a husband-and-wife team. Chef Sean Lowenthal and Deborah Schwartz-Lowenthal cook up a hyper-seasonal New-American menu in a setting with such low lighting in almost feels entirely candle-lit. Get there early to grab a seat at the tiny marble-topped bar, or hole up in one of their banquette seats with tufted leather backing as you share your way through braised meatballs, duck liver mousse with sherry gastrique, and charred flat iron steak. Outdoors, the bulb lights flip on when the sun goes down, providing an intimate patio that glows as much as your date will.
Escape to Nantucket at this beachside destination seducing lovers and landlubbers alike, where you can grab front-row seats overlooking the Pacific. If that’s not enough to impress your sunset-discriminating friend, cozy up to the roaring fire over surf and turf plates such as fresh pasta with lobster, seared scallops with bok choi and soy caramel, 24-day–aged rib eye and Sunday-night prime rib dinner served tableside. The quiet dining room jazzes up, literally, come nightfall with live piano and jazz in the hotel’s Living Room lounge, perfect for graduating on to cocktails and more fireside canoodling.
What’s sexier than steaks over stiff drinks in a dimly-lit room of red leather booths? Prime rib under $30 and rib-eye dinners served by old-school waiters at a 50-plus-year-old steakhouse, that’s what. The K-town and La Cañada fixture may not look like much, but once inside, curved tufted seating, dark wooden panels and low lighting give way to irreplicable charm—what date nights are made of. Traditionalists order a classic wedge salad or French onion soup and work up to a horseradish-adorned prime-rib plate or the retro daily specials. What to drink? An old-fashioned, naturally.
The Bazaar at the SLS hotel is the kind of place where you seal the deal with salt-air margaritas and caviar cones. There are multiple dining rooms, each with a different menu focus and ambience. Dine dangerously in the more masculine, matador-themed banquettes—a nod to chef José Andrés’s Spanish roots, hence the Iberian-style small plates on the menu—or opt for comfy-yet-modern seating as you consider whimsical, artful truffles and composed desserts. Go avant-garde with bites like eel-and-chicharron Japanese tacos, and the famed Philly cheesesteak “sandwiches”—featuring air bread topped with strips of Wagyu beef—or the steamed buns, stuffed with uni to oxtail.
This hidden gem’s patio is one of the prettiest on the east end of the city: an open structure that’s outfitted in hanging lights and a fireplace under a huge banyan-like tree. The menu reads like an exotic escape—to the Mediterranean or Asia, perhaps—with a California influence: French butter lettuce with radish, quinoa, Spanish Mahón cheese in citrus dressing; whole branzino with papaya salad and nuoc cham; and Japanese eggplant with honey, garlic, cucumber, basil, cilantro and scallions. Start your Thursday evenings (6–8pm) with none other than oysters—$1 for each—to get you in the mood.
Long heralded as one of the top restaurants in the city, Melrose Avenue’s Lucques continues to draw foodies and the fashionable set who come to worship at Suzanne Goin’s and Caroline Styne’s Cal-cuisine staple. The menu takes cues from the season with local farmers’ market ingredients highlighted on the plate (and in your cocktail glass), and the bar menu features a separate selection of eats and seasonal concoctions, another experience and reason to visit. Indulge by flickering candlelight over a bottle—the well-curated wine selection features worlds both old and new—and don’t skimp on desserts. You won’t want to pass up house-made tarts, ice creams and hot chocolate with marshmallows.
If a restaurant could make you weak at the knees, Il Cielo would have diners dropping left and right. Serving lunch and dinner under a canopy of twinkling lights, the romantic Italian eatery aims to be a "country restaurant in the city," where bubbling fountains and white tablecloths create a darling ambiance to rival a Tuscan trattoria. Sample the risottos, pastas, carpaccios and aged meats before diving into the surf and turf entrées: branzino, Maine lobster, lamb chops and filet mignon have all made an appearance on the menu. And because dolce really is the most romantic course of all, share a plate of tiramisu before Il Cielo completely sweeps you off your feet.
When the parsley sprinkled over the house-made pasta you’re eating has come from a garden right outside the restaurant’s doors, you know you’re eating fresh. Such is the case at the picture-perfect mar’sel, where an onsite herb-and-vegetable garden is mere steps from the kitchen, its goods incorporated throughout the menu. Overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean, mar’sel is where you take a date to impress, a significant other to propose to, or a parent to show that—yes, mom—I’m doing quite well for myself, thank you. For mimosa lovers, a Sunday brunch is offered as well.
Firefly may be the closest thing to a modern-day secret garden in L.A., walls of tangled ivy included. Found on a more popular stretch of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, the fine-dining restaurant offers Modern-American cuisine in a romantic, cozy setting—a heated, firelit patio is decorated in candles and twinkling lights, while the library-like bar area offers an ideal date-night vibe. In this secret garden, you’re fed exquisitely constructed dishes such as veal meatballs swimming in San Marzano sauce, or an artful roasted monkfish with pumpkin and salsa verde. Make goo-goo eyes at your date by sharing a decadent butterscotch budino topped with Maldon sea salt.
Perched above the dynamic streets of West Hollywood, CATCH LA is the West Coast outpost of acclaimed New York restaurant CATCH. A globally-influenced seafood spot, it provides a little something for everyone with its blend of dining, nightlife and events in a an open-air dining room with retractable roof. With its signature open kitchen, set against breathtaking views of Downtown L.A. and the Hollywood Hills, the massive rooftop haven invites the outside in as it blends great seafood with sushi, Asian influences and an excellent brunch (but let’s be real—bring your date to dinner, for best results).
Because vegetarians are lovers, too. This Echo Park haunt is a date night go-to for vegetarians and omnivores alike, who fall for the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean menu that changes with the season. Call ahead to claim a spot at the counter or table, rubbing elbows with your date (or neighbor) inside the cozy, matchbox-size dining room. Sip on any number of wines—all natural wine, of course—and toast over vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options like creamy polenta with smoked eggplant and harissa butter.
Ask anyone in L.A. what the best fine-dining spot is, and Mélisse always comes out toward the top of the list. Serving dinner only, suited waiters bring course after course—you can opt for the basic four, seven or 10 courses, plus caviar service—of artfully-composed plates of pure decadence. (If that doesn’t seduce you, we don’t know what will.) While two private dining rooms offer a more intimate setting, the main dining room hosts couples, who should request a booth.
Oh, Scopa, what are you doing to us? Those crispy squash blossoms and house-made meatballs are making our hearts melt, not to mention the intoxicating glow of the fully-stocked liquor bar that lights up the restaurant. Couples canoodle in dark booths, sharing plates of rigatoni in vodka sauce and fusilli tossed with capers, olives and anchovies. Chef Antonia Lofaso has a knack for churning out quality comfort food in a dateworthy atmosphere (look to her Black Market Liquor Bar for a Valley alternative), and Scopa is no exception. End the night with a fried fluffernutter (trust us).
Since opening its doors in 1946, Hotel Bel-Air has been the site of Old Hollywood’s (then-new) city escapes—from honeymoons to camping out in the secluded hills away from the lights. Couples should set up at a booth on the patio overlooking verdant gardens and expect to indulge in top-notch food (at top dollar). The Mediterranean-influenced menu sees glimpses of old and new with updated Puck favorites like a composed loup de mer, veal weiner schnitzel, and hand-cut tagliatelle with truffles. Finish with a nightcap in the glam bar that features a live pianist, or a stroll by the fabled Swan Lake for a fairy-tale ending.