Myself, I hate to eat dinner before it's dark. I know people — not many — who start fretting if dinner isn't on the table by 6. And while I consider it a strange habit, I can adapt for an evening if eating early opens up time to go to a concert or play afterward. I'm not talking cheapskates' "early-bird specials" but dinner at serious restaurants, bargain-priced to lure diners in when tables are mostly empty. The bonus is that the restaurant then is more likely to be quiet enough for conversation.
Fig: The restaurant in the Fairmont Miramar hotel in Santa Monica has the best early deal dinner I've encountered. Called "Fig at Five," it's available 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. For that magic hour, everything on the menu, including desserts and drinks, is 50% off. That means chef Ray Garcia's cherrystone clams with chorizo and salsify, charcuterie, blistered Little Gem hearts, seared tuna niçoise, lamb top sirloin with garbanzos and piquillo peppers, and much more. Only one item is excluded: the cote de boeuf for two. Plan for traffic, though. If you show up five minutes after 6, the menu is back to full price.
101 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 319-3111, figsantamonica.com
Smoke House: This restaurant has been going strong since it was built at the end of World War II, welcoming an industry crowd from nearbyWarner Bros. studios — in the old days, actors in cowboy and Indian costumes. These days the crowd isn't quite so colorful, but the food is just the same — the famous Smoke House garlic bread, jumbo shrimp cocktail, artichoke dip and barbecued baby-back ribs. If you come in early, 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 3 to 5 p.m. Sundays, everything on the menu is 25% off.
4420 Lakeside Drive, Burbank; (818) 845-3731, http://www.smokehouse1946.com
Chaya Downtown: The sleek Japanese-French restaurant from the team behind Chaya Brasserie in West Hollywood has its version of a pre-theater meal available 5:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays. Executive chef Atsushi Kenjo devises an elegant four-item bento box for $29. You want to eat light before the theater, right? He changes the array of dishes as ingredients come in and out of season. A recent pre-theater bento started with white asparagus and English pea purée soup with grilled Hokkaido scallops and porcini powder. Then came three small plates: sushi (tuna, Tai snapper and ume shiso roll), a miso-marinated orange roughie with wasabi soy broth and eggplant, and, lastly, grilled New Zealand lamb with a korma curry sauce.
525 S. Flower St., Los Angeles; (213) 236-9577, http://www.thechaya.com/downtownLosAngeles