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
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.