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Your alternative Valentine’s Day dining guide: No reservations required

A banana split from Fosselman's ice cream store can make the perfect Valentine's Day treat for two.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

People tend to feel strongly about Valentine’s Day and what a “romantic” dinner is supposed to be: flickering candles on white tablecloths, expensive Champagne in an ice bucket. This year, we’re suggesting an alternative Valentine’s Day meal out. Don’t make a reservation, wear something comfortable, roll up your sleeves and maybe eat with your hands. Whether you’ve been married for years or you’re just evaluating a new partner, you can tell a lot about a person by how he or she eats a messy plate of nachos. Because if you can’t get a little salsa on your shirt, how are you supposed to have any fun after dinner?

Bag of crab

The Boiling Crab may test your relationship more than any other restaurant in the city, in a good way. First, there’s the wait. Regardless of the Boiling Crab location (Alhambra, Koreatown, Rosemead, Westwood, etc.), you’re looking at a good hour, maybe 90 minutes. Once you get a table, you’ll need to put on a bib. When the food comes, you’ll be presented with plastic bags full of crab, shrimp, sausage and whatever else you decided to throw in there, all in a spicy red sauce with plenty of garlic, if you order the Whole Shebang. (Order the Whole Shebang, it’s a mix of the restaurant’s Cajun sauce, lemon pepper sauce and garlic sauce.) The sauce will be on your chin, in your hair and your eyes and on your hands. You will use at least half a pack of napkins in an attempt to look presentable. And when you leave, you will both reek of garlic. The entire ordeal, including the wait, will be exhausting. But it will be delicious and you will confirm that your love for each other is real. (If you’re in Koreatown, the only question is whether to get HoneyMee next door for dessert.) Multiple locations at www.theboilingcrab.com.

Bags of crab, shrimp and sausage at Boiling Crab in Alhambra.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

El Chato burrito

As you hold hands — or don’t — and walk along West Olympic Boulevard, toward the twinkling lights strung above the El Chato taco truck, you both should be giddy with excitement. It will be after 9 p.m., and the truck will have just opened. Order a burrito, maybe the lengua, maybe the carne asada or the al pastor. Ask for avocado, then cheese. And because it’s a special occasion, get both the green and red salsas. You sit on an open slice of curb and unwrap your burritos, the log-sized rolls perfectly blistered and toasted. You momentarily forget the person next to you because you are chin-deep in carne asada and salsa. Then you both sip horchata from the same straw under a blanket of stars and contemplate the future. 5300 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, www.elchatotaco.com.

Ice cream for dinner

Why not split an ice cream sundae for dinner? This can be accomplished at any number of scoop shops around town: McConnell’s, Salt & Straw, Carmela. But if you’re going to go old school, you head to Fosselman’s in Alhambra. There are more than 48 flavors to choose from, so take your time, and choose wisely. Get three scoops so you can each pick your favorite, then compromise on the third. Order an extra swirl of whipped cream, get two cherries on top and head to one of the café tables to dig in. For an after-dinner activity, maybe you can each pick out a bag of candy for the other. Because nothing says I love you like a pound of lemon drops or caramel mocha taffy. 1824 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 282-6533, www.fosselmans.com.

Nachos

Create a memorable night tucked into a booth at the original El Cholo on Western Avenue. You may each have your favorites on the menu. Go ahead and order that enchilada, but make sure you share a plate of Carmen’s nachos and a round of margaritas. An unfussy plate of nicely fried tortilla chips covered in melted cheese is inherently comforting. The chips are not piled high on the platter but arranged as a relatively flat layer, making it possible to almost completely cover each one with cheese. The structure of the nachos is key, and you can have your own “Lady and the Tramp” moment with a cheesy chip. If queso is more your thing, head over to Bar Ama in downtown L.A. for a tower of nachos smothered in hot cheese sauce. You can order them at the bar during the “super nacho hour” happy hour or after 11 p.m. elcholo.com or bar-ama.com.

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Spicy boat noodles

There is something deeply pleasurable about a bowl of noodles so spicy that it makes your eyes water. This is true romance, with a side of Kleenex and chile. So head to one of the Pa Ord Noodle locations in Thai Town and order a big bowl of Thai boat noodle soup to share. When the server asks “how spicy?” you’ll need to make sure you and your partner are on the same page. Mild comes with a small scoop of chile flakes; medium comes with more. And spicy is lashed with enough chile to have you both crying, but in a good way. The rich, dark pork broth is served with fish balls, slices of pork and pork liver, your choice of noodles, sprigs of cilantro and a handful of crumbled chicharrónes. If you order spicy, the heat will start at the back of your throat, then creep along your tongue and eventually engulf the lower half of your face. Just breathe, hold hands across the table, embrace the pain and cry some chile tears together. 5301 Sunset Blvd., Suite 8-9, Los Angeles, (323) 461-3945.

Jenn.Harris@latimes.com

@Jenn_Harris_

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