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With the SoCal summer heatwave finally starting to give way to a warm and sunny fall, outdoor dining — California’s COVID-19 reopening plan will not allow businesses to operate indoors, even with modifications, until the county’s positivity rate is between 2 and 4.9 percent — is in high demand. Los Angeles is one of the few areas around the country where restaurant goers will be able to dine outside year round, and some of the city’s best restaurants have reinvented themselves to fit customers’ socially distant needs.
After months of preparation, which involved building dividers, changing menus, moving kitchens outside, securing the correct permits and more, a number of L.A.’s favorites reopened last month.
Best Girl and Upstairs at the Ace Hotel
929 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015
“It’s actually been exciting to reinvent and reimagine how we do everything,” says Amy Layman, food and beverage director at Ace Hotel Los Angeles. “Being outdoors means there’s more opportunity to be creative, and we’re going to make the most of it.”
Upstairs, the rooftop restaurant at the hotel, has been open since Aug. 14, requiring reservations for the first time ever. Along with cocktails and a beer list that includes alcoholic kombucha, guests can enjoy tacos, quesadillas and charcuterie boards with a view of DTLA. On the first floor, Best Girl, featuring a menu by award-winning Chef-Partner Michael Cimarusti and Executive Chef Daniel Torres, opened Oct. 1. The limited dinner menu offers three pastas, Portuguese fisherman’s stew and a classic burger.
“The paramount factor is of course the safety of our staff and guests,” Layman says, explaining how requiring reservations allows the restaurant to properly pace and space guests for social distancing, along with required mask wearing, contactless menus and hand sanitizer stations. “All this takes extra time and training, but it’s important to mind the details so we can give everyone peace of mind.”
“People still want to get together and have a good time,” she continues. “Your birthdays, anniversaries and first dates are all still important. We want to help you safely celebrate and enjoy those moments.”
Bull & Butterfly
12746 Jefferson #2200, Playa Vista, CA
Playa Vista’s new outdoor eatery opened on Sept. 24. The reimagined steakhouse is the passion project of husband and wife culinary duo Alan and Heidi Jackson. The kitchen is helmed by executive chef Robbie Nowlin, previously of DTLA’s Otium, and offers organic, humanely raised meats, snout-to-tail cooking and locally sourced vegetables, all centered around the restaurant’s California-meets-Baja approach.
2524 1/2 Hyperion Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027
L.A.’s neighborhood ceviche bar, owned and operated by Mexico-born lawyer-turned-cevichero Octavio Olivas, reopened for outdoor dining on Sept. 24. “We’ve just been adapting to circumstances,” says Olivas, explaining how his restaurant benefited from the city’s Al Fresco Program, allowing them to serve ceviche outside for the first time. “It’s great to eat ceviche outside, you feel like you’re somewhere tropical,” he says. “That’s the vibe that we want to give here: tropical sidewalk dining.”
Olivas’ favorite dish at the moment is the live chocolata clam ceviche. This clam has been particularly hard to find until recently, but Ceviche Project now has it flown in fresh from Mexico. “It’s one of the most delicious and sweet clams I’ve ever tasted, my favorite to prepare.”
8905 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA 90069
The West-Hollywood classic is open for daily patio dining and extended its socially distanced seating into the street in September. The plant-based Mexican eatery is well known for its dairy- and meat-free alternatives, as well as its extensive mezcal and tequila selection. Gracias Madre is now open for lunch, dinner, and weekday happy hour from 4-6 p.m.
Hank’s at Palisades Village
1033 N Swarthmore Ave, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
The popular Palisades eatery Hank’s has reopened for dining with an expanded outdoor set up and a brand-new weekend brunch offering. In addition to dinner favorites baked lasagna bolognese and double diamond burger, guests can now enjoy reimagined brunch staples like Carpinteria avocado toast, Hank’s buttermilk pancakes and the vegan scramble. Hank’s best kept secret, however, is the MOET mimosa, a full bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne with a carafe of fresh orange juice for just $49.
5916 1/2 N Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90042
The contemporary American-Italian restaurant in Highland Park recently reopened, expanding their patio into the parking lot in order to accommodate 85 seats at a time. In addition to great cocktails and a selection of Californian, French, Italian and Spanish wines, Hippo offers fresh, hand-made pasta and almond wood-fired meats and seafood.
Jean-Georges Beverly Hills
9850 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
“This does remind me of Paris, and I enjoy seeing the outdoor activity and energy around the city,” says Steve Benjamin, executive chef at Jean-Georges inside the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, while lamenting that “there are a lot of amazing dining rooms in the city that are left empty while guests dine on the sidewalks and open outdoor spaces.”
Jean-George, which reopened terrace dining on Oct. 1, has made quite a few changes to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, but Benjamin is hopeful about the long-term impact on the restaurant industry. “It is very unfortunate that COVID-19 has changed a lot about what we do and how we operate on a day-to-day basis, but I also feel it is going to improve our industry in the long run,” he says. “Much needed attention to detail, sanitation, cleanliness and health is going to make all of us better and safer.”
The Beverly Hills staple is also offering a signature tasting menu for the first time, something Benjamin has wanted to do for a long time. The meal starts with one of Jean Georges’ signature dishes from New York, the tuna noodle. “The eight-course tasting menu will be the perfect experience to celebrate any occasion,” he says, “and we will be offering the best gastronomy fine-dining experience in the city!”
16101 Ventura Blvd, Encino, CA 91436
Award-winning husband and wife chef duo Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee, the force behind concept restaurants Scratch|Bar, Sushi|Bar and Pasta|Bar, opened a new a la carte, outdoor seafood restaurant called Leviathan on Sept. 4, all located in the same, unassuming Encino plaza.
“We built this whole experience as an outdoor restaurant,” says Frankland Lee. “The kitchen’s outside, the bar’s outside, other than the restroom there’s no need to go inside.” Outdoor dining has been available at Sushi|Bar and Pasta|Bar for a few months, and when the landlord mentioned that someone had vacated a space downstairs, Lee and his wife jumped at the opportunity.
When deciding how to fill the new space, Lee was focused on filling a community need. “In the Valley, there really isn’t anywhere to go and get good, fresh seafood,” he says. “I love seafood, it’s what I’m passionate about.” While Leviathan does offer a Japanese wagyu ribeye and pork belly dishes, the lobster, octopus and many fish options are the focus of the restaurant.
2025 Pacific Ave, Venice, CA 90291
The second restaurant by Jackson Kalb and Melissa Saka, who also own Jame Enoteca in El Segundo, is a Southern-Italy focused pasta eatery close to the Venice boardwalk. The name Ospi derives from ospitante, or “host” in Italian. Along with an array of house-made pasta dishes, the restaurant has expanded its pizza offerings and the bar boasts a special negroni selection.
7360 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA
The Fairfax taqueria and bar, owned by San Diego born chef Walter Manzke, opened its new outdoor patio at the end of the summer. Its taco-focused menu features handmade tortillas, sushi-grade seafood and prime New York strip loin carne asada. And the bar offerings are just as exciting as the food, with several twists on the classic margarita, Mexican lagers, and a dirty horchata.
Picnic Society by Gwen
189 The Grove Dr 1st Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90036
On Sept. 14, the Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur Curtis Stone began an exclusive four-month residency at L.A.’s famous outdoor shopping and dining complex, the Grove. Stone’s newest concept, Picnic Society by Gwen, is a full-service, al fresco eatery as well as gourmet picnic market, offering pre-made picnic baskets, miniature tables, blankets, and cutlery.
“The excitement in dining out is once again rediscovered,” Stone says. “It’s a change of scenery, and a whole new experience for the customer. I’ve really allowed my creativity to come to life.”
“As an added bonus, it allows for so many restaurant employees to return to work,” he continues, which has been at the forefront of every restauranteur and chef’s mind. “I was able to bring several of my staff from Gwen to this new space, and it’s really been a joy to all be together again.”
1525 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
“There is an elevated spirit of ‘joie de vivre’ that comes along with dining outside,” says Paul Pruitt, owner and operator of Abbot Kinney’s latest addition, Post Script. “Our guests to have a more convivial and celebratory spirit from the minute they walk into our dining room, greatly assisted by our exceptional weather on the westside of LA, of course.”
Pruitt and chef Vartan Abgaryan, known for a number of restaurants including Venice’s Yours Truly, opened this new outdoor restaurant at the end of September in a semi-enclosed parking lot. Abgaryan mans the open flame, grilling burgers and skirt steak, plus portobello steaks for the vegetarians, while a food truck parked in the back cooks up the side dishes.
“Everyone is experiencing this ‘new normal’ through their own personal prisms and it’s not for us to judge,” Pruitt continues. “All we can do is make a concerted effort to assuage and respond to what everyone’s unique needs are.”
114 E 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
The downtown restaurant by chef Neal Fraser currently offers three outdoor seating options (the rooftop courtyard, the garden, and the Vibiana courtyard) and their new reservation system Tock allows customers to reserve a table in whichever area suits their needs best. Redbird is serving dinner and happy hour Wednesday through Sunday, and brunch on the weekends.
7461 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
This new casual eatery from the owners of Melrose Umbrella Co. opened for outdoor dining and take out at the end of September. The menu by chef Juan Catalan features nine reasonably priced tacos ($3.50-$5.50) and a number of plant-based options, as well as burritos, quesadillas, tamale and aguachiles.
The Window at Venice Beach
1827 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA 90291
The casual burger stand attached to Venice’s American Beauty is a Westside favorite. The Window has opened a second location on the Venice boardwalk with a seven-item menu, all priced under $10, featuring all the classics, plus an impossible burger to satisfy plant-based customers. The new location has also expanded its ice cream offerings to supply customers with the perfect beach day treat.