Remember ambience? It’s back!
Photo by Jesús Bañuelos, courtesy of Theía
With a dramatic drop in COVID cases, expanded eligibility for vaccines, and the orange tier on the horizon, many Los Angeles restaurants are inviting guests back to their indoor dining rooms for the first time in over a year. LA County is currently in the red tier, which indicates substantial spread of the virus and allows for some non-essential indoor businesses to open with modifications, including indoor dining at 25% capacity. This is not just good news for diners who are eager to immerse themselves in the full restaurant atmosphere, but for restaurateurs and their workers who have been caught in an unpredictable game of back and forth as restrictions have fluctuated.
Those seesawing guidelines are why some restaurant owners are choosing to hold off on indoor dining for the moment, especially since longer days, warmer weather, and greater capacity for seating (50%) make outdoor dining an attractive option as we head into summer (not to mention that many guests and workers are still squeamish about the risks of indoor).
Jon Yao, owner of the Taiwanese restaurant Kato, is in no rush to reopen his indoor dining room, saying, “We’re waiting for our team to be fully vaccinated and we want to implement safety protocols so that diners feel fully at ease. So however long that takes. Safety for both staff and diners is our primary concern.”
For restaurants with limited indoor seating or space, adhering to the requirement of spacing tables at least eight feet from each other could prove near-impossible. Hayato owner Brandon Go is tentatively planning on reopening his dining room in the summer. He says, “Due to the small size of Hayato and because most of our seating is at a shared counter, social distancing in the restaurant is not possible. It seems likely that we will have to wait until at least June to start taking dinner reservations again. Our main priority is the safety of our staff and customers, and we have been fortunate to have come this far without incident. Getting our entire staff vaccinated, and making sure guests feel completely safe when they visit is more important to me than rushing the last few weeks of this process. But we are getting close!”
These days it’s tempting to hold onto whatever small ray of hope we can, and with all of the positive progress we’ve made in this pandemic, it’s easy to forget that we aren’t out of the woods yet. So for those who decide to venture back into their favorite restaurants’ dining rooms, be sure to adhere to the latest guidance: only dine with people you share a household with and be sure to wear your mask when you aren’t eating, drinking, or any time a restaurant staff member approaches your table.
Here are ten LA restaurants that you can now support with indoor dining:
With an Italian menu that takes inspiration from chef Steve Samson’s childhood summers spent in Bologna, it’s easy to forget that you’re dining in the middle of DTLA. All of the pasta is handmade daily, and a generous list of Italian wines offers plenty of pairing options for a true Bolognese experience. The restaurant’s spacious dining room with high ceilings and an abundance of windowed doors that remain open during restaurant hours offer reassurance to diners seated inside, and their expansive covered patio is so well-built that you might temporarily forget you’re eating outdoors.
According to partner Hans Luttman, “A hallmark in the design of Rossoblu has always been a spatial flow that incorporates our inside dining room with our outdoor garden spaces. Even pre-pandemic, we always felt best when we could connect these spaces by opening all of our front doors, of which we have plenty. This latest development now allows us to seat indoors with a very limited capacity and with plenty of space inside. We already have loyal guests requesting to sit inside and others requesting outside only. We are slowly adapting to this new scenario and making sure that we keep our team safe while also giving our guests choices that align with the rules.”
How to book: via Opentable.
One of our favorite women-owned restaurants in LA, Gasolina Cafe specializes in from-scratch, sustainably-sourced Spanish cuisine. Their beverage menu features a red sangria, market juice mimosa with blood orange or cara cara, a cava cocktail with pomegranate and rose, Spanish wines and beer labels, and they also offer a full coffee menu with a honey lavender latte that’s guaranteed to fuel your day. The all-day cafe will soon be expanding to include dinner service, which you’ll be able to enjoy on their patio or inside their dining room. Fingers crossed that they’ll be giving their paella a permanent spot on the dinner menu.
Owner Sandra Cisnero welcomes the changes, saying, “It’s been lovely to have the restaurant be a true restaurant again—hearing laughter, babies crying, and chatter in the dining room felt exciting, like there’s light at the end of the tunnel and we’re getting sort of back to normal. We discussed this with staff and most have been or are getting vaccinated, which makes us all feel comfortable to welcome guests back inside.”
How to book: Walk-ins accepted on a first-come, first served basis. Reservations for Easter brunch via Tock.
Gone are the days of hovering over a bowl of ramen and attempting to guard its heat from wayward winds on a restaurant patio or attempting to assemble a ramen bowl at home. This Okinawan-driven ramen spot is known for their tonkotsu with sharp black garlic that comes through in each spoonful, but also offers an array of rice bowls and sushi rolls to round out their menu. We never thought that we’d actually look forward to overhearing other diners loudly slurping down bowls of ramen and yet here we are.
Thankfully, owner Sarah Kim also shares this sentiment. She says, “We are so happy to hear the hum of customers dining and enjoying themselves in the restaurant again. The extra safety protocols absolutely make our staff feel protected and, though our seating is limited, I’m happy to be able to take care of our guests again inside our little ramen shop. I feel super optimistic about the future ahead with how respectful of the safety guidelines our diners have been.”
How to book: Walk-ins accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.
Tar & Roses has bounced back from a kitchen fire that required six months of renovation, significant damage following the June 2020 unrest, PLUS pandemic shutdowns. But you’d never know it upon tasting one of their sumptuous oxtail dumplings, or their lick-your-fingers-good balsamic glazed ribs, or their perfectly crispy whole-fried snapper… You get the idea. Though on the smaller side, Tar & Roses’ indoor space is ready to welcome diners again, and they also have a partially covered patio that’s perfect for escaping those chilly Santa Monica evenings.
Chef/owner Andrew Kirschner says, “We miss having a full restaurant, where we can offer guests the kind of hospitality we are known for. As the restrictions loosen, and our staff continues to receive their vaccines, we are excited to safely seat guests indoors once again. Our adherence to safety measures and table distancing guidelines make our staff and guests feel comfortable and at ease, and if you close your eyes it almost feels like 2019 again. Things are looking up, and we are hopeful that we things are moving in the right direction.”
How to book: via OpenTable.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the return of in-person dining is the opportunity to try LA’s newest restaurants. Theia will be serving guests indoors for the first time since opening last summer, and if there’s anything Angelenos love, it’s the opportunity to be a trendsetter. The menu is Greek-inspired, with a mezze selection of small dishes that are meant to be shared, plus larger plates like a smoky Colorado rack of lamb and truffled moussaka.
Owner Max Simon says, “Since Theía opened during the pandemic in August 2020, we have only served guests as an outdoor dining restaurant. We are beyond excited to finally be able to welcome our guests indoors. The main focus for us has always been ambiance and creating memorable moments for anyone dining with us, so we can’t wait for our guests to experience the vibe of the restaurant as it was intended!”
How to book: via OpenTable.
The pandemic has made it clear that some restaurant experiences simply cannot be replicated in a to-go format, with Brentwood’s high-end steakhouse Baltaire being a prime example. For those who prefer to skip the red meat, Baltaire has plenty of seafood and lighter options, including a small caviar menu. With high ceilings, gold accents, and floor-to-ceiling windows that give way to a gorgeous outdoor terrace, Baltaire’s dining room acts as the perfect re-introduction to indoor dining.
Executive chef Travis Strickland says, “We’re very excited to begin to safely allow guests back into our spacious and inviting dining room. We’re lucky to continue to have an expansive and amazing terrace/courtyard which has allowed us to welcome our guests in an outdoor only environment and now with a small relaxing of restrictions, our dining room is ready for a safely distanced indoor dining experience again.”
How to book: via OpenTable.
For a casually refined beachside dining experience, it doesn’t get much better than Love & Salt, named after the two ingredients necessary to cooking. The menu draws flavors from Italian cuisine as well as California’s coast, with wood-fired pizzas, classic pasta dishes, and notable main courses like salt spring mussels with Calabrian sausage, braised leeks, and chickpeas served with a side of fried bread.
Owner Sylvie Gabriele welcomes the shift to indoor dining, but doesn’t expect it to be smooth sailing from here on out. She says, “We’ve opened indoor dining at 25% as of St. Patrick’s Day. We’ve been incredibly busy. People ask me, ‘Aren’t you excited?’ I can’t say that’s how I feel. I am happy that we are making great progress with reducing the spread and the cases so dramatically in Los Angeles. I feel really great about that.
“Yet, restaurants have a lot to work on before feeling recovered. We have been working through a spontaneously changing landscape requiring us to make major shifts in what we do for the last year. Restaurants face some major everyday challenges with staffing issues, increased mandates and business paperwork. Plus, we have to find a way to keep our outdoor dining going because we cannot afford to lose it as dining opens up gradually. There is a lot going on and the battle is far from over for us.”
How to book: via the restaurant’s website.
Rather than be flexible to unpredictable restrictions, some restaurants opted to remain closed over the winter, wait for COVID cases to drop, and innovate future offerings in the meantime. Located inside of Santa Monica’s Proper Hotel, Palma chose to take this route, and has just reopened reservations for their dining room. Chunky wood furniture, comfy beige sectionals, and lush palm trees invoke a relaxing beach atmosphere, with plenty of cozy nooks ideal for distancing yourself from other diners. Plus, the restaurant is debuting a new Cal-Italian menu with comforting, produce-driven plates like lamb meatballs, truffle parmesan fries, an assortment of flatbreads, and a short rib agnolotti pasta. Their beverage menu has a similar theme, featuring classic cocktails jazzed up with fresh herbs and fruit juices, along with a small wine and beer selection and a sizable spirits list.
Michael Davis, VP of Proper Hospitality’s Food & Beverage Operations, says, “We’ve embraced the challenges and have ultimately become smarter and more creative due to the hurdles and obstacles the pandemic presented. We have leveraged technology whenever possible without losing the personalized guest experience. We are thrilled to have indoor dining back and as we move into less restrictive tiers, we will continue to expand and evolve our dining operations, activations, and guest experiences.”
How to book: via Opentable.
Your new(ish) favorite date spot on the East side, Eszett features an evolving, chef-driven menu with flavors from all over the world. Don’t let their location inside of a strip mall fool you (as all of LA’s best restaurants seem to be), once inside, diners will be awed by a pastel palette with cozy teal booth seating complete with pillows and bar stools that wrap around an L-shaped marble counter. The wine list dedicates equal space to small California and Austrian producers, plus a few beers from Highland Park Brewery and a lager from Salzburg, Austria. Whatever you do, save room for the basque cheesecake with seasonal stewed fruit.
How to book: via Resy.
Just reopened for indoor dining as of March 25, Sushi Note is most beloved for their omakase and wine pairing program, an experience that, though we might try, just can’t be fully replicated at home. But if you prefer a simpler dining experience, the restaurant has plenty of starters, rolls and biscottis (rolls with crispy rice), wild-caught sushi and sashimi specials, or you could opt for the Half Note, a sushi sampler with edamame and miso soup, plus albacore, salmon sushi, yellowtail, halibut, and other various handrolls for $60.
How to book: via Tock.