dineL.A. spotlights Westside restaurants with outstanding outdoor dining

By Jacqueline Fitzgerald

Fia’s garden is an escape into a beautiful dining experience
Photo by Xavier Collins

Outdoor dining has always held an inherent charm but, in the time of COVID-19, it’s also a boon for restaurant owners looking to meet social distancing requirements and draw diners. While some venues already had patios, others are adapting their spaces.

The City of Los Angeles’ L.A. Al Fresco program, which was launched at the end of May and has been extended through the end of the year, supports restaurants impacted by COVID-19 as they create outdoor-dining options. Eligible restaurants can apply to expand dining areas and the city provides planters, barricades and umbrellas to use in newly permitted spaces. Similarly, the City of Santa Monica has extended the use of outdoor commercial spaces so that businesses can safely serve the community.

Also, this year’s iteration of dineL.A. is highlighting al fresco dining, takeout and delivery. Through Sept. 18, consumers can take advantage of budget-conscious offerings from nearly 300 restaurants. “We are deeply aware of the impact that COVID-19 has had,” says Stacey Sun, Executive Director of dineL.A. “We felt it was critical to reimagine dineL.A. [and] encourage diners to keep enjoying meals together even if it may not be within the structural walls of a restaurant.”

Made in the Shade in Santa Monica

At Mélisse + Citrin in Santa Monica (1104 Wilshire Blvd.), chef-owner Josiah Citrin and his team transformed their large parking lot into an outdoor garden lined with AstroTurf and decorated it with rugs, pots of lavender, olive trees and umbrellas.

Says Citrin, a two-star Michelin chef: “We pushed ourselves to find new ways to re-imagine our restaurants. It’s been great to see the new outdoor area bustling and I’m so thankful for all of the support – both from those dining in and from those who are taking advantage of our takeaway menus.”

If you visit during dineL.A., you’ll be tempted by truffle lobster risotto and pasta stuffed with braised short rib, to name a few.

Call (310) 395-0881 or visit citrinandmelisse.com to learn more.

To be sure, patio dining is practically an art form in Southern California. For example, FIG, at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel (101 Wilshire Blvd.), serves seasonal fare in an elegant setting. For dineL.A., you might choose to nosh on Kaluga caviar chips and dip, Pacific rockfish with romanesco sauce and, for dessert, coconut panna cotta.

Call (310) 319-3111 or visit figsantamonica.com

Another parking-lot transformation took place at Santa Monica’s Rustic Canyon (one Michelin star; 1119 Wilshire Blvd.), which still has three sidewalk tables out front. Huckleberry Bakery & Café (a sister restaurant at 1014 Wilshire Blvd.) added more spaced-out tables on the sidewalk.

Call Rustic Canyon at (310) 393-7050 or learn more at rusticcanyonrestaurant.com

Call Huckleberry at (310) 451-2311 or visit huckleberrycafe.com

Margo’s Santa Monica (1534 Montana Ave.) also boasts an outdoor patio. Executive Chef Devine “Dino” Johnson, who calls his grandmother his greatest cooking mentor, believes food should be fun and vibrant. A case in point, this combination from the dineL.A. menu: PEI mussels, Grandma Johnson’s grilled Jidori chicken with cilantro rice, brioche bread pudding and one free drink.

Call (310) 829-3990 or visit margossantamonica.com

At Fia’s garden (2454 Wilshire Blvd.), some tables were removed, while other elements were added: ivy, olive trees and a statue of St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardens, for whom Fia is named. The restaurant has pick-up only for dineL.A., but the garden is open for regular reservations. “I love that Mayor Garcetti is encouraging take away and delivery for dineL.A., during these extraordinary times,” says owner Michael Greco.

Call (424) 280-4196 or visit fiarestaurant.com

Take a Culinary Tour in Culver City’s Urban Outdoors

If you have a hankering for well, just about anything, head over to Culver City, where many restaurants have extended their outdoor seating. “It’s the new normal,” said a police officer on a recent Tuesday evening as the farmers’ market was closing down and eateries were ramping up for dinner.

On Main Street, Ms. Chi Café (3829 Main St., Culver City) is making use of the front patio. Dumplings, salt and pepper shrimp, orange chicken, tea smoked duck, and mouchi doughnuts are among Ms. Chi’s dineL.A. eats.

Call (424) 361-5225 or visit mschicafe.com

In LA, barbecue spots are few and far between, so we’re lucky to have a few in the vicinity. Maple Block Meat Co. (3973 Sepulveda Blvd.), which had a patio before COVID-19 hit, has a hearty special for dineL.A. The dinner menu gives you a choice of two wood-smoked meats, two sides, plus a smoked chocolate chip cookie.

Call (310) 313-6328 or visit mapleblockmeat.com

Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ (6000 Sepulveda Blvd.), where a fire lane was converted into a seating area with sidewalk tables, is known for authentic Southern barbecue cooked low and slow, and smoked in-house with hickory wood. And don’t forget Lucille’s onion straws and fried dill pickles!

Call (310) 390-1227 or visit lucillesbbq.com

You’ll find more meat plus a lot of fish at Lonzo’s (10804 W. Washington Blvd.), a small spot with a huge menu. The dineL.A. offerings will help whittle down your choices. Try Peruvian paella or lomo saltado (starring filet mignon).

Call (310) 842-7876 or visit lonzosrestaurant.com

Family recipes are the focus at Pasta Sisters (3280 Helms Ave.) and tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce is one of the most popular dishes. Because Helms Avenue is a private street, it was natural to spread tables out, so there is plenty of space for a safe, relaxing visit.

Call (424) 603-4503 or visit pastasisters.com

Eat Clean or Indulge in Venice, the Playas or Westchester

In Venice, Plant Food + Wine (1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd.) is part of Matthew Kenney Cuisine, which spotlights minimally processed plant-based cuisine and operates 40 restaurants worldwide. On the recently renovated patio, guests might opt for this dineL.A. dinner combination: sweet corn soup, raw zucchini and carrot spaghetti with pistachio, sundried tomato and macadamia ricotta, followed by banana cream pie.

Call (310) 450-1009 or visit matthewkenneycuisine.com/plant-food-wine-venice

Urban Plates (12746-3 Jefferson Blvd.), purveyors of “wholesome, clean food at an affordable price,” have spacious patios at all 19 locations. “At Playa Vista, the patio has been a huge asset and we’ve also expanded it beyond the original space, adding additional tables,” says Steve Greer, chief marketing officer.

Call (424) 256-7274 or visit urbanplates.com

In Playa del Rey, Playa Provisions (four restaurant concepts in one 7,000 square foot, beachside location at 119 Culver Blvd.) reconfigured part of the front parking area into a fully built-out second patio, featuring AstroTurf, spaced-out tables, umbrellas and picnic space.

“Our goal is to give people the same quality dining experience that they would get inside,” says chef and co-ower Brooke Williamson.

An added enticement: Williamson has teamed up for the second time with The Bruery (a craft brewery in Orange County) to produce a trio of beers that pair well with food: the Vine (a beer-wine hybrid), the Berry, and the Spice, a thyme-spiced imperial stout. (See page 13 for more details.)

Those under 21 (and kids at heart), can also enjoy a rotating selection of sweet treats at Provisions’ ice cream counter, Small Batch. Pop in for a frozen Choco Taco treat, a unicorn-inspired “Unicone” (an inverted waffle cone filled with ice cream, dipped in white chocolate, and ringed with colorful sprinkles and stars) or a Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding Pop. The variety is wide and full of surprises.

Call (310) 683-5019 or visit playaprovisions.com

For a side order of nostalgia, you won’t go wrong at Westchester’s Melody Bar & Grill (9132 S. Sepulveda Blvd.), which opened in 1952 and has reinvented itself a few times since. Most recently, the parking lot has been turned into a patio with a redwood gate, lattice dividers, sun shades, café lights and plants. “We’ve had a great response from the community and they feel safe,” says chef and co-owner Christian Warren.

This is Melody’s first time participating in dineL.A. Entrée choices include: a steak burger, barbecue pork sandwich, baby back ribs, skirt steak, chicken piccata, fish & chips, plus salads and two vegan options. One beer or glass of wine is included as well.

Call (310) 670-1994 or visit melodaylax.com

Argonaut Managing Editor Christina Campodonico contributed to this story.