Some of our favorite new L.A. restaurants for outdoor dining

Four plates, each with a taco, at LA Cha Cha Cha
Tacos at downtown’s LA Cha Cha Chá
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Just over 50% of Californians are at least partially vaccinated, and COVID-19 cases across the state have decreased nearly 13% in the last week alone. Los Angeles entered the yellow reopening tier early this month. Dining out has returned in force. Tasting-menu restaurants are suddenly booked out two months in advance. The noontime lines again trail from nearly every truck serving tacos and mariscos along Olympic Boulevard in Boyle Heights.

Within this framework, columnist Jenn Harris and I compiled a springtime guide highlighting outdoor dining. Restaurants are welcoming customers back inside dining rooms with increased capacities; for some people takeout remains the most comfortable, safest option. Emphasizing restaurants with outside spaces felt like the soundest focus for us.

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It also made sense to approach our spring roundup as an analogue to the annual L.A. Times 101. Dozens of the defining restaurants listed in that project offer outdoor dining, so for this guide, we focused on new places across the L.A. Metro area as well as the occasional under-the-radar favorite — 3-year-old Kalinka in Glendale, for example, which some Russian friends suggested. Four of us ordered a spread of zakuski (pickled vegetables, pelmeni, dilled veal tongue and the Soviet-era salad famously nicknamed “herring under a fur coat”) plus a beef Stroganoff, rich but not swimming in cream, that rewired my ideas of the dish.

Outdoor patio at Nativo
The patio at Nativo in Highland Park.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

The sometimes out-of-body experience of returning to restaurants as we continue to navigate a pandemic leaves the sweet moments extra vivid in my memory. I’m thinking of glancing up at the Frida Kahlo mural above me at Nativo in Highland Park where I polished off a chile relleno, all lightness and balance, in about six bites. And the pleasure Jenn and I took together at the interwoven Brazilian and Italian flavors at Nossa in Los Feliz (surprise hit of the night: chicken lasagna). And laughing over the wit of the purple “jelly corn” at Chifa in Eagle Rock, molded into the shape of a cob, sprinkled with real corn nibs for chewy contrast and finished with a sanguine syrup made of the traditional Peruvian corn-based drink chicha morada.


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The Los Angeles Times Food Bowl Returns

Los Angeles Times Food Bowl returns in June with a series of online events and celebrations. Announced events include a panel on women in food led by Jenn Harris and, in commemoration of Juneteenth, an exploration of Black foodways hosted by newly arrived Times reporter Donovan X. Ramsey.

Also coming this weekend: We’re announcing the 2021 recipients of the Restaurant of the Year and the Gold Award, with details around the Food Bowl dinner events that will honor them.

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Some big news from Stephanie Breijo on one of the anchors of L.A. dining: Genet Agonafer has decided to transition her beloved restaurant Meals by Genet to takeout only permanently, opening her dining room only for private events. Agonafer’s cooking provided some of the most sustaining meals during some of my darkest days in the shutdown. I’m so glad we can still savor her doro wat and vegetable platters in our homes.

Stephanie also has a fantastic feature on Crown & Hops Brewing Company in Inglewood: Founders Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter discuss creating a Black-owned brewery and also, through partnerships with musicians and artists and designers, building a fresh sense of community.

Will a new Chinatown location of 86-year-old taqueria Cielito Lindo help the Olvera Street original survive? Stephanie talks with the family behind the legacy.

As bars welcome back diners, a question emerges: Will to-go cocktails become a permanent, legal thing in California?

And finally, behold: Lucas Kwan Peterson gives us the Official Pasta Sauce Power Rankings.

Colorful jars of pasta sauce
(Illustration by Jiaqi Wang / For the Times)