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Orange County Approves Restaurant Reopenings During Busy Memorial Day Weekend

The populous county to the south will once again let customers eat inside. But what about Los Angeles?

Painting window signa at Gunthers
A sign painter in Orange County
Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Orange County became the latest Southern California county to reopen its retail and in-restaurant dining rooms, after passing the state’s coronavirus outbreak benchmarks set by governor Gavin Newsom. The announcement was made on Saturday at the height of the longer holiday weekend and after more than 130 new confirmed cases. Many restaurants have reopened for service today, less than a week after Santa Barbara, Ventura, Kern, and other counties also announced its own reopenings.

Many residents in Orange County have been protesting for a broader reopening for weeks now, particularly in tourist-heavy ocean-adjacent cities like Huntington Beach. The new announcements do come with more than a few caveats for diners and restaurant operators, including the mandated use of face coverings in public, increased safety protocols, and a push for more outdoor dining. Newport Beach is meeting today to consider an ordinance that would allow for expanded outdoor dining and drinking, as approved by the state’s alcohol control board.

Not everyone is comfortable with the speed of reopenings across California. Up in Santa Barbara, some big-name restaurants have continued to keep their dining rooms empty, pushing instead for increased takeout and delivery. Per the Orange County Register, this week’s reopening announcement doesn’t mean that every well-known restaurateur is going to throw open their doors; Amar Santana of Broadway and Vaca says that letting people into his dining rooms isn’t in his immediate future. “We are being very careful with the pandemic,” Santa told the Register. “It’s going to be hard to reopen. I just want to see how restaurants would be able to control the spread of virus... There are so many questions, We’d rather wait.”

As for a Los Angeles reopening, there is no timetable yet. County reps initially said that a broad reopening wouldn’t come until at least July 4, but they have since walked that back, saying that some limited reopenings (including restaurant dining rooms) could happen before then if certain criteria are met.