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LA’s Battered Dining Scene Hopes for a Shot in the Arm With DineLA Restaurant Week

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Over 300 restaurants are participating in the semi-annual event to get diners out and eating again

Fried fish with waffles fries under checkered paper basket on a white table.
Fried catfish at Delicious at the Dunbar in South LA
Matthew Kang

With the restaurant industry ravaged by the pandemic and its meandering cycle of closures, reopenings, and limited capacities, something like dineLA seems like a pipe dream right now. But LA’s semi-annual restaurant week is back in action starting next Tuesday in an effort to get diners out supporting their local restaurants. DineLA organizers were keen on making certain adjustments for the current environment, noting specifically which restaurants are offering outdoor seating (which they’re calling “on-site dining”), and which others also have takeout and delivery menus.

Like any restaurant week, the goal is to provide an extra bit of value in an effort to potential new customers by preparing multi-course meals at a discount from normal prices. The idea of asking restaurants to shave off valuable revenue when so many restaurants are either closed or on the verge of closing might seem counter intuitive. But the combined awareness of knowing which places are open, following protocols to the best of their ability, and serving the public while so many have closed temporarily or permanently, could be worth the cost to operators. The shot in the arm of having people willing to leave their homes to sit in outdoor areas or pickup big takeout meals seems like a worthwhile gamble for restaurants.

Usually dineLA encompasses about 400 restaurants, so it was surprising to director Stacey Sun when around 300 restaurants offered to participate this time around. “I think these are challenging times for restaurants, which have been hugely affected [by the pandemic],” says Sun. “I’m pleasantly surprised that we have so many participating.” Sun met with a group of local chefs and restaurateurs to gauge interest in even doing dineLA right now. With programs like LA Al Fresco supporting an expansion of outdoor dining into parking lots, sidewalks, and other unconventional spaces, dineLA’s July event was pushed to early September, adding three more days to the standard two-week duration.

Sun thinks one of the main benefits of dineLA is that people can find an easy resource on which restaurants are open (with a handy database of all 300 participating restaurants), what they’re serving, and a price breakdown of lunch or dinner options. The website cuts through the often confusing and inaccurate reports of opening hours, takeout, dine-in, and other facts that aren’t often updated on Google and Yelp. The options for takeout and delivery are also firsts for dineLA, giving diners options that fit their level of comfort.

Some highlights from this year’s event include M Grill, an expansive second-floor Brazilian barbecue in Koreatown that’s now taken over its parking lot with a covered tent and hanging lights. Its typical $64 dinner price will be $55 during dineLA, a nice bit of savings. Alta Adams in West Adams has both lunch and dinner menus at modest $25 and $45 prices (respectively), with all options of takeout, delivery, and dining in its outdoor patio. Delicious at the Dunbar serves soul food favorites in South LA’s historic Dunbar hotel, once the epicenter of Black culture in Los Angeles.

The higher price tier was another concern for organizers, as unemployment levels are at all-time highs in LA County and economic uncertainty hangs over a timid dining public. The $95 price level has been trimmed to a $65+, giving the perception of a lower starting point for LA’s most high-end places. But Crustacean’s dineLA offering still runs at $150 for its grand tasting menu, while Melisse and its sister restaurant Citrin are charging $99 for its on-site dining menu, a fair discount from its normal prices.

Some portion of the dining public might still be hesitant to go out again, so hopefully something like dineLA restaurant week is the chance to get a bit more traffic headed to LA’s battered restaurant scene. With solid options from low-to-high, the menus look more appealing than ever. DineLA starts on September 1 and runs through September 18.

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