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Did Closing Outdoor Dining Slow LA’s Surge? Some Experts Say Yes

Plus, La Brea’s historic Firestone Building is up and running again, and Naemo’s new banchan plan in Koreatown

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Outdoor seating at Broad Street Oyster Company in Malibu
Diners eat at a picnic table outside
Matthew Kang

Throughout the entirety of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders and lockdowns, one big question has plagued public health officials, restaurant owners, and diners alike: How much of LA’s COVID-19 caseload can be traced specifically to on-site dining of some kind, either indoor or out? Lawsuits have been filed over this question; a recall effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom is underway, hinging in part on the very same unknown.

As Eater has previously discussed, firm causal data that definitively links on-site dining to a rise in area cases is hard to come by (if not impossible), in part because it’s so difficult — at least in America — to contact trace this airborne virus, particularly when people are allowed to go other places and do other things beyond visiting a restaurant. This is not Beijing, China, where mandatory QR code scanning tracks customers from cab to restaurant to shopping center and back home.

So is LA’s recent large-scale reduction in COVID-19 cases a result, at least in part, of the loss of outdoor dining, and with it friendly but unmasked non-household gathering? The LA Times says yes. First, the recent stay at home order dropped area travel by 40 percent, to May 2020 levels, meaning less transmission overall. Second, the paper interviewed multiple epidemiologists who say that on-site dining only became more problematic with stronger coronavirus variants floating around, and with winter chills leading restaurants to erect more robust outdoor dining setups that restricted airflow. Add in the necessities of unmasked eating, they say, and “waiting too long to act” on restricting outdoor dining “could have resulted in far more deaths.”

Not everyone is convinced, of course, because lots of direct and firm data to support the closures simply doesn’t exist. California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly has previously said that highly detailed specifics about virus transmission “usually takes years to figure out,” so LA may not get a more clear answer for quite some time, if ever.

In other news:

  • All Season Brewing is now open in the historic Firestone building on La Brea, just south of Wilshire. The long-awaited property received a full makeover from the Pouring With Heart team, and has been quietly serving customers for more than a week. This Saturday, roving pop-up Yellow Paper Burger is on to cook.
  • E.P./L.P. in West Hollywood has lost its executive chef Sabel Braganza. The restaurant is still closed as a result of the ongoing pandemic, but ownership tells Eater that the plan is to move the menu into a more European/American direction once indoor dining is allowed again in LA County; Braganza has moved into the private chef world.
  • The Griddle Cafe is reopening tomorrow at its ongoing pop-up site Yamashiro in Hollywood. Expect pancakes, celebrity sightings, and more.
  • West Hollywood’s Fellow Traveler Wine Bar is offering a monthlong collection of bottles from Black-run wineries across the globe. The three-pack runs $100 and includes wines from California and South Africa.
  • Westside Korean pop-up Naemo has partnered with Koreatown’s Hanchic this month on the second iteration of its dosirak meals. The $95 meal feeds two and comes with rice and soup, as well as a mix plenty of cold and hot barchan. Orders are available now, and run through February 20.
  • Check out this great new zine made by the folks from LA food podcast the Menu. It’s called Sup Sap, a Turkish onomatopoeia that encompasses the act of eating, and chronicles the intersection of food and personal perspective. Each copy costs $15, with a portion going to No Us Without You.

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