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LA’s Vibrant Outdoor Dining Setups Could Be in Serious Jeopardy

Plus, a Super Bowl Sunday barbecue special, a Koreatown bakery closure, and more

Diners and server at an outdoor dining area
Server tending to an outdoor dining area in Glendale.
Matthew Kang
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

Pandemic-era outdoor dining program LA Al Fresco is likely becoming a permanent part of the city’s restaurant landscape, but as the Los Angeles Times reports, it’s not without its fair share of controversy — or possible pain for small business owners. New Al Fresco rules are being voted on today, Wednesday, February 8, that would not only remove the relaxed outdoor dining emergency orders set up under previous mayor Eric Garcetti at the height of the pandemic, it also likely means that restaurants with outdoor dining will have to reapply under a new, more expensive permanent program. As the Times notes, that process could lead to lots of additional red tape for small businesses and the enforcement of conditional use permits that previously didn’t apply. In short: The program that essentially helped to save many restaurants during the pandemic would become something of a financial and operational burden, and many restaurant owners aren’t happy.

Until now restaurants were not required to have an additional conditional use permit to serve alcohol in their new outdoor dining areas. But going forward, restaurants will have to get a permit to serve alcohol in those spaces, a process that could cost tens of thousands of dollars in fees and consulting — and that’s before also dealing with permits and fees for already-constructed sidewalk and streetside patio spaces. In some cases, the permanent program might require many existing outdoor dining areas to be torn down and fully rebuilt, at the restaurant’s cost. Given the challenge of operating in this environment and the already numerous (and seemingly sudden) closures around Los Angeles lately, this new reality could jeopardize many beloved restaurants that rely on income from outdoor dining, like Anajak Thai, the alleyway hangout in the Valley that is currently the Times’ restaurant of the year.

Super Bowl barbecue times

Barbecue, ribs, sliders, and more from Slab.
Barbecue, ribs, sliders, and more from Slab.

Slab Barbecue is serving handy and reasonably priced barbecue packages for the big game on Sunday, including a $300 Half Time package that serves 20 people with barbecue or smoked wings, jalapeno cheddar sausages, brisket, ribs, sides, and more. A larger Lombardi Trophy package feeds 30 people for $400. There are smaller snack packs for smaller parties or groups that just want to have a few bites, including ribs, sliders, hot dogs, chili, and of course, wings. Reserve at least 24 hours ahead here.

Johnny Lee of Pearl River Deli explains the Chinatown closure

This week on KCRW, chef Johnny Lee goes into detail over the coming closure and reformatting of Pearl River Deli in Chinatown. Lee explains that even a critically-acclaimed restaurant could be financially unsustainable, adding that the differences in what the customers wanted and what his team wanted to cook was a constant struggle. The business also found it difficult to pay truly living wages to staff without raising its prices precipitously under its current model. More at KCRW.

A closure of a pandemic bakery in Koreatown

Mil Bakery, which was part of In Hospitality’s restaurant group (which includes Hanchic, Chimelier, and Kinn), has permanently closed. Pastry chef Jiyoon Jang created beautiful cookies, breads, and other pastries with Korean flavors inside the All Good Things shop with pop-ups spread across the Southland, and is now going back to operating as a pop-up home baker for a time.