Much like our relationship with our mom, the East side of LA is hard to define. Where does it start? Where does it end? Are there any boundaries? Shouldn’t there be at least some? For now, we’re less interested in answering all of those questions (that’s why we have therapy every Tuesday), and would rather focus on what we do know - that this side of town is home to some of the best restaurant patios in the city. Sure, you won’t get the glitz and salty air of being near the ocean, but you’ll find plenty of incredible outdoor spaces in converted bungalows, atop rooftops, and in former Rush Hour (1998) set pieces. Here’s a guide to all of them - the best patios on the Eastside and Downtown.
One of the oldest restaurants in the city, this giant cottage in Atwater Village is where we fantasize Maisie Williams returning to when she’s not on the awards circuit or being amazing at TikTok. They’ve managed to retain that same, vaguely European and deeply celebratory atmosphere with their patio situation outside - a massive gathering involving multiple tents, cobblestone paths, and teacups filled to the brim with gin. Make sure to order what they’re best at - the kind of hearty pub fare that you didn’t know existed in LA, from a funky, creamy cheddar rarebit to two-pound hunks of prime rib.
Ascending up the escalator to Lao Tao’s location in the Far East Plaza is like what we imagine entering heaven feels like - that is, if heaven just happens to serve incredible Taiwanese dishes. The affordable street food restaurant has taken over the second floor of the Chinatown plaza - and there aren’t any other restaurants up there, so the space is surprisingly quiet and serene. You’ll be able to enjoy everything from beef ban mien noodle soup to extra-crispy popcorn chicken in a colorful, open air space that, on its best day, feels like you’ve discovered a new wonder of the world, or some deleted scene from Alan Yang’s Tigertail.
photo credit: Andrea D'Agosto
LA Cha Cha Chá
Located on an expansive rooftop in the Arts District, this colorful Mexican restaurant somehow manages to hit that perfect Venn diagram of fun, casual, and downright gorgeous. In other words, this is where you come when you want LA to look like a million bucks - a.k.a. the city you thought you’d live in after watching La La Land or something - but without trying too hard in the process. It’s the kind of place where you can swing by with a few friends for some mezcal cocktails and tuna tostadas, hit a romantic date night out of the ballpark, or show off to someone who you’re trying to desperately convince to move to LA.
Bar Restaurant is permanently closed
One of our favorite restaurants from 2019, Bar Restaurant is the perfect place for birthdays, first dates, or hanging with friends - and probably the worst restaurant in LA for those who work with SEO. The experimental French restaurant has completely transformed their outdoor patio in Silver Lake, where you’ll find tons of string lights, properly spaced out tables, and excellent platters of cured ham and moules frites.
Gamboge is permanently closed
photo credit: Jakob Layman
If you’re looking to break out of your usual Sweetgreen + daily daydream about leaving the big city and starting a new life in the countryside routine, may we suggest Gamboge? The Lincoln Heights Cambodian restaurant makes outdoor dining feel easy - just place your order at the window, then make your way to their beautiful, serene patio out back. There’s hardly a bad dish on the menu here, but our favorites include the grilled pork shoulder numpang sandwich, bright-pink Kmher salad filled with shredded chicken, cabbage, and fried shallots, and a simple braised tomato and sardine dish that comes with a properly crusty baguette that we dream about on a near-daily basis.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Spoke Bicycle Cafe
Spoke Bicycle is part cafe, part bicycle repair shop, and the most Eastside place that’s ever existed. But don’t get it twisted - this is not the place where you’ll find wasted bros taking shots or people dancing with themselves. With their big, metallic covered patio, their space looks like it was ripped from an industrial interior design dream board. You come to Spoke to sit around with your friends and discuss the outline for your fracking documentary, eat a fantastic veggie burger, and drink lots of wine and beer. Afterwards, rent a bike and head down the bike path.
The Arts District restaurant (located right across the pathway from Bestia) isn’t casual by any means - you’ll definitely need to get a reservation, like, now, and be prepared to drop a few dollar signs. But the planning is well worth it. The outdoor tented patio is a modern mix of concrete walls and jungle-like plant arrangements that’ll make you feel like you’re in a less stressful, non-dystopian version of Maze Runner. The menu is filled with Mexican dishes, many of which are borrowed from the chef’s other restaurants, Cosme in NYC and Mexico City’s Pujol, including smoked clams with cucumbers, fish tempura tacos, and an extra-smoky pescado a la brasa served with tortillas. All in all, this is a great place to show your friends that you’re still the nice and normal person they remember from a year ago, and definitely didn’t spend all of 2020 becoming one with your bed.
Located in a converted bungalow in Virgil Village, this neighborhood wine bar has everything you like about your apartment (huge windows, cozy atmosphere) and none of the things you don’t (poor wifi connection, unwashed dishes in the sink, nosy neighbors who feel way too comfortable knocking on your door). In addition to tables on their wraparound patio, their outdoor courtyard is one of the most romantic in the books - think big, comfy couches, lanterns overhead, and an evening light that’s so flattering, you run the risk of having anyone sitting across from you falling in love. Even if that means you, checking your reflection on your phone.
Casita del Campo
If you’ve missed Casita’s del Campo’s warm, neighborhood atmosphere and strong margaritas as much as we have (in other words, like, so much), we have some good news for you - the classic Silver Lake restaurant is back with not just one, but three of our favorite patios in town. All the tables at this historic, gay institution are meticulously spaced out, there are string lights hanging everywhere, and tons of umbrellas for shade. In other words, the ideal atmosphere for drinking one too many birthday margaritas with your friends and eating giant plates of sizzling fajitas.
Little Pine Restaurant
You don’t go to Little Pine for the food - between meatless sausages, buffalo cauliflower, and vegetable ravioli, it’s the kind of standard, better-than-most plant-based food that’s become ubiquitous in LA. You come here for the ultra-cute patio, covered in turf, string lights, and spacious picnic tables. For a second, you might feel like you’re in Muir Woods, or that Lena Dunham show that looked fun, but we never ended up watching because it also looked slightly insufferable. In other words - this is a casual spot to catch up with friends, or pretend like you’re in the wilderness while never leaving Rowena Ave.
Foo Chow Restaurant
Not all restaurants can say they served as a set piece in Rush Hour (or paint that fact onto the side of their building), but not every restaurant is Foo Chow. Located on Hill St., this Chinatown restaurant has had star power from the 1990’s - but unlike most big shots from that era, theirs hasn’t dimmed a single watt. They’ve added a beautiful al fresco patio to their courtyard, where you’ll eat Chinese favorites like sweet & sour fish and wonton soup in the shadow of their large, jade green building and beneath a million swaying red paper lanterns.
Lady Byrd Cafe
In what might just be the most oxygen-rich set-up in town, Lady Byrd Cafe has placed plant-filled greenhouses around every table, ensuring maximum English garden aesthetics. Couple that with a menu that includes breakfast burritos, bolognese, and fresh green juices, and this new all-day cafe in Echo Park might just be as good of an al fresco dining situation as you’ll find. Who knows? All of that exposure to greenery might even clear up any cases of moderate-to-severe adult acne, or finally make you understand what they mean by “one with nature.”
photo credit: Holly Liss
We know that nature must be healing, because Salazar has finally reopened their incredible patio. One could argue that this entirely outdoor Mexican BBQ restaurant in Frogtown was created solely with birthday dinners in mind. Long communal tables, a family-style shared menu, and excellent cocktails guarantee that no matter what group you roll in with, you’re in for a good time. Plus, the fact that it’s all outdoors also guarantees that you won’t be stuck in a sweaty booth all night. Order everything that comes with housemade tortillas.
Broken Shaker sits at the very top of the Freehand Hotel Downtown and offers all the requisite things you need for a good day at the pool - good drinks, unobstructed views, and animal floaties that will garner tons of traction on your personal socials. And between the group of college students getting day drunk next to you and the California sun hitting your face in a way you forgot was possible, you’ll be transported to a better, easier time. When your only problems were trying to get a better summer tan and convincing your friends not to go to The Bungalow.
Of course Bavel is on this list. Almost no guide with the words “Greatest of Downtown LA” in the title is complete without this impressive Arts District restaurant. Between their idyllic outdoor patio, shaded by a grove of trees, giant wooden tables full of duck ’nduja hummus and lamb neck shawarma, and that fact that you’ll likely see someone like Miguel here (we know we did) - a meal at Bavel still feels like the well-oiled machine it did a year ago. Which, of course, means it’s just as popular as ever, so plan a few weeks ahead, and make sure to book a reservation.