Eater SF had already sent out our 2020 retrospective survey – a series of questions to the makers and shakers of the Bay Area food industry – when news broke that the al fresco dining the region had been enjoying for several months was would be closed COVID-19 case rates skyrocketed. That was one of the questions we asked, “Which restaurant was your favorite dining or outdoor experience?” an instant relic.
Now that al fresco dining is open again all over the bay, this is a good time to revisit these 2020 tips. Keep in mind that due to the winter cold and rain, many restaurants are slowly returning to al fresco dining. Before heading out to eat, check the restaurant’s Instagram or give them a call to make sure they have seating for customers – just because they were in late 2020 doesn’t mean they’ll be fully open again to have.
Please do not understand this article as a comprehensive recommendation for seated eating as there are still safety concerns. Studies show that COVID-19 infection rates are lower when doing outdoor activities, but the risk of eating outside depends on restaurants and their customers who adhere to strict social distancing, face covering and other safety guidelines.
The restaurant in Lower Polk Plaza, which is monitored by the vermouth bar The Lopowas a bit magical. On the closed section of Austin Alley, there were a number of restaurants in the area including the Grubstake, Batter Bakery, and Kasa. But it’s El Lopo’s Daniel Azarkman who ran the show, dropping real glass glasses of water on every table regardless of whose food you ate, and keeping an eye on every customer to make sure they had everything they needed. The cafe style seating was well spaced and most importantly facing the same direction, giving guests plenty of time to mask themselves as their server approached. At night, when the dishes were lit and the lights danced on the walls of the alley, it was so inviting that you could almost forget that we ate outside because we had to, not because we wanted to. – Eater SF editor Eve Batey
My food at the morris was just wonderful. They communicated everything in advance in such a way that they felt they had the safety of everyone (especially that of their employees!) In mind. It was also nicely distributed without feeling uncomfortable. The food and wine were of course excellent too. I almost felt like a real person in a restaurant again. – SF Chronicle Senior Features Editor (Food, Travel, and Magazines) Serena Dai
i really like Good to eat dumplings At Jack London, their facility is perfect for pandemic times as you order the beer and food separately in advance and then pick it up when it’s ready. Old Pattern Brewing has some great beers and my favorite dumpling is the chicken and basil. – Chef, activist and author Preeti Mistry
It’s hard to beat Central kitchen – This beautiful courtyard was worth planning around in advance. And I love the garden chairs circling around an outside television showing sports (sports!) Flanahan. – San Francisco-based food writer Lauren Sloss
Gran Electrica transformed planters into picnic beds! The yurt village in Charter oak is just adorable. – Napa Food Writer Jess Lander
Here I have to admit that nine months after this pandemic I haven’t really eaten outdoors! There was a steady stream of snacks, delivery, and home cooking in the Tsai household. But I was so grateful to the cute owner of Firmly, a small Filipino home cooked place in San Leandro that pulled a single table outside so my girls could have a place to sit and pick by their halo halo while we waited for our take away order. – Eater SF Food Editor Luke Tsai
The Morris is the only “nice” restaurant I’ve had the opportunity to dine in outside and everyone there was super professional and the duck was damn tasty. – SFist editor Jay Barmann
I loved PrubechuIt is an outdoor dining experience. It felt very safe because they took temperature readings, contacted contact tracing forms and read the rules to us upon entry. They took over the parking lot next door and created a nice ambience with plants, tents, outdoor heating and enough space for an appropriate social distance. The way they thanked us for their support was so real too. – San Francisco Restauranteur Rica Sunga-Kwan, owner of Churn Urban Creamery ice cream parlor in the Portola district