Here we are, one year after our favorite local restaurants have gone through a complete upheaval. Let’s take a minute to honor restaurant owners/chefs/employees and their creativity to make the best of an immensely challenging situation. Last Spring some restaurants got creative by introducing specialized dishes or scaled back menus as a way to cut down on costs of ingredients and staff. “To go” alcohol was one of the more exciting trends of the pandemic. In the midst of the shutdowns and mandated take-out dining, restaurants began offering to-go cocktail kits and bottles of wine at marked down prices to bolster sales. Many diners loved drinking their favorite restaurant’s specialty cocktail from home.

The renovations and buildouts to allow for outdoor dining proved costly, yet a necessity. However, these new additions have been one of the brighter sides as restaurants begin to fill up and diners are presented with al fresco dining options, especially in sunny San Diego! Dining on the piazza, dining outside makes the atmosphere even more European and international! As a group, the Little Italy Restaurant Association built large and elaborate “parklets” on city streets.

A portion of Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores is now dedicated to outdoor dining for multiple restaurants, including Piatti, Barbarella, Osteria Romantica and more. The Shores Restaurant & Hotel has offered a combined lunch and dinner option which gives hotel guests, beachgoers and neighbors a great selection of items while enjoying the sunny beachfront patio. Additionally, a Happy Hour that is Sunday through Thursday from 2 – 5 PM with drinks and appetizers.

Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa in Rancho Santa Fe has taken advantage of the past year to completely renovate its restaurants and spa. Already admired for their exceptional outdoor dining throughout the Relais & Châteaux resort, Rancho Valencia further expanded its outdoor venue with the debut of Pony Camp, an open-air concept on the resort’s Croquet Lawn. Under tents with chandelier lighting and greenery, Pony Camp serves the complete menu with wine and cocktail pairings seven nights a week all alongside live music.

Del Mar native Ashleigh Ferran founded “In Good Company” during the pandemic to partner and support chefs and restaurants in San Diego and Los Angeles. Nine San Diego restaurants participate to produce chef-made flash frozen meals, locking in flavor without preservatives, that are delivered right to your doorstep in reusable containers that are recollected! Set the table, make a cocktail – enjoy the experience!

Finally, the California Restaurant Foundation launched the California Cares Resilience Fund in partnership with California’s energy companies, including SDG&E to award $1.25 million in grants to help independent restaurants in eight California counties, including San Diego. Although restaurants appear to be bustling, with 50% indoor capacity as of June, owners say they still do not have the seating nor revenue they did before. CRF reports 900,000 to a million restaurant workers in California lost their job during the pandemic and 1 in 6 restaurants permanently closed nationwide. Every day continues to be a challenge for many to stay open, so let’s continue to support our beloved local restaurants!