As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, restaurants have struggled to find ways to safely reintroduce in-person dining experiences. Fortunately, with California’s current set of regulations and Pasadena’s commitment to public health, outdoor dining has become a reasonable way to get out of the house (fully masked of course) for something other than a “home-cooked meal.”

The local chain Pitfire Artisan Pizza recently reopened its patio at the Pasadena location for distanced, outdoor dining.

Walking in, the place was bustling with to-go orders. Bags for delivery waited on stools outside the deep red centerpiece pizza oven—an impressive hearth that felt empty without chatting customers sitting at its surrounding wooden countertop.

But Pitfire’s atmosphere immediately picked up. After ordering from a digital menu, guests sit in the full-service patio area. The small space certainly felt different than the restaurant’s carefully designed modern-but-welcoming interior, but the large glass windows let out enough light to make the dark Friday night feel normal enough for a good meal. It was even full of locals, with two nearby tables striking up conversation over a particularly friendly dog. The restaurant felt as safely close to an old “normal” as possible given the circumstances, a bode of confidence for the months to come.

“Our guests appreciate that we’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Jeff Goodman, the CEO of Gonzo Food, Pitfire’s parent corporation. “However, much of what we do is exceptionally well suited for how people are dining today.”

After ordering in the “edgy and comfortable” interior space, we sat outside to share the house salad ($11.50) and two 11’’ pizzas. Zoe’s pepperoni ($12.50), an artisan spin on the reliable classic, used healthy slices of fresh mozzarella to lend the pizza a quality classiness. But it still more than satisfied our cravings for a simple slice, and with an added dose of red pepper flakes, it proved Pitfire’s pie-making chops—even down to the perfectly crispy crust.

Our other selection, the field mushroom ($12), was a thyme-seasoned white pizza topped with cremini and enoki mushrooms. Its lighter flavor balanced the tomato sauce-heavy pepperoni, but a thick layer of grease did distract from the pizza’s fresh flavorful mushrooms. The greasiness also proved too much for reheated leftovers, so if you’re a big mushroom fan make sure to finish this one in the store.

With their open patio and fully stocked bar, Pitfire is making the most of a bad situation. The outdoor space features full-service staffing, which paired with the distanced register ordering makes for a safe and personable experience.

Since shifting to its current artisan focus in 2003, the restaurant chain has seen serious success even as it overcame tough challenges. The pandemic, though much wider reaching, is no different than any other hurdle.

“Pitfire has been fortunate but many restaurants are facing an existential crisis and need our support,” Goodman said of the universally devastating circumstances for the restaurant ecosystem.

“We have worked hard to stay current with changing health and safety directives while maintaining great quality food and service. We have adapted our menus to offer the things our guests need or are looking for.”

Now may be the best time to safely search for neighborhood gems as restaurants slip further into the throes of the looming economic crisis. Everyone has faced some kind of challenge throughout the lingering spread of COVID-19, but with appropriate measures and considerate health practices, communities can now start to see the importance of getting through these tough times together, one pizza and one meal at a time.