What I love about the food in Downtown Los Angeles is the same thing I enjoy about L.A. as whole: uniqueness, variety, and a delicate coexistence between gourmet and grit.
Not long ago fine dining in Downtown meant heading to Patina on the outskirts of Grand Ave or dining on a fancy rooftop of a hotel where you’re probably paying more for the view than the entree.
After a couple years of new developments, luxury housing projects, and gentrification (for better or worse) of a few blocks, DTLA is now home to some of the best restaurant in Los Angeles. Where the money goes, so will the food.
A new wave of cutting-edge chefs are making a name for themselves on a national level in neighborhoods ranging from the Historic Core to Little Tokyo and beyond.
With so many options (even your Yelp won’t be able to help you) we decided to compile a list of 21 places you need to try at least once. Although, I’m pretty sure you will keep coming back for more.
List starts after the jump, in no particular order.
(Keep in mind for purposes of this article we’ve focused on the downtown region enclosed by the 110, 101, and 10 freeways, thereby excluding Chinatown and other DTLA adjacent neighborhoods. We’ll definitely follow-up with a Chinatown-centric list soon!)
1. Bar Amá
Josef Centeno owns three of the best restaurants in DTLA, all within a short walk from one another. Located in the Historic Core of DTLA, Centeno serves homestyle Tex Mex inspired by his childhood. The dishes are elevated by quality ingredients and his approach to the shells of items like the chalupa and puffy taco are a hit with all diners. Shrimp chalupas are filled with shrimp, topped with a mountain of tangy cabbage and sprinkled with vibrant pickled onions- the shell is a combination of crispy and chewy. The short rib taquitos bring a great crunch, but without the grease, and squash blooms are fried and drizzled with honey, showcasing Centeno’s flair for cooking vegetables. In fact a sizable portion of the dinner menu is dedicated to vegetables in season. Take advantage of their Super Nacho Hour aka Happy Hour it might be the best in town, offering giant $5 chicken tacos, $7 shrimp chalupas and $5 Micheladas.
2. Sticky Rice
Dave Tewasart’s beloved Sticky Rice inside Grand Central Market serves Thai “comfort food” with an emphasis on organic, free-range and locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Highlights include the gai yang a BBQ chicken that’s prepared sous vide before being placed on a grill and served with a salad and sticky rice. The best noodle in broth dish would have to go to the khao soi, egg noodles in a spicy curry broth- it has layers upon layers of flavor and the chicken in the broth is nice and tender. Place your order at the counter and don’t forget the mango with sticky rice, a tasty way to end a good meal.
Tucked away in the Arts District near the L.A. River is one of the hottest restaurants in town. Opened in 2012, Chef Ori Menashe’s rustic Italian concept Bestia focuses on made-from-scratch cuisine like handmade pastas, wood fired pizzas, house made charcuterie and even taking on, roasting a suckling pig. With praise from J. Gold, LA Weekly, LA Mag, Food & Wine it is no wonder, Bestia is still one of the toughest reservations to get in town.
4. Gelateria Uli
Founded by Uli Nasibova in Downtowns Historic Core, this gelato spot is a wonderful addition to the Spring Arcade building. Small batches of gelato and sorbets are made fresh daily with flavors like salted caramel, stracciatella, yogurt rose along with some rotating flavors that include maple pecan, coconut lemongrass, saffron and stone fruit sorbets. 16 flavors are available daily and they love hearing flavor ideas from customers, make a suggestion on their website and win a pint of your creation!
5. Bronzed Aussie
Aussie meat pies, sweets, coffee and even Vegemite toast have landed in L.A. thanks to The Bronzed Aussie. The small shop tucked away in a courtyard bakes oven fresh meat pies every morning. Filling of lamb, ground beef, chunky beef, pepper steak, chicken, “vegie brekkie” and some vegan options make it on the roster daily. Sausage rolls and Vegemite toast are also served here, along with Australian coffee like flat whites- a latte with no foam, long blacks- a variation of an Americano and cappuccino. Pavlova’s can be found on the weekends and Lamington squares, a yellow cake, coated in chocolate and desiccated coconut (one of the most popular cakes in Australia) are served daily.
6. Mexicali Taco & Co
If you haven’t been to Mexicali you are truly missing out. The Baja style Mexican food being served here has been converting taco fans since 2011. Aside from their tacos, the Vampiro might be the most popular thing on the menu, it’s a crispy, quesadilla-ish creation filled with meat and infused in a special garlic sauce. The lunch deal combo is a good pick and the salsa bar is outstanding. Fresh horchata and frescas can be seen sitting on the counter daily if you need to quench your thirst. Mexicali is cash only so come prepared.
Sausages for the adventurous type, Wurstkuche offers an exotic sausage menu which include rabbit, buffalo, and even rattlesnake. Of course they also serve more conventional sausages like veal, pork and bratwurst. Be sure to order some Belgian fries with curry ketchup and a tall glass of beer to round out your meal. Grabbing a seat at this hotspot might be tough and lines out the door are a daily thing here.
8. Faith & Flower
Anything goes at Faith & Flower! Located in the WaterMarke Tower in DTLA’s South Park district, F&F is a modern expression of Californian rustic cuisine drawing flavor profiles from East Asia, Latin America, Mediterranean, and North Africa. This popular eatery serves up unique dishes like the Huy’s “Pho Gras” a spiced ox tail soup with foie gras and rice noodles and oxtail agnolotti made with bone marrow butter,stone fruit conserva and beef tendon chicharrones. If you are a Star Wars fan, Pastry Chef Josh Graves developed one amazing Star Wars inspired mignardise board. The board features a chocolate Millennium Falcon, a white chocolate Storm Trooper, Han Solo, frozen in a block of dark chocolate “carbonite” and more.
The cheeky father and son duo of Badmaash is cooking up some mouthwatering Indian street food with a twist. Think a spiced lamb burger on a brioche bun, chicken tikka poutine and spiced mango pork belly. They also serve traditional Indian fare, the father, Chef Pawan has over 40 years of experience in the kitchen. This Indian gastro-pub is definitely a unique spot with it’s own flair.
Now in four locations (Boyle Heights, DTLA, Echo Park and West Hollywood) local taco maker Guisados has been serving amazing homestyle stews and braised meats inside of handmade corn tortillas since 2010. Steak picado taco is a popular pick and the six taco sampler is awesome for those who can’t make up their minds. The horchata with stumptown’s cold brew is the best of both worlds and a must order.
11. Hama Sushi
This intimate sushi spot located in Little Tokyo is shockingly affordable for the quality of fish they serve. We love the warning sign at the door stating “No tempura, no teriyaki, no noodles, only sushi and sashimi” these guys mean business here. Their hand rolls, albacore sashimi and sweet shrimp are all fan favorites. The fresh uni, tuna belly, halibut and mackerel are top notch if you want to try something out of the ordinary. A line and wait list start to form pretty early on for dinner, so come early.
12. Salt & Straw Ice Cream Truck
Salt & Straw, the Portland-based, ice cream purveyor known for its artisanal approach to ice cream making, has touchdown in DTLA, in truck form for now, as they gear up for their winter 2016 opening. Located at 829 East 3rd Street in the hip Arts District, the truck is giving Downtowners a taste of what’s to come, think Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons and Stumptown Coffee & Compartes Love Nuts. Check their schedule often since they are also gearing up for a Venice location to be opened this year.
13. The Oyster Gourmet
Maitre Écailler (Shellfish Master) and owner of The Oyster Gourmet, Christophe Happillon shucks up some of the best oysters in town at his Grand Central Market stall. Like his website claims – oysters are a religion to Happillon, you will be in good hands here. Patrons are treated on a journey to the sea, as Happillon presents each oyster like a fine wine sommelier all within a bar inside a busy open air market.
Shojin gives vegans, vegetarians and general sushi lovers a unique take on utilizing vegetables and special grains in replacement of fish. The Japanese vegan and macrobiotic menu of fish-less sushi rolls include ingredients like barbecue seitan, enoki mushroom, lotus root and burdock. With a focus on “organic and natural” cuisine Shojin’s inventive interpretations are a delight to omnivore and carnivores alike. Instead of wheat-based faux meats, the restaurant chooses the healthier option of utilizing tofu and tempeh as meat substitutions. Highlights include the spicy “tuna” on crispy rice made with spicy tofu, dynamite roll and a buttery eggplant dish on a asparagus carrot roll.
15. The Pie Hole
No one does pie like the Arts District’s Pie Hole. Part coffee shop, part place for free wifi, you can’t find a single person without a slice of pie in front of them. All pies are baked fresh daily and come in the form of savory pot pies, whole sweet pies sliced on order and hand pies for folks on the go. The sliced sweet pies are definitely the main attraction here with intriguing flavors like earl grey, Mexican chocolate and Mai Tai- it’s hard not to try them all in one sitting.
Cole’s is renowned for their French Dip sandwiches, and the happy hour also doesn’t disappoint with their $5 French dip slider trio and $1 tots. Claiming to be the originators of the French Dip, they do make a pretty good one here. A bit more dressed up than the other French dip establishment Philippe The Original (who’s also claiming of creating the French dip.) Cole’s is a happening spot with good food, heavy handed drinks and even a secret room where bands and stand up comedy shows happen frequently. Come for the food stay for the party.
17. Tacos Tombras a Tomas
Talk about a bang for your buck, when you order a single taco, the expectation would be that the taco would to be fairly small, but, no, not here. A taco is served with a mountain of meat, so massive, they give you two additional tortillas to makeshift more tacos. The carnita, asada, chicken, birria (goat meat), lengua (beef cheek) and cabeza (head) are all spiced to perfection. If you want a burrito, order the half and half with both pollo and asada it’s the best of both worlds. The line might be long but with the quality of flavors and an unbeatable value, no one leaves hangry. Pro-tip: order your burrito with two kinds of meat (asade and pollo work nicely) for a truly massive serving.
Where do you get some of the best sushi in DTLA? Sugarfish. Mr. Nozawa’s talent in preparing some of the best sushi and most revered hand rolls in town come from decades of experience. Order one of the pre fixes it’s worth the price and makes for a great introduction to what Nozawa has to offer. Sugarfish is a different dining experience from other sushi places, they serve each plate of individual sushi like a tasting menu would and encourages you to eat the sushi right away, before the warm vinegary rice cooks the fish. Whatever you decide to order, make sure to include a blue crab hand roll, it’s kind of a big deal. For those looking for a more casual setting try KazuNori, a spin-off hand roll bar of Nozawa’s which is a great place to grab a quick meal of toro, scallop, and blue crab hand rolls and select sashimi items.
The wait can be intimidating for this Japanese ramen spot in Little Tokyo but it lives up to the hype. Get the Daikoku ramen with their famous Tonkutsu soup served with Chijeri style egg noodles, Kurobuta pork belly, a marinated boiled egg and bamboo shoots, the ingredients enhance the well balanced of flavor of the broth. If you opt for a half order of ramen, order the shredded pork bowl too, a pork belly dish grilled and served over rice with green onions, pink ginger and a sweet glaze- it’s a fan favorite. This place is cash only so plan accordingly.
Alvin Cailan’s popular stall at DTLA’s Grand Central Market serves breakfast like no one else, hell they even make a runny yolk burger that’s quickly becoming as famous as the egg sandos. The cheeseburger is made with American Wagyu, caramelized onions, pickles and cheddar cheese, served with a over-medium egg on a brioche bun. This lunch time hit is attracting even more folks to the already long line at Eggslut. Come early, it’s totally well wroth the trouble.
21. Church & State
Located in the old Nabisco Biscuit Co. building in DTLA’s Arts District, French bistro Church & State remains one of the best restaurants in DTLA. After Walter Manzke, of now Republique fame, left the bistro a shuffling of chefs went on for several years until Chef Tony Esnault came along. Esnault delivers on French bistro style dishes that include roasted bone marrow, steak frites, and coq au vin. We are happy to see such a great restaurant rise up once again. For more convincing, in a 2014 review by J. Gold of the L.A. Times, Gold states Church & State is “The closest thing to a first-rate French bistro that Los Angeles has seen in years.” All we have to say is oui oui.
Where are your favorite places to eat in Downtown Los Angeles? Let us know in the comments below!