The Essential Guide to Downtown Los Angeles Restaurants
LA’s expansive landscape can be both a blessing and a curse. While its segmented neighborhoods allow for a great diversity of restaurants and vibrant fare, making long treks during peak dinner hours isn’t always a viable option. Enter Eater LA’s neighborhood guides, handy maps of essential restaurants grouped strictly by neighborhood boundaries.
After finding the essential restaurants in Silver Lake, Santa Monica,West Hollywood, and the South Bay, we now turn our heads to the heart of the city to find the most important restaurants in the neighborhood with the exception of the burgeoning areas of the Arts District and Chinatown, which merit their own guides. We asked Eater LA readers for the restaurants they would recommend in the hood booming with new eateries, and curated this handy list of classics and newer favorites, presented in alphabetical order:
1 B.S. Taqueria
There has been much ado about B.S. Taqueria’s clam and lardo tacos, and for good reason, but there’s much more to Ray Garcia’s colorful eatery. The carnitas are juicy and slathered in a chili-speckled guacamole, the beet torta treats the vegetable with the respect of carnivorous counterparts, and the tres leches cake is a straightforward as a grandama’s, but (probably) tastes even better.
You don’t see much in the way of Tex-Mex cooking in LA. Thankfully, Bar Ama takes the idea of Tex-Mex and elevates it far beyond platters of sizzling fajitas. Here a long list of small plates go down easy with nicely crafted cocktails that create a convivial atmosphere. When roaming the streets of Downtown during the Art Walk or otherwise, it’s a nice place to pop in for a drink or two.
3 BierBeisl Imbiss
Sure, the restaurant may feel a little barren with thin crowds, but its not for lack of super delicious Austrian fare. Just bring your own crew of friends to throw back a few brews and soak it up with the best sausages in town.
While it may not offer the best meal Downtown, Bottega Louie’s importance as the catalyst that sparked a restaurant renaissance on 7th Street can’t be denied. The stunning, cavernous space is great for a date night or to pick up a few prettily packaged macarons to go.
5 Broken Spanish
B.S. Taqueria’s big sister restaurant has done the old Rivera space justice. Ray Garcia’s contribution to Modern Mexican cuisine has won him many accolades this year, and after nibbling on his elevated take on the classics, you’ll understand why.
6 Bäco Mercat
Josef Centeno’s first restaurant in his Old Bank district empire, Baco Mercat offers a smattering of small plates that demonstrate Middle Eastern, Mexican, Spanish, Italian, and even Asian influence. But you’re here for the signature bacos, of course, little flatbread sandwiches that serve as a vessel to highlight the chef’s bold flavors.
With great cocktails and sandwiches, it’s not a surprise that this 1908 institution snags a spot on the essentials list. But whether the credit for originating the French Dip goes to Cole’s or Philippe, we’ll leave that debate to you.
8 Faith & Flower
While the original team of Michael Hung helming the kitchen and Michael Lay behind the bar has come and gone, Faith & Flower has made itself a standby for the after work and date night crowds. Don’t forget to order the milk punch and kimchi deviled eggs.
9 Grand Central Market
Half this list could be taken up by the individual vendors within Grand Central Market. As a collective whole, the revitalized market offers outstanding variety and quality that can be found at few other places in the country. Standouts include Wexler’s, Madcapra, Horse Thief, and, of course, Eggslut, albeit the outrageous line, with plenty more exciting additions coming soon.
10 KazuNori Hand Roll Bar
It seems the Nozawa empire can do no wrong in LA. This hand roll specialist has been keeping the Downtown lunch crowd fueled with exceptionally priced set menus. Think $17.50 for five hand rolls that include lobster and blue crab.
This Little Tokyo izakaya is just the place you want to go to drink copious amounts of high quality sake while soaking it up with booze-friendly small plates like bone marrow dengaku, A5 Wagyu, and prime beef tongue.
The latest addition to Centeno Square, Josef Centeno’s airy New American restaurant in the old Pete’s space offers quality dishes all day long. That means fantastic options that span breakfast to dinner, along with great coffee to-go. This is the restaurant every neighborhood needs.
13 Maccheroni Republic
This consistent, under-the-radar option serves unfussy Italian fare. The reasonably priced trattoria is just the place you want to go for a homey bowl of pasta to enjoy with a BYO bottle of wine with an only $5 corkage fee.
14 Marugame Monzo
This udon specialist makes its noodles in-house in an open kitchen, and is perhaps the best place to slurp the thick noodles in the city. Served hot or cold, these elastic noodles certainly merit the wait that comes with it.
15 Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse
With few steakhouse options on this side of the city, the newly remodeled Nick & Stef’s provides a great option for those with carnivorous predilections. Boasting its own dry-aging room and a wood-fired grill, the modern redesign makes this a swanky new Bunker Hill destination.
16 Orsa & Winston
Josef Centeno’s return to fine dining occupies a little 40-seat spot that sits right next to his other restaurants in the Old Bank district. This Japanese-meets-Italian restaurant follows a tasting menu format that is more reasonably priced than others of a similar caliber in the city.
One of LA’s last remaining fine dining establishments is often overlooked as a result of its $$$$ categorization. While there is no doubt a meal here will set you back a good portion of your paycheck, as you enjoy a meal in the restaurant’s serene surrounds and notice the extraordinary attention to detail that goes into each and every plate, you’ll almost wonder why they don’t charge more.
18 Q Sushi
This Edo-style sushi restaurant in the heart of the Financial District only offers omakase that runs $165 per person, but chef Hiroyuki Naruke’s dedication to outstanding quality is worth a visit for a special occasion, or a relatively more affordable lunchtime splurge of $75 (pre tax and tip).
Neal and Amy Fraser turned the Vibiana cathedral rectory into an elegant space that offers refined plates and excellent service. There’s little question the restaurant will become a Downtown classic.
20 Rice Bar
Charles Olalia and Santos Uy’s downtown lunch counter Rice Bar has received much acclaim from critics and bloggers alike. The buzz is for good reason, as Olalia has taken his fine dining experience from such establishments as Patina and the French Laundry to truly showcase his Filipino heritage. Nowhere else in the city can you receive an education in heirloom, fair-trade Filipino black rice while inhaling extraordinary pork longganisa and chicken tinola in a 275 square foot space.
21 Seoul Sausage Company
This new Little Tokyo player is outfitted with a sleek design, Korean-inspired sausages and burgers, and plenty of old school beers and soju to wash it all down.
22 Sushi Gen
Yes, you’re probably going to wait in an outrageous line, but you won’t regret it after enjoying Sushi Gen’s high quality and relatively reasonably priced nigiri and chirashi selections. And hey, if lines aren’t for you, there’s always Hama down the street.
23 The Original Pantry
Those who like their meals served with a side of nostalgia will find a happy home at The Original Pantry Café. This no-fuss 24/7 diner opened back in 1924, and has been a late night standby ever since for its old school steaks and massive flapjacks.