Downtown is undeniably undergoing LA’s fastest facelift, but in a town of plastic and perfectionism, this neighborhood still offers up a refreshing cross section of gourmet and grit. These 13 bars and restaurants are prime examples. DTLA is basically the shockingly hip guy at your aunt’s wedding who smuggled in his own moonshine from that organic farm where he works in Wyoming; i.e., you might just fall in love.
Best meal you’ll ever have in (a refurbished) church rectory: Redbird
114 E 2nd St
Great food. Amazing atmosphere. Preach.
Most perfect patio: Zinc Café & Market
580 Mateo St
There’s something about exposed bulbs strung about a patio that immediately triggers a Nancy Meyers movie moment. Six or seven glasses of rosé under those little lights and suddenly that perfectly obvious love interest who owns an artisanal bakery for dogs is waiting for you by the door.
El Rey de Los Tacos: Mexicali Taco & Co.
702 N Figueroa St
Go for the simple, authentic fare, not the street view. Split the Vampiro quesadilla with your date and if they can’t handle garlic breath, then you know they’re definitely Not. The. One.
Best for the elevated bro: Beelman’s Pub
600 S Spring St
You’ve worked really hard in your cubicle today -- those stocks and bonds didn’t sell themselves! Go ahead, have a beer or six! Pretend your I’ll-be-a-CEO-one-day schedule will eventually lighten up. Soon you’ll have time to enjoy the basketball game that’s playing in the background, courtside, right? RIGHT... ? Cue beer seven.
Best power lunch: KazuNori
421 S Main St
Although he’s not a personal friend, I'll vouch that Jiro, if he's ever eaten here, dreams of these fast and consistently delicious hand rolls.
Best pasta: Maccheroni Republic
332 S Broadway
In such a health-conscious/body dysmorphic metropolis, pasta joints are important. Whether a comfort food or a well-deserved cheat meal. This worth-the-wait BYOB (sans corkage fee!) reminds New York transplants of home, LA locals of what they missed out on growing up, and all the inbetweeners of exactly why they left the place that uses ketchup as the base for marinara. The ma and pa classics like lasagna are well worth the extra CrossFit time.
Best vegan: The Springs
608 Mateo St
Michael Falso’s extraordinary food may be 100% organic raw vegan, but this wellness center isn't just for those looking for Beyonce's approval -- it’s for anyone who wants a yoga studio, a grand event space, and a sense of what is giving the Art District its new pulse.
Best dirty dancing: The Lash
34 E 20th St Suite 2
If you know what a Missy Elliott is, and have spent some time with the soundtrack to 2003’s standout film, Honey, then this is JUST the place for you. Sometimes, all you need out of a bar is a bar, music that you know the chorus to, and a sweaty makeout partner (or two!). The Lash checks all the boxes and leaves some room for fill in the blanks.
Best dive: La Cita Bar
336 S Hill St
This bar is for everyone. Like, literally, anyone. Be it a grandma salsa dancing with her gal pals or Jared Leto lookalikes sipping mezcal on the rocks, La Cita is the obvious answer to Drake’s eternal quest to turn up on a (taco) Tuesday.
Best brunch with no fucks: Little Bear
1855 Industrial St
No frills. No pretension. No shying away from brunch turning into dinner via the Bloody Mary Express. And absolutely NO doubt that the waffle burger is handcrafted by the breakfast deities.
Best should-be-douchey-but-isn’t bar: Villains Tavern
1356 Palmetto St
Do you like live music and cocktails in Mason jars? How about fancy beer and shot combos? Does the view of the iconic River Bridges make you feel all LA sentimental? If you answered no to any of the above, maybe stay home and split a salad with your cat instead.
Best for when you aren’t footing the bill: Faith & Flower
705 W 9th St
So you just moved to LA to pursue your econ major by surfing every day before climbing the corporate ladder, but now your parents are in town and you need to impress them. Remember to forget your wallet (love you mom!).
BEST DORITO-TOPPED BURGERS: The Escondite
410 Boyd St
... plus an amazing beer list. But honestly, who kept reading after Dorito-Topped Burgers?
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Frank Sweeney is a SoulCycle instructor and The Amazing Race binge-watcher. He is currently undergoing a Fat Freeze to recover from his investigations into the aforementioned eateries -- article date logging the experience TBD. Follow him on Twitter: @frankcsweeney.
1. Redbird114 E 2nd St, Los Angeles
2. Zinc Café & Market580 Mateo St, Los Angeles
3. Mexicali Taco & Co.702 N Figueroa St, Los Angeles
4. Beelman's Pub600 S Spring, Los Angeles
5. KazuNori | The Original Handroll Bar421 South Main Street, Los Angeles
6. Maccheroni Republic332 S Broadway, Los Angeles
7. The Springs608 Mateo St, Los Angeles
8. The Lash117 Winston St, Los Angeles
9. La Cita Bar336 S Hill St, Los Angeles
10. Little Bear1855 Industrial Street, Los Angeles
11. Villains Tavern1356 Palmetto St, Los Angeles
12. Faith & Flower705 West 9th Street, Los Angeles
13. The Escondite410 Boyd St, Los Angeles
Located in a refurbished church, Neal Fraser's Downtown LA restaurant is the ultimate high-end date spot. Redbird's food is next-level creative, like the signature Rabbitchetta dish, aka rabbit wrapped in porchetta. Aside from the gorgeous open-air dining room, there's also a beautiful outdoor patio for those SoCal nights.
Zinc Cafe & Market brings fresh sandwiches and salads to Downtown, all to be enjoyed on their string-light-lit patio with a couple glasses of rosé.
This super simple Chinatown spot is owned by the Baja-bred Esdras Orchoa, who's changing the Mexican food game in LA with his masa harina tortillas. Not too big or too small, the corn flour tortillas are thick enough to hold the weight of beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp fillings, plus a topping of the creamy house garlic sauce. Mexicali's menu is simple and straightforward: aside from tacos, there are quesadillas, tostadas, and nachos. To really get a taste of the kitchen's Baja expertise, go for the Zuperman, a tortilla sandwich filled with a hefty portion of three meats and cheese.
A Downtown watering hole from the ACME group -- also of Library Bar, Sixth Street Tavern, and others -- Beelman’s Pub is a street-side, European-style bar with Czech pilsners and Italian lagers on draft, as well as craft cocktails, reasonably priced wine, and elevated pub fare. We suggest trying the pub burger -- because it’s bursting with bacon -- and the tarte flambee. For the vegetable-loving, health food inclined, edamame and grilled broccolini are also on offer. Stop by the neighborhood bar to find out its nightly specials and rotating draft list, written on the chalkboards behind the bar.
The Sugarfish guys bring you this insanely casual handroll-only spot, which's great for quick lunches or drive-by dinners.
This worth-the-wait BYOB (no corkage fee!) has some of the best pasta in Downtown and is well worth the extra SoulCycle class you'll need to work it off.
Okay, stick with us here: this yoga studio/juicery/vegan eatery/wine and beer bar (this place is straight outta Portlandia) appeals to health-conscious winos who 1) apparently exist?, and 2) also like craft IPAs as well as actually tasty-sounding, plant-based foods like mushroom-miso pho. You might want hit this spot up for brunch, too, when it offers both egg-loaded and eggless options, depending on how hardcore you are. Know what's even better than dessert? Topping off your meal with a deep-tissue massage.
An evening spent at Lash feels a little more like a party at an exclusive, tucked-away Berlin night club than it does a night out at your standard L.A. dance spot. Stationed just off of an unassuming little Downtown alley, the building's diagonal black-and-white striped concrete facade opens up into to the main bar: a room decked with chipped white subway tiles, mismatched vintage furniture and bleacher seating. Once you've secured drinks at the bar in this mod, coldly-artistic space, you proceed into the party room -- a black marble-encased weekend lair with an industrial chrome disco ball, a series of cracked mirrors, and throngs of well-dressed drink-toting locals. The DJ is known to spin the perfect combination of beat-heavy dance hits and tracks you can sing along to, and the dim spot provides a notoriously ideal (and sweaty) stage for dance-floor-make-outs.
This hipster haven boasts mariachi tunes, plus musical theme nights like "Punky Reggae" and "Mustache Monday". Check out this Downtown boozer on the weekends, too, because they're serving up a crazy Bloody Mary bar at what they've dubbed "Sunday Bloody Sunday". In addition to an indoor dance floor there is also a spacious outdoor patio to really spread out and sip on cheap but strong drinks.
Proving that two stars can work together without getting in a fight about who gets to bang Topanga is the duo behind just-opened-downtown, industrial loft-esque, Belgian gastropub Little Bear, which includes the chef from Maximiliano & the Oinkster, and the beer guru from the Surly Goat, who will still eat your trash, but only begrudgingly.
This vintage-feel tavern fits in perfectly at the edge of the Arts District: it has two monster, church pew-abetted patios, an antique bar sourced from an 1880s-era NYC tavern, and a gothic church window repurposed as a mirror behind the bar, all from a woman who started out as an interior designer before becoming the owner of spots like 4100 and The Bordello Bar. Grab one of their signature artisanal cocktails, like the BellaDonna (Maker's Mark, mint, citrus, blackberries), and head out to the larger side patio for some live music.
A beautiful Downtown restaurant -- from a Michelin-award winning chef and the guys who founded the Pebble Beach Food & Wine fest -- Faith and Flower serves up a menu of seasonal dishes, classic staples, and a raw bar. The aphrodisiac seafood, vintage touches, and romantic décor, including hand mirrors and candles throughout the eating area, establish this as a prime date night spot.