The 7 Hot Food Neighborhoods of Downtown LA

August 19, 2013
by Lesley Balla

Downtown Los Angeles has always been the civic center for the city, but at the moment, it's also white-hot as a dining and entertainment mecca. While the area anchors the city, it's really a collection of neighborhoods, each with their own flavor and flair, from the Arts District with its industrial feel to the splashy L.A. Live and Staples Center around South Park. The gorgeous old theaters and movie houses of Broadway, amazing Art Deco buildings in the Historic Core, dive bars and rooftop lounges, Little Tokyo and Chinatown, and cool events like the monthly Art Walk and Electric Drive-In are packed into a few square miles.

Warehouses have been transformed to urban lofts, and new buildings have shot up into the skyline. Coffee houses, juice bars, bakeries, cafes, nightclubs and restaurants keep the denizens well sated, and new hot spots lure people in from all over the Southland. Here's where to eat, drink and play around the hottest neighborhood in town right now.

Bunker Hill/Civic Center/Financial District

With the new fountains and green space at Grand Central Park, and civic and cultural landmarks like City Hall and the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall here, this neighborhood has a lot to offer the busy office workers and tourists (and staycationers) alike. Patina at the concert hall is still one of the best pre-LA Phil options with its early-bird prix fixe menus; but it's also a nice spot for lunch or quiet dinners when the theater is dark. Closer to MOCA, the Blue Cow Kitchen and sibling Mendocino Farms are good options.

For nightlife, Ebanos Crossing has added rum, whiskey and mescal cocktails to the neighborhood, just a few blocks from The Edison's amazing Art Deco-inspired nightclub. And for a dose of history, across from the hillside Angel's Flight train car, check out the new offerings at the Grand Central Market. Upgrades include Sticky Rice, G&B Coffee, Valerie, Horse Thief BBQ and many more to come.

The Arts District

It still feels pretty industrial in this part of Downtown LA, but artists moved in to work and live in the area as early as the '70s, and today it's full of big warehouse lofts and brimming with new restaurants, cafes and more. On one side, you have Angel City Brewery for open-air beer drinking; Wurstkuche for sausages and fries; The Pie Hole for sweet and savory pies; and Villains Tavern for live music and punch bowls, among other spots.

On the other, the new Urban Radish gourmet marketplace is great for grab-and-go; Bestia for Ori Menashe's charcuterie and pastas; plus Church & State, Little Bear, Tony's Saloon and PizzanistaBread LoungeUrth Cafe and Handsome Coffee Roasters for coffee. Stumptown Coffee will open its first Southern California roastery, cafe and retail space on Santa Fe near Seventh Street soon.

Historic Core

With so many gorgeous historical theaters and Art Deco, Beaux Art and Spanish Baroque buildings, this part of town is a true architectural gem. Near Gallery Row, Josef Centeno is sort of owning the corner around Fourth and Main, with both Bar Ama and Baco Mercat constantly pulling people in. Soon he’ll open Orsa & Winston, a more formal dining experience. Around the corner, a Dr. J's Vibrant Cafe adds vegan food and a juice bar to the nabe.

There's the funky Nickel Diner, with its maple bacon donuts, and on Sixth Street hit Cole’s and The Varnish for French dips and speakeasy cocktails, Las Perlas for mescal and Semi Sweet Bakery for knock-out pastries and cakes, including Cronut knockoffs. A true locals' hang, the Spring Street tavern has an excellent craft beer list, and Ilan Hall's The Gorbals is a favorite, tucked inside the Alexandria Hotel.

Near Seventh and Grand, Bottega Louie constantly bustles; Seven Grand is the place to hit for whiskey and taxidermy; Mas Malo has a good happy hour and addictive ground beef and pickle tacos; and the new Coco Laurent is pulling people in with its new open-air wine bar and French fare. Nearby, Casey's Irish Pub is always a raucous hang, and the new Sixth Street Tavern is a great pick for craft brews, the patio and fried chicken donut sliders.

Fashion District and South Park

With FIDM, L.A. Live and Staples Center, fashion, design and entertainment collide in this swath of Downtown. The Ace Hotel will open in the 1927 United Artists building this fall, a boon to the neighborhood and DTLA as a whole. The stunning new Stocking Frame is a block behind it, with The Parish and new Terroni on the other side.

Among newcomers helping the Broadway resurgence, there's Ari Taymor's minimalist and hyper-seasonal Alma, and Umamicatessen for burgers and Chris Cosentino's PIGG specials. If you want something beyond the L.A. Live chains in South Park, there's contemporary Mexican cuisine and great cocktails at John Sedlar's Rivera, and the new Faith & Flower will offer new spins on classic dishes and drinks.

Little Tokyo

You'll find a bit of the old and new in LA's Japanese cultural center. Mikawaya, the originator of mochi ice cream, has been a hub for more than 100 years, and sushi stalwarts like Sushi Gen still has one of the best sashimi lunch deals in town. The noodle proliferation has taken hold, with constant lines at places like Daikokuya and Shin Sen Gumi for ramen, and the fabulous hand-pulled udon noodles at the new Monzo. The best yakitori can be found at Honda-ya and Kokekokko.

For something different, get to The Spice Table while you can; eventually Bryant Ng will have to take his lamb belly skewers elsewhere. The Lazy Ox Canteen has seasonally-inspired small plates and a great burger. Speaking of burgers, seek out The Escondite for gut-bombs like this.

Figueroa Corridor

With USC and the museums in Exposition Park, the food scene traditionally has catered to students and families. Better options are popping up however, including Built Custom Burgers, the new concept from the folks behind The Counter chain, and The Pizza Studio for customizable pies. People still get their fill of dynamite cochinita pibil at Chichen Itza, or sips and small plates at Bacaro. And a group that includes Christine Splichal, co-founder and former owner of Patina, and chef Laurent Quenioux has opened Etchea, a new Basque-inspired bakery and cafe for fresh-baked breads, sandwiches, salads and pastries. 


Forget it, Jake. This is an all-new Chinatown. While you can still get dim sum or roast duck at stalwarts like Ocean Seafood and Plum Tree Inn, there's an array of unique bites to find in this historical neighborhood. Roy Choi brought Chego and its rice bowls and saucy burgers to Broadway, and Starry Kitchen is now serving its famous chile crab and crispy tofu balls at the famed Grand Star Jazz Club. 

For sandwiches, Philippe the Original still reigns supreme for double-dipped French dips with nasal-clearing mustard. But there's also Italian cold-cut subs at Eastside Market and great banh mi at the super hidden Buu Dien. You can even find great barbecue at Spring Street Smokehouse. For bars, General Lee’s will open in the former Mountain Bar space, a nod to the bygone Chinatown watering hole that closed in that location in the '80s.

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