Price Guide: $ = Under $10 per person, $$ = $11 to $30, $$$ = $31 to $60, $$$$ = above $61
Establishments with an asterisk (*) are recommended for #GCIR2018 attendees by KCET's Juan Devis. Most locations listed are within 10 minutes walking distance of the Millennium Biltmore Los Angeles. Descriptions adapted from Zagat and Travel + Leisure.
Water Grill ($$$) 544 South Grand Ave. - This venerable, sustainably minded Downtown seafood classic and its offshoot right across from the ocean in Santa Monica bring in the big crowds with flaky, tender fish so fresh you'd think the chef was out back catching them; a sophisticated wine list, old-time service and the elegant decor complete the clubby feeling (and help justify the expensive price tag).
Tsubaki* ($$) 1356 Allison Ave. - This Echo Park izakaya blends classic Japanese hospitality with laid-back California sensibility, seen in both the decor — cobalt blue and brick walls, close-knit tables and a small bar — and the menu of small plates and numerous sakes. Chef Charles Namba (Bouchon, NYC’s EN Japanese Brasserie) employs exacting technique on dishes like sake-marinated foie gras with milk bread and pickled crab apples, along with soba, pan-fried dumplings and more.
Spring ($$$) 257 South Spring St. - Set in the historic Douglas Building Downtown, this spacious and light-filled room — thanks to the all-glass atrium ceiling — sports a bubbling fountain, leafy trees and an open kitchen for refined, seasonally focused Southern French fare. There’s a chef’s counter to witness all the action up close, a white-marble topped bar in the dining room, and a separate clubby bar for cocktails.
Redbird ($$) 114 East 2nd St. - “Dining is a religious experience” at this New American “hot spot” from Neal Fraser, where the “progressive”, “artful” menu highlighting “refined versions of familiar dishes” is almost as revelatory as the setting in the “gorgeous” open-air rectory of the “incredible”Vibiana Cathedral Downtown; add in “inventive cocktails” served by a “warm and wonderful” staff and fans “can hear the choir” (never mind the “pricey” fee for their “lip-smacking sins”).
Otium ($$$) 222 South Hope St. - A fork's throw from The Broad museum on Bunker Hill, this rustic-chic modern American restaurant is filled with natural light and accents of steel, wood, copper and ceramics. The raw and refined look mimics chef Timothy Hollingsworth's menu offerings, which make use of the on-site garden, wood-fired grills and rotisseries.
Manuela ($$$) 907 E 3rd St. - The expansive restaurant located inside the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel complex in the Arts District features seasonal dishes with a strong Southern twang, many comprised of ingredients grown right at the restaurant – even eggs from its dozen on-site chickens. With rustic-chic decor and a huge patio, it's a draw for lingering lunches during the day and cocktail-fueled dinners at night.
Good Girl Dinette* ($$) 110 North Ave. 56 - The “unique fusion” of Vietnamese and American “comfort food with a kick” gets a “thumbs up” at this Highland Park “local” with “the charm of a small diner”; though it's not “traditional” or speedy enough for some, it's a “cheap” go-to for the “hipster” set.
The Factory Kitchen ($$) 1300 Factory Pl. - A contender for “best pasta in town”, this “bustling”, moderately priced Italian “culinary gem” in a “funky”, “concrete”-laden warehouse in DTLA's “industrial” Arts District brings the “wow factor” with its “divine”, “must-order” “handkerchief” noodles (though the devoted deem “nearly every dish a masterpiece”, including the “innovative” flatbreads); the “crowds have discovered” it, so “waits” and “jet-engine” noise levels are inevitable, but the “friendly” staff helps make the room a bit more “manageable.”
Don Chente DTLA ($) 1248 South Figueroa St. - For real Mexican street eats, fans have got to stop at this Downtown spot whose reasonably priced south-of-the-border fare and weekend mariachi music bring back memories; handcrafted mezcal and tequila cocktails enhance the laid-back vibe, as does a large rooftop lounge sporting views of the crowds heading to the nearby Staples Center and LA Live.
Chaya ($$$) 525 South Flower St. - Stylish spot for delicate Asian cuisine with a French twist, plus a bustling happy-hour scene.
Cafe Gratitude ($) 300 South Santa Fe Ave. - Even “foodies” “won't miss the meat” at this “low-key” vegan/vegetarian trio offering “healthy” wraps, “hearty” macrobiotic bowls and raw-food entrees; naturally, the milieu is “cool” and “calm” with “friendly” – OK, “slightly pretentious” – staff, but “you'll leave satisfied without feeling stuffed” or broke.
Broken Spanish* ($$$) 1050 South Flower St. - At this chic Downtown haunt, chef Ray Garcia (B.S. Taqueria) combines inspiration from his Latin heritage with classical technique gleaned from his time in haute LA kitchens on a modern Mexican menu highlighting seasonal California ingredients. Surrounded by wall-to-wall glass, the sleek space exudes both urban sophistication and regional rusticity, just like the creative cocktail program.
Bottega Louie ($$) 700 South Grand Ave. - Always packed, this buzzy, no-reservations Downtown gem stays trendy with authentic NYC-style pizzas and other fab, reasonably priced Italian fare, plus a phenomenal selection of sweets and edible gifts at the pastry counter; jet engine noise levels are problematic, but that's to be expected with soaring ceilings, an energetic staff and a Manhattany vibe.
Border Grill ($$) Union Bank Plaza, 445 South Figueroa St. - The 'Too Hot Tamales' (celeb chefs-owners Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken) maintain their groove dishing out flavorful twists on midrange Mexican fare at these lively Downtown and Santa Monica favorites; helpful servers and funky, colorful digs boost festive vibes that suit large groups and happy-hour habitués.
Bäco Mercat ($$) 408 South Main St. - A vibrant, eclectic crowd is hooked on the adventurous, complex cooking of chef Josef Centeno (Bar Amá, Orsa & Winston), whose cleverly composed sandwiches, unusual and wonderful European small plates and stellar handcrafted cocktails keep this late-night hot spot in Downtown's Historic Core going strong; vivacious servers and a small, frenetic dining room only add to the hip, exciting experience.
Badmaash* ($) 108 West 2nd St. #104 - Easy-on-the-wallet Indian street food meets gastropub cool at this Downtown place with a large menu of small plates served along with artisan beers in a casual setting. The restaurant's Canadian roots are evident in oddities like chicken tikka poutine.
Genwa Korean ($$) 5115 Wilshire Blvd. - Korean BBQ novices and pros alike get grilling suggestions galore from the friendly staff at these superb spots in Beverly Hills and Hancock Park where the meat quality is outstanding and the variety of side dishes is really over the top; plus, thanks to excellent ventilation in the contempo settings, you'll leave with no smoky smell on your clothes.
Horse Thief BBQ ($) 324 South Hill St. - Delicious, Texas-style slow-smoked barbecue and amplestraightforward sides are the name of the game at this casual joint just outside of DTLA's Grand Central Market where you order at the counter from friendly staffers; long communal tables on a patio overlooking Angels Flight Railway are the only options for scarfing down on-site, which suits the crowds just fine for a cheap quick fix.
Blue Cow Kitchen Bar ($$) 350 South Grand Ave. - Farm-fresh bites are a welcome alternative to the stuffier, more upscale eateries near the Disney Concert Hall say Downtowners who nosh on gourmet sandwiches and other modestly priced eats at this New American cousin to Mendocino Farms; the patio is perfect for a quick lunch, and happy hour draws office drones drowning their sorrows in craft brews.
Guerilla Tacos* ($) Food Truck - There’s a new gourmet taco truck making waves. Chef Wes Avila has been parking Guerrilla Taco in front of coffeehouses for a few years now, first just a cart but now a full-fledged truck. The menu is small and extremely seasonally focused; if you don’t see it, they don’t have it. But you will see things like sweet potato tacos with almond, chile, feta, fried corn and scallions; chorizo and peewee potatoes with raw tomatillo, chile, pickled onion and cilantro; and even waffles with Albion strawberries and mascarpone cream or a jambon torta with Swiss cheese, McGrath Family Farms baby arugula and burnt tomato salsa. Find Guerrilla Tacos in front of Blacktop Coffee and Blue Bottle Coffee in the Arts District and Cognoscenti in Culver City most mornings.
Madcapra ($) 317 South Broadway - An abbreviated menu packs a bold flavor punch at this Mediterranean stop inside Grand Central Market. Falafel sandwiches made from farm-fresh ingredients join inventive drinks like sumac-beet soda and iced cardamom coffee, all served at the requisite small counter with wooden stool seating.
Mendocino Farms ($) 444 South Flower St. - Creative sandwiches stuffed with ultra-fresh locally sourced ingredients lure obsessed fans to this eco-conscious fast-casual chainlet famed for its life-changing pork-belly banh mi and impressive vegan selections; lunch brings lines out the door, but the staff keeps things moving.
Philz Coffee ($$) 801 South Hope St. A - For perfection in a coffee cup, check out these Bay Area–born java joints now in SoCal, offering single-origin pours, personalized coffee blends, teas, hot chocolate and inexpensive pastries; though it can take awhile to get your goods, at least the counter-service staff is friendly.
Nice Coffee ($$) 515 South Flower St. - Large, modular wood panels rise up and out like high tech wings to serve as the movable walls of this hip, open-air coffee bar from famed local roaster Tyler Wells, in the City National Plaza of the Financial District downtown. In addition to a variety of espresso-based drinks and coffee, the menu also features nitro cold brew on tap, teas and fresh-made donuts.
Garçons de Café ($$) 541 South Spring St. - Set in the Spring Arcade, the historic covered walkway between Spring and Broadway downtown, this petite, charming spot is part French marketplace for tailored dresses and home accessories, and part cafe and wine bar for sipping white, red or rosé. The wines are served by the glass or bottle; to nibble, there's charcuterie and cheese.
Pattern Bar ($$) 100 West 9th St. - Style’s the focus at this pretty, airy Fashion District watering hole accessorized with vintage sewing machines, checkerboard floors and subway-tiled walls where those hoping to be the next Lagerfeld or McQueen like the idea of cocktails named for designers; meanwhile, their couture-clad model and PR-girl counterparts nibble on dainty tapas and really good sandwiches.
Casey's Irish Pub ($$) 613 South Grand Ave. - As old-school Irish pubs go, this cavernous, below-street-level Downtowner follows the rules, with a mahogany bar, tin ceilings, wood booths, an enviable whiskey selection and ok grub – and with plenty of flat-screens, you could do much worse than catch the game here; it’s packed to the gills with business types during lunch and happy hours, but on weekends, you might be drinking alone.
The BoardRoom ($$$) 135 North Grand Ave. - Mood lighting, sea-green velvet walls and antique punch bowls named for literary greats add to the Parisian flair at this secret, salonlike cocktail and jazz bar stowed behind Kendall’s Brasserie at the Music Center Downtown. The menu follows suit with dishes like a boeuf bourguignon sloppy joe and escargot shooters, with macarons to finish.
The Broad (free) 221 South Grand Ave. - Opened in 2015, Eli Broad’s blockbuster new contemporary art museum has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. The 120,000-square-foot space, housed in a futuristic white building, is home to 2,000 works of art including classic works by artists like Cy Twombly, Ed Ruscha, and John Baldessari, not to mention the rooms full of Jeff Koons pieces. Admission is free, so you may want to arrive early, as the line to get in often snakes around the building.
MOCA, Los Angeles ($) 250 South Grand Ave. - The marquee cultural institution in downtown’s sunken California Plaza, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) dates to 1979 and specializes in works that have surfaced since 1940. Director Jeffrey Deitch and chief curator Paul Schimmel preside over a growing art collection and a never-ending roster of exhibitions. Hallmark events have included tributes to pioneering architects like Louis I. Kahn and Frank Gehry, artists like Richard Serra and Andy Warhol, plus celebrations of genres like graffiti art. The multi-media showcase extends to performances, screenings, courses, and workshops, and extends to MOCA’s satellite branches at Little Tokyo’s Geffen Contemporary and West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center.
Walt Disney Concert Hall ($$$) 111 South Grand Ave. - As the $274-million crown jewel of the LA Music Center, Disney Hall opened in 2003 to rave reviews. The novelty hasn't yet worn off: both inside and out, this is a terrific venue. Designed by Frank Gehry, the hall features a 2,265-capacity auditorium with an open platform stage. The hall is the home of the LA Philharmonic and the LA Master Chorale, but the schedule is surprisingly varied throughout the year. The complex also includes the 250-seat Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre, a gallery and a roof garden.
Bradbury Building (free) 304 South Broadway - The Bradbury Building's nondescript, brick exterior belies any sense of significance—a Sprint store and the lingering smell of Subway don't exactly scream architectural gem. Walk through the archway entrance on Broadway, though, and you're greeted with a stunning, light-flooded alley of wood, iron and brick. You'll have to do all of your gawking from the ground floor (and half a flight of stairs) as the rest of the building is private office space. History buffs will appreciate its place as Downtown's oldest commercial building (1893); movie buffs will recognize the zigzagging staircases from climax of Blade Runner. But for everyone else, that awe-inspiring first glimpse alone makes the visit worthwhile.
Los Angeles Conservancy Walking Tours ($) - We could fill an entire list with nothing but Downtown's stunning architecture (unsurprisingly, quite a few of our picks for the most beautiful buildings are in DTLA). Instead, we'll point you in the direction of the Los Angeles Conservancy's acclaimed walking tours. Choose between tours of modern skyscrapers or the Historic Core, Art Deco icons or Victorian mansions. Most tours meet at Pershing Square, near the mini-groves of orange trees.
Grand Central Market ($$) 317 South Broadway - This European-style food hall has been operating on the ground floor of the iconic Homer Laughlin Building since 1917. Even if you're not there for the food, it's worth a trip; people from all corners of LA mix and mingle among rows of spices, produce and vintage neon signage. Of course, if you're hungry it's a great place to get cheap pupusas, carnitas tacos and aguas frescas, as well as food from handsome, trendy eateries like Sticky Rice, Horse Thief BBQ, Eggslut and G&B Coffee.
Union Station (free) 800 North Alameda St. - Train travel has gone in and out of fashion, but the last of the great American rail stations is just as handsome as the day it opened: its Mission-style exterior opens up into a grand waiting area with marble tiles, faux-wood beamed ceilings and Art Deco touches. Wander through its halls and courtyards and you’ll find a building rich with history, locomotion and—with the coming of a high-speed rail and a new concourse—progress.
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument (free) 125 Paseo De La Plaza - As the oldest section of Los Angeles, where the city was first established in 1781 as a farming community, El Pueblo has an authentic, Spanish-style feel. The area comprises 26 historical structures, 11 of which are open to the public, as well as the famous Olvera Street, which is full of local independent vendors selling a range of goods.