Since its latest re-boom in the 2010s, Downtown has remained one of the most exciting neighborhoods in the city to grab a meal—a melting pot of innovative newcomers, neighborhood staples, and a French dip sandwich lore that’s scandalous enough to fill an entire HBO miniseries. Here are the spots we prioritize first when eating in DTLA.
Pizzeria Bianco comes from Phoenix, where it established itself as one of the biggest and most respected names in fancy American pizza. Its arrival at Row DTLA is not to be taken lightly. During the daytime, it’s essentially just a walk-up pizza window, which means if you’re in the area looking for a quick slice at lunch, this is where you need to be eating. (They also have a recently launched dinner service that we can’t wait to check out.) The NY-ish style slices arrive crispy with a sturdy bottom to prevent unwanted sogginess, but still soft enough to properly fold in half like a real Noo Yawkah. Our favorite pie at the moment is the “green slice”, which comes topped with spinach-cream sauce we’d buy in bulk, but don’t sleep on the sandwiches either. The arugula and goat cheese-packed “mortadella” is sweet and savory, but with an acidic punch from the sherry vin drizzled on top.
After one dinner at Camphor—a French and occasionally Southeast Asian restaurant in the Arts District—we texted a friend and described the restaurant as “shiny, expensive, and nice.” Which about sums it up. You’ll spend a lot of money, drink excellent cocktails, and dine on pungent cheeses and wonderful, creamy lamb and lentils. The Southeast Asian dishes, inspired by the two chefs’ respective upbringings, are our favorites, think beef tartare and deep-fried tempura shiso leaves, or bright orange gunpowder shrimp, coated in dried chilis. The word “exquisite” might spill out of your mouth. If you want someone to know you’re trying to impress them, this is the place to do it.
Where To Eat & Drink In The Arts District
Although Damian has a few famous siblings (the chef also runs Pujol, Cosme, and Atla), where this upscale Mexican restaurant shines isn’t in comparison to them—it’s a star in its own right. It’s located in a pristine half-jungle, half-futuristic concrete slab in the Arts District where you’ll be treated to uni tostadas, quesadillas filled with Swiss cheese, and the creamiest guacamole we’ve ever had. Damian is the perfect place to come with a couple of friends, sip cocktails infused with dill and absinthe, and celebrate over bowls of rockfish ceviche.
There’s a lot happening at this Korean deli in the Arts District, which is why we recommend grabbing a table and a round of drinks first to get your bearings, and then head back to the deli counter. This is where you’ll order everything (whether it be from the deli case or the kitchen) and trays get loaded up fast, but just know that there really isn’t a bad dish here. From spicy kimchi poloze and chilled acorn noodles in shirodashi vinaigrette, to warm, doughy potato bread, the food at Yangban is exceptional and unlike anything you can really find in LA right now. They also open at 11:30am, making it a great solo lunch option if you’re in the neighborhood.
Art galleries are intimidating. What is the appropriate amount of time to look at a painting? Are you supposed to listen to the guided tours or do they “distract from the experience?” And is it OK to admit modern art confuses you? At Manuela, those existential questions disappear. Although housed within the Hauser & Wirth gallery in the Arts District, this Southern restaurant is breezy and approachable—a cool place to sip negronis and chill, whether flooding your brain with culture is on the agenda or not. Stick with small plates, like smoked albacore dip, Kushi oysters shucked moments before, or fluffy cream biscuits. The latter’s served with a small mountain of aged country ham that’ll make you consider selling your car to open a farm.
Blame it on the pleasant weather or the fact that everyone—and we mean everyone—looks good outside during golden hour, but this city has a ton of rooftop bars. Wondering where to start? Cabra. Located above the Hoxton Hotel in Downtown LA, this sprawling space checks every box: skyline views, a pool that someone will fall into, and a semi-rowdy crowd wearing tube tops and questionable hat choices. But unlike other rooftop bars, Cabra’s food is notably good. Created by the chef from nearby Girl & The Goat, the menu is filled with tangerine salads, salmon ceviches topped with pistachio, and tuna tiradito. They’re light, shareable plates and great for big groups looking to pre-game.
A dinner on Dama’s massive patio feels like you hopped on a plane, flew to the Caribbean, and are currently partaking in the beach vacation of your dreams. In reality, you’re in the middle of the Fashion District in Downtown, but Dama’s indoor/outdoor space is designed like a colonial-era mansion in Havana, making it seem like you’re a thousand miles away. As far as the food, expect Latin American-inspired dishes that are both fantastic and perfect for sharing with big groups. Be sure to get the whipped beans, crispy pork shank, and the banana sundae for dessert.
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Welcome to one of LA’s great sushi institutions. This Little Tokyo strip mall spot has lines down the block every day before it even opens, and everybody’s generally waiting for one thing: the sashimi platter. With soup, salad, and over nine massive cuts of premium fish, this $19 plate is one of the best deals in the city and so popular you have to sit in a specific area of the restaurant to get it.
This Mexican spot was one of the first new restaurants we visited when places began reopening in 2021 and stepping onto the rooftop patio was like ascending into an ethereal garden of bliss. You’ll find lush alcoves filled with secret booths, a massive standalone bar decked out in shiny green marble, and unparalleled views of Downtown. That said, Cha Cha Cha is more than pretty aesthetics—the food and cocktails are great too. We love the earthy hongos tacos, and the steak pa’taquear is essentially a build-your-own taco station filled with NY strip steak, charred tomatoes and nopales, and blue jean-colored corn tortillas.
Too-big-for-their-own-good cafe/workspaces open fairly regularly in the Arts District, and on paper, Bike Shed Moto Co. appears to be the latest addition to that group. But while this biker-friendly hangout spot is indeed massive—the 30,000 sq. ft. space includes a clothing store, barber shop, tattoo parlor, and members-only bar— what sets it apart is the delicious food coming from the kitchen. The menu is almost as big as the space, so we recommend sticking to the burger section (the grilled turkey burger is particularly juicy) or going all-in on the Bike Shed Breakfast. Served with breakfast sausage, black pudding, beans, grilled tomatoes, bacon, eggs, and toast, this is the kind of hearty English breakfast that’ll keep you full for the entirety of your remote working session.
De La Nonna used to pop-up weekly at spots like Employees Only and Melody Wine Bar, serving excellent pies that walk the line between focaccia and pizza. But now, the team runs a massive restaurant in the Arts District. Their pie crust is still light, airy, and sprinkled with flaky sea salt, and while they don’t overload it with toppings, you still get plenty of flavor from them. We like their white pie, with roasted fennel, mozzarella, and dabs of pesto, and the Market pie, with a super-herbaceous cream sauce and crispy parmesan. But we also love to pair a couple of slices with a bottle of natural wine, a few cocktails, or raw bar options in the funky new space.
When Shiku, a Korean banchan stall run by the team behind now-closed Baroo, opened in the Grand Central Market at the end of 2020, we had a few questions. Namely, what the hell? But there’s power in embracing the masses. Take that photo of Bernie Sanders flying coach, for example, which was all over our Twitter feeds for like, a month. Similarly, by leaving its more experimental roots behind, Shiku represents a new chapter in the Baroo family tree–one that’s more accessible in every sense of the word, with favorites like galbi-jjim and marinated chicken on the same menu as hyper-specific regional banchan.
It’s a competitive field when it comes to Downtown tacos (or tacos anywhere here, for that matter), but Sonoratown has managed to take a tiny space on Los Angeles St. and turn it into a full-out institution. The legendary house-made flour tortillas literally melt in your mouth, and their charred grilled steak is smokey, sweet, and the exact right level of salty. You can certainly go for their regular tacos, but our move is the Caramelo, which is about double the size and comes topped with salsa roja, avocado, and cabbage. The pinto bean, guacamole, and Monterey Jack cheese-filled Burrito 2.0 is also a great thing to have back at your home or hotel room when the late-night munchies hit.
From big groups and party-goers to people leaving LA officially, (kids and burger enthusiasts, we’ve recommended Everson Royce Bar so many times, guides should come loaded with an automatic spot for them. Because guess what? It’s also one of the best restaurants in the Arts District. Lines are minimal, the backyard always feels like a party, and there are plenty of excellent cocktails, plus the burger that’s one of the best in the city. We’d live here if we could.
With vaulted ceilings, mismatched chairs, and old framed photos hanging on the walls, Wood Spoon looks a lot like that Parisian flat we fantasize about while stuck in traffic on the 110. The Brazilian menu, made up of traditional dishes from the state of Minas Gerais like seafood stew in a coconut sauce and our favorite chicken pot pie in the entire world, feels like true home cooking. Whether you’re by yourself for a quick lunch or catching up with an old friend on a Wednesday night, you might forget you’re at a restaurant altogether.
If you only have one night in LA and ask us where to eat, chances are we’re going to tell you Bestia. The Arts District pioneer may have been open since 2012 (practically a lifetime in this part of town), but it’s just as busy as it was on day one. Meals at this Italian restaurant aren’t an in-and-out affair—odds are you’ll be at your table for a couple of hours, losing your mind as each dish hits the table. The pastas and pizzas are as good as it gets in this town, and if we could subsist solely on the chicken liver pate toast, we would.
Of course Bavel is on this list. Almost no guide with the words “Greatest of Downtown LA” in the title is complete without this broadly Middle Eastern restaurant in the Arts District. Between their idyllic outdoor patio shaded by a grove of trees, giant wooden tables full of duck ’nduja hummus and lamb neck shawarma, and that fact that you’ll likely see someone like Miguel here (like we did), a meal at Bavel–which is run by the same team as Bestia–still feels like the well-oiled machine it did when it first opened.
We’re not going to mince words here: Holy Basil is making some of the most exciting Thai food in LA right now. Located in a Downtown food court, their menu is filled with pad thai, green curry, and tom yum soup. While they’re dishes you’ve likely eaten on countless occasions, at Holy Basil, it feels like you’re eating them for the first time again. Get the tom yum soup, which is a whirlwind of flavors and textures including oyster mushrooms, roasted chili jam, lemongrass, lime leaf, galangal, and cilantro. And make sure to come hungry and order a full spread—there’s not a weak spot on the menu.
The Bunker Hill area of Downtown is home to some of LA’s most iconic performance venues, like The Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum, and the Disney Concert Hall. It’s also home to a bunch of people walking around looking for a place to eat before their show. Dinner options have increased over the last few years, but our current pre-theater go-to is Asterid. Located on the ground floor of the Disney Concert Hall, the menu at this upscale spot is “California inspired”, which basically means there’s a wide range of dishes that’ll keep the fussy eaters in your monthly theater group happy. We particularly love the hiramasa aguachile with spicy serrano peppers and the juicy lamb shank in charred eggplant puree. Most importantly, Asterid’s prime location means you’re only a few blocks away from every major venue.
One of the most cutthroat Sugarfish locations in the city, this local chain’s Downtown LA outpost is no joke. Lines start at 10:30am, approximately half an hour before they open, and stay long throughout the day. Parking is impossible, and people will try to cut in front of you. However, come at around 2-3pm on the weekdays, and it’ll feel like being in the eye of a hurricane—a moment of peace and quiet before the chaos of the dinner rush. That might sound obvious, but at this particular restaurant, timing means the difference between a two-hour wait and none at all.
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Azay is a half-French, half-Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo that is one of the few places to serve Japanese breakfast in the LA area. Their rendition of the meal is quite understated—nothing but a tray of broiled fish, tamago, tofu, miso soup, and a side of rice, plus a few pickles. The broiled fish comes with a flaky top and charred bottom, but completely moist meat in the middle. Bright yellow eggs taste slightly sweet and resemble the shape and size of an elementary school kid’s eraser. Plus, the portions are perfect–not too big, not too small, and you can walk away feeling full, without needing to undo a button on your pants.
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