5 Best Places to Eat in the Downtown Arts District

Chocolate tart at Bestia
Chocolate tart at Bestia
Anne Fishbein

This week's L.A. Weekly profiles the one of the city's hottest neighborhoods: the downtown arts district. Check out the other stories in our series: *Tyler Stonebreaker: Curator of the Downtown Arts District. *6 Developments That Will Change the Downtown Arts District's Future*How the Arts District Got Its Name.

Clustered in pairs or trios, newer restaurants, bars and cafés have cropped up in the Arts District in the past five years or so, reflecting the forward trajectory of a city accustomed to fashioning function from old spaces and form at new locations. A path between buildings becomes part edible garden, part sanctuary at The Daily Dose. At the entrance of the Seventh Street Bridge, the Bread Lounge bears no signage alerting passers-by that some of the city's best bread is found within, save for the lone steel rack of loaves visible only at close range through the front door's glass.

This may be why, at first glance, the edible landscape of the Arts District appears to be in draft mode: The restaurants are mostly hidden, and often not within walking distance of one another. But the transformation of the Arts District nonetheless is best witnessed by exploring its food and drink options. What better way to visit a new neighborhood than to make a dinner reservation -- or just stop by for that delicious bread?

Pizza Alla'nduja at Bestia
Pizza Alla'nduja at Bestia
Anne Fishbein

Bestia:

If Church & State represented the high flier in the first graduating class of refined dining in the Arts District, Bestia is the latest generation's valedictorian. Together with Bill Chait, husband-and-wife team Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis have created a restaurant that earns aces: Wood-fired, well-portioned Italian food pairs with cocktails designed by Julian Cox in an airy, stylish space.

There is no indication outside of the inner bustle of servers and guests. Walking in, you'll have the sensation of chancing upon a well-kept secret. The buzz is justified in dishes like Menashe's tagliolini al'ortica with mushroom ragu and crispy nettles, bound by a soft-poached egg. The best seat in the house might be at the antipasti bar, counterside to the prep-cook duo tossing little gem lettuce salads and composing chicken liver bruschettas by hand. 2121 E. Seventh Place; (213) 514-5724, bestiala.com.

Bread Lounge
Bread Lounge
Garrett Snyder

Bread Lounge:

Bread Lounge is all white walls and clean lines. Not that your attention will stray too far from the freshly baked pistachio Danish, pain au chocolat and baguettes.

While the minimalist interior of Ran Zimon's bakery belies the comfort factor of a bakery, a bite into a kouign-amann -- a heartier Breton response to a croissant, studded with half-caramelized sugar crystals -- reinforces the aura of finely tuned concentration. It takes nothing less than practiced precision to make something this good.

Just as there's no signage outside, Zimon is happy to let the baked goods speak for themselves within. The proof is in the details, with samples of bread alongside raspberry-peach preserves at the counter and chunks of real potato in the potato rosemary loaf. Apropos of L.A.'s culinary diversity, the börek, a Balkan phyllo pastry filled with cheese and meats or vegetables, sits near the timbale and ham-cheese croissants.

Bread Lounge is a destination. Arrive after screenwriters make their morning latte pilgrimage and dine on the albacore tuna sandwich dressed in preserved lemon, dill aioli and harissa on ciabatta, then leave with a bag of kouign-amann to share. 700 S. Santa Fe Ave.; (213) 327-0782.

 

A slice of the Meat Jesus pizza at Pizzanista
A slice of the Meat Jesus pizza at Pizzanista
Christine Chiao

Pizzanista:

Pizzanista's lunchtime crowd personifies the Arts District as it transitions from an industrial zone to mixed use, from low rent to high, from bohemian to yupster (or grups for some). You might find a gentleman with a tattooed neck eating a Daiya cheese pizza next to a trio of white collars enjoying the pepperoni, their personal embellishment going no further than pinstripes on navy trousers.

Slices of pizza run $2.75 to $4, with the pepperoni, Daiya cheese and plain cheese $2 all day Tuesday. Even the Meat Jesus -- a pie topped with pepperoni, sausage and bacon -- is more conscious than it lets on, with meats frequently coming from humane sources. An emphasis is placed on local ingredients, with vegan options also available.

The pizzeria is a welcoming sight on a stretch of Seventh Street, where traffic is busier by car than by foot. The owners (married couple Salman Agah and Price Latimer Agah, and Price's brother Roby Latimer) practice the credo that inspired Ray Kinsella's baseball field: They built it, and now L.A. is coming. 2019 E. Seventh St.; (213) 627-1430, pizzanista.com.

Farmer sandwich at The Daily Dose
Farmer sandwich at The Daily Dose
Christine Chiao

The Daily Dose:

The Daily Dose is a café in the cultural sense of the word. Its very location, tucked to the side of one building and spilling onto the cobblestone pathway alongside another, can spark conversations both real and imagined. Seating is mainly outside next to an edible garden and alongside the pathway, The Secret Garden come to life.

Owner Sarkis Vartanian believes in honest food. The formidable Farmer sandwich is both a best-selling behemoth and a microcosm of the chef's take on eating fresh. Sliced diagonally, the topography reveals pesto, bright ancho chili jam, burrata, a house-made veggie patty, a sprinkling of chopped scallions, guacamole and halved fingerling potatoes, all layered within a giant square of ciabatta. If Vartanian finds the squash unacceptable, he might substitute Japanese sweet potatoes; he skips the heirloom tomatoes if they're not up to his standards. The milk options are another example of his philosophy: Soy is noticeably missing, as Vartanian is uncomfortable with its genetic modifications. The Daily Dose instead offers whole or fat-free cow's milk, half-and-half or almond milk.

But you need take just one sip of the Buena Vista, a double shot of espresso with your choice of milk and two tablespoons of brown sugar, to get what Vartanian is trying to do here. It's honest, yes, but also delicious. 1820 Industrial St.; (213) 281-9300, dailydoseinc.com.

 

Roast beef sandwich at Eat.Drink.Americano
Roast beef sandwich at Eat.Drink.Americano
Christine Chiao

Eat.Drink.Americano:

Previously Café Metropol, Eat.Drink.Americano sits on a corner of a converted warehouse, blocks from the Sixth Street Viaduct reconstruction.

The area is still somewhat subdued during the day, so lunch at the gastropub could have been a throwaway. But the made-to-order sandwiches in Bread Lounge baguettes, created by consulting chef Juan Pablo Torre, suggest owner Michael Burke isn't interested in the easy route. They're sizable enough to trigger a warning that a side may be overkill -- and when you see the half-baguette arrive on a cutting board, it's clear that your best interests were kept in mind. You also won't go wrong with the Niman Ranch roast beef, sliced thin and accompanied by provolone, caramelized onions and horseradish cream.

The rest of the menu is a concise range of sandwiches, soup and salads. Lunch is available from 11:30 a.m. to about 5 p.m., and though the kitchen begins to prepare for dinner around 3 p.m., your order will be accommodated; just be prepared to eat alone. 923 E. Third St.; (213) 620-0781, eatdrinkamericano.com.

And in related news:

- 5 Food Trends We're Thankful For: An Antidote To Whiny Food Writer Syndrome

- Best Baguette: Bread Lounge

- Pizza Flowchart: Where to Go for Slices and Pies


Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Follow the author on Twitter at @chrstnchiao.

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