The 10 Best Restaurants in Downtown Los Angeles
Downtown's explosive growth has been one of the most widely discussed topics in the restaurant world for the past few years. Now we are beginning to see those planted seeds bear delicious, delicious fruit. What was once a scattered collection of very good places to eat has morphed and matured into a fully realized dining scene that ranks among the most exciting places to eat in the country. In a matter of blocks you can find mind-bending pastrami, Filipino rice bowls and some of the best sushi that doesn’t involve a flight to Japan. There has never been a better time to be a diner in L.A.’s urban core, and things are only looking up.
Falafel at Otium
It's still the early days for former French Laundry chef Timothy Hollingsworth's grand-statement restaurant adjacent to the Broad Museum. But there's barely a room in town with more energy and excitement than Otium, which – with a Damien Hirst mural covering an outside wall – is a piece of artwork in and of itself. Don't expect formality or pomp; the service and style and menu are decidedly casual, even as you munch on sea urchin atop brioche spears wrapped in lardo and daubed with truffle butter. The long list of smallish plates has influences from all over the globe, from fancified falafel to prawns with chili, lime and coconut curry. What could be more comically American, though, than a foie gras funnel cake? If you wanted to show an extraterrestrial what upscale dining looks like in 2016, Otium and its informal extravagance may be the perfect field trip. –Besha Rodell 222 S. Hope St., downtown; (213) 935-8500, otiumla.com.
Reuben at Wexler's Deli
9. Wexler's Deli
From just about the day Wexler's opened, L.A.'s food obsessives started asking the question: Is this now the best pastrami sandwich in town? In light of our city's devotion to Langer's, the question seemed to be heresy, yet it isn't unreasonable. At its best, the pastrami at Wexler's rivals any in this city or any other: deeply rich, slightly smoky, sweet at its edges with a prickle of pepper and clove. Located in a stand in Grand Central Market, Wexler's is highly traditional, an old-school Jewish deli, pure and simple. Chef Micah Wexler smokes his own fish, cures his own pastrami, makes his own pickles and generally obsesses over the quality of every last detail. There may be no better outcome of all that obsessing than Wexler's lox: Slick, supple and delicate, the cured salmon tastes like a rushing mountain river in the same way an ultra-fresh oyster tastes like the soul of the ocean. –B.R. 317 S. Broadway, downtown; no phone, wexlersdeli.com.
8. Sushi Gen
There are many reasons to stand outside Sushi Gen and wait your turn for a table or a spot at the sushi bar. In a city full of sushi – rarefied sushi, expensive sushi, crappy sushi – Sushi Gen bridges the gap between quality and affordability. And it’s a pretty cool experience, to boot. Request a seat at the sushi bar and marvel as the line of sushi chefs dole out some of the highest-quality, lowest-cost raw fish in America. Rumor has it that it’s the buying power and longevity that affords them this miracle, a long-standing relationship with purveyors that gives Sushi Gen first choice of the fish coming into L.A. The lunch specials and dinner plates (not available at the sushi bar) deliver the best bang for your buck, but we prefer to sit and talk to the chefs, seek out the best of the day and order à la carte. It’s no wonder half the chefs in town name Sushi Gen as a favorite hangout, a place where you can revel in L.A.’s sushi wealth without needing to have a ton of wealth yourself. –B.R. 422 E. Second St., Little Tokyo; (213) 617-0552, sushigen-dtla.com.
John Dory at Redbird
When Redbird opened in December 2014, it felt like a necessary addition. Downtown needed a major, shiny new restaurant to anchor its burgeoning dining scene. It needed a place where the well-heeled would be happy to flock pre-theater, a restaurant for business or pleasure, a one-stop-pleases-all kind of place that nonetheless feels special. Redbird is a restaurant for when the mood strikes to live high on the hog, a place for eating in a decadent but sturdy fashion. Chef Neal Fraser excels at big hunks of protein, be it an extravagant slab of seared foie gras served with tart quince and cocoa nibs, or a rack of red wattle pork accompanied by roasted apples and turnips, the pig fat crisped just so at the edges, the interior juicy and piggy. The $110, 36-ounce porterhouse could feed a table of four and provides some deeply gratifying bites of beef, tangy and charred and bloody. Built in the former rectory and courtyard of the now-deconsecrated cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles known as Vibiana, the space is a glorious ode to the past and present of downtown Los Angeles. –B.R. 114 E. Second St., downtown; (213) 788-1191, redbird.la.
Pork longganisa at RiceBar
We use the term “hole-in-the-wall” as a folksy cliche, but RiceBar truly is a hole in the wall, a teeny kitchen with a door on downtown’s Seventh Street. The entire space – kitchen, storage, fridges, dining area – is 275 square feet. The master of those 275 square feet is chef Charles Olalia, an exceedingly friendly dude who often looks kind of happily stunned to find himself here. It is quite amazing to find him here, given that his last job was executive chef at Patina in Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the ritziest restaurants in California. Before that, he worked at the French Laundry in Napa Valley and Guy Savoy in Las Vegas. At RiceBar, the focus is not on fine dining but rather heirloom, fair-trade Filipino rice bowls in a variety of flavors. The menu is built around the four large steamers in the front window, each holding a different kind of rice. Kalinga Unoy is a rust-colored red rice, grown on ancient terraced fields in Kalinga in the Philippines, then sun-dried. The flavor is lightly nutty and sweet, and it delicately complements RiceBar’s suggested topping, bistek tagalog: tender, pan-seared, soy-marinated beef. There’s black rice covered in hunks of lush avocado, crisp radish, sweet pops of marinated grape tomatoes and tiny, pointy, salty, crunchy fried anchovies. Pork longganisa, a sausage that’s made in-house, comes sliced and accompanied by pickled veggies and has an almost floral and aromatic yet funky flavor that leaves a light, fatty sweetness behind. Olalia will recommend you order this over garlic fried rice and also that you add a fried egg. He’s a wise man in both regards. –B.R. 419 W. Seventh St., downtown; no phone, ricebarla.com.
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