Once upon a time, eating well in downtown Los Angeles meant ducking into one of a very few fine dining palaces, where you would dine prettily at Water Grill or Patina, aesthetically if not physically very far removed from the grungy streets and abbreviated skyline of the city's epicenter. Only a few years and thousands of loft dwellers later, give or take, downtown L.A. now has some of the best restaurants in town, pretty glass-and-metal bistros and neo-Italian food lofts and DIY odes to sort-of Spanish cuisine. You can walk or bike to beautiful food, served outside under tree canopies and sparkly lights. You can eat stellar tacos or exquisite omakase or fried pigs ears or glorious porchetta in what once looked, particularly at night, more like the set of Mad Max than a vibrant part of the city. If this is urban evolution, it's tasting pretty good right now. Turn the page for our picks for the 10 best restaurants in downtown L.A., realizing that this will probably all change again in a few years, with or without pro football.10. The Parish
The Parish, chef Casey Lane's gastropub that opened in July of last year, is a triumph of many sorts -- a triumph of cocktails, of bar culture in general, of poutine. But mainly it's a triumph of atmosphere, at least in the top half of the two-story, flatiron-shaped restaurant, which feels like the glassed-in deck of a 1930s ocean liner, sailing through downtown Los Angeles. Much of the food is seductive as well. Roast chicken comes with a vinegary bread salad and hearty mustard greens. The burger is topped with wonderfully assertive cheese; some nights, it's the blessedly stinky Époisses from France, while others it's sharp blue Stichelton from England. There's chicken liver on toast topped with crackly, thin bacon; a particularly piggy-tasting pork head fritter; and crispy fried sardines that come with caper aioli and are fantastic as a bar snack, washed down with a beer. And if you find yourself lucky enough to end up with the Parish's oyster poutine in front of you, consider it a lesson in the fine art of elevating grease. 840 South Spring St. Los Angeles; 213-225-2400.9. Mo-Chica
Ricardo Zarate has taken his whiz-kid Peruvian place Mo-Chica from a stall in Mercado la Paloma and moved it downtown, opening a restaurant that tries to channel that street-food vibe in a swanker setting. There's stylized graffiti on the walls, the design is all cement and industrial chic, and the gorgeous girls shaking drinks vigorously behind the tiny bar wear men's undershirts. There are fun food fusions -- a risotto made from quinoa, an alpaca burger -- but the best food here is actually the comfort food, the stuff that makes you feel cared for despite the clamorous surroundings: the ceviches, and stews of tripe, chicken or alpaca, and bright, very good cocktails with which to wash it all down. 514 W. 7th St. Los Angeles; 213-622-3744.8. Mexicali Taco & Co.
In a town very conversant with tacos, Esdras Ochoa and Javier Fregoso managed to make an impression indelible enough to turn their cart into a taqueria. With an assist from entrepreneur Paul Yoo, Mexicali Taco & Co. didn't move too far from its original location, setting up as a stand-alone restaurant at the edge of Chinatown last February -- much to the relief of its regulars. There is the titular taco, named and in part fashioned after Northern Baja. But it's the vampiro that people come for. Here liberties are taken with form, creating something that's part quesadilla and part taco. Like most of the menu, a vampiro is made with your choice of meat like carne asada, chicken or chorizo. It's then covered with a garlic sauce and white cheese before the flour tortilla is closed into a half-moon and grilled. If you can stand the heat, add a side of gueros, or banana peppers, dressed in a Cantonese-Baja style that's befitting of the location. 702 N. Figueroa St. Los Angeles; 213-613-0416.