Best Of :: Downtown
Best Use of Fresh Veggies: P.Y.T.
Josef Centeno is doing something slightly different at P.Y.T., something that makes this newest venture relevant in its own right. Where all the food at his Bäco Mercat — meat and meat-free — is aiming for maximum flavor and contrast and excitement, the food at P.Y.T. is more focused on the soul of the vegetable itself, and the best way to frame singular ingredients so that they shine. This ethos makes for food that's presented in a slightly simpler format, and dishes that are built around produce that Centeno obviously chooses carefully, perhaps even obsessively. This was perhaps best evidenced with a dish P.Y.T. served early on, in which Centeno figured out how to get the most turnip-y flavor from a turnip by wrapping it in an hoja santa leaf and baking it for hours in a salt dough crust. He'd bring the whole thing to the table and crack it open in front of you, cut the turnip into pieces, and drizzle it with some shiso-inflected chimichurri.
Every other Friday, Sudamericana fills the intimate (and underground) Continental Club downtown with a sweaty Latin dance party unlike any other in L.A. Beautiful people dressed in the requisite "stylish attire" — some from South America but many not — crowd the space between black leather booths to shake hips and dance their way through a world of rhythms, from salsa to bachata to cumbia to rock. Founded by Toronto native Paula Lucero in 2012, Sudamericana started as a free monthly night that focused on new and nostalgic music from all over Latin America. (Sudamericana also donates a portion of ticket sales to nonprofits in South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and California.) The idea behind the playlist remains the same, but the club has now morphed into a full event company that hosts the twice-monthly flagship night at the Continental as well as occasional booze cruises in Long Beach, rooftop parties in Chinatown and more.
When European art powerhouse couple Iwan Wirth and Manuela Hauser Wirth opened their expansive gallery compound in the Arts District, the move signaled that the global art world was beginning to invest big money in our city. With high-profile names lined up to populate the exhibition spaces, it was surprising to discover that the real gem of the reimagined 19th-century flour mill was its restaurant, Manuela. The elegant space, designed by Matt Winter, encompasses everything that is great about dining out in L.A. The restaurant's interior is a glass-enclosed room, perhaps like a cozy conservatory in a Montreal manor (or the boardgame Clue), which creates a seamless indoor-outdoor feel with the expansive patio area. There, brunchers lounge and Instagram each emerging dish, like paparazzi for chef Wes Whitsell's grilled peaches or sizzling Texas quail. At night, the thick marble bar becomes a launching pad for discussions on gentrification or (post)-postmodernism fueled by Manuela's craft cocktails, served under the yolky glow of the chandeliers. Art lovers can make discoveries of their own, too, such as the large-scale expressionistic cityscape by South Los Angeles painter Mark Bradford and a pastoral mural by Black Flag's illustrator Raymond Pettibon. When your meal is done, you can stroll to the nearby gardens and chicken coop to personally thank the hen responsible for your omelet. This merger of sophistication and casualness reflects the Angeleno experience, where cultural collisions and mashups are never-ending.
Some restaurants try very hard to cultivate a certain type of clientele. Others can just bring in happy, fun-loving people by virtue of the food and drinks alone. Rossoblu, a Northern Italian–inspired restaurant that opened this year in downtown's Fashion District, is the latter type of place: Walking in feels like arriving at a warm and welcoming house party. The courtyard of the repurposed warehouse has perfectly placed strings of lights overhead — it's an ideal setting for a big group dinner. The huge indoor space is decorated with a Renaissance-meets-contemporary mural, more artful lightbulbs and an open kitchen. And though the ceilings are in fact soaring, there's nothing cold or empty about Rossoblu. There are so many people, sometimes wearing unusual hats and sack dresses of unusual fabrics, eating homemade noodles and salumi, that the restaurant feels like the friendliest place in town.
Cartwheel Art has been offering art-centric tours of downtown Los Angeles for years. But its newest and most exclusive tour, a collaboration with downtown's new Hotel Indigo, takes guests in a different direction: below ground. The immersive tours are inspired by Hotel Indigo's L.A. noir design theme and allow participants to travel back in time to the creepy and fascinating Prohibition era via the city's all-but-forgotten network of underground tunnels. The original system was built as an alternative to the dirt roads above ground, serving as an easy passageway for corrupt city officials to smuggle alcohol. Enthusiastic guides illuminate the city's history of organized crime and corruption while recounting spine-tingling, early–20th century murder stories. Walk the hallways where famous criminals such as Charles Manson and O.J. Simpson were led to trial. Venture into a storied and haunted piano bar where gangsters like Jack Dragna once played, and visit the remains of the city's first speakeasy. The tour ends at what was once the end of the Pacific Electric Red Car line in one of the city's oldest bars, where the booze is strong and, thankfully, legal. Cartwheel offers the tours on Fridays and Saturdays several times a month for $85.
We're a few years into Grand Central Market's renaissance, but it's not yet old news. Somehow, with the exception of a very few missteps (Anheuser-Busch? Seriously, guys?), GCM only becomes more of a culinary wonderland every day. The most glorious addition of the year is Sari Sari Store, a stall in the seating area that's been designed to look like — and is named after — convenience stores in the Philippines. But there's an excellent chance the food served at this uppercase Sari Sari Store is better than the rest. That's due to its owners, Margarita and Walter Manzke, a restaurateur dream team. The rice bowls and other savory items are excellent, but it's the buko pie, the star of the dessert menu, that will imprint itself on you after just one bite. "Buko" means "young coconut" in Tagalog — in other words, a coconut that still has a green and smooth exterior. This is a custard pie made with the liquid from the fruit, but mixed into that custard are big slices of coconut meat, just firm to the bite and perfectly (with apologies for using a foodie word) succulent. Topped with shredded coconut, served in Margarita's famous pie crust (usually only available at République), a slice of buko pie is rich enough to fulfill the day's caloric needs, and ethereal enough to make you rethink everything you knew about pie.
At the moment, Beta Main is sort of like a sunflower seed. It's perfect and nourishing in its own right but, given the right conditions and care, it will grow into something grand, towering and breathtakingly beautiful. Open since October 2016, Beta Main is phase one of the Main Museum, a massive adaptive reuse project that will eventually (come 2020 or so) comprise three adjacent downtown buildings — for a total of 100,000 square feet — and will include a rooftop garden, a cafe and an amphitheater. In its current incarnation, Beta Main is a somewhat modest, 3,500-square-foot exhibition space with high ceilings and ancient tile floors. L.A. Weekly arts writer Catherine Womack cleverly referred to it as an "artistic amuse-bouche" when it opened last year, and, in fact, the programming has already given L.A. a taste of what it will do when it's fully fledged — and it's been good. As museum director Allison Agsten told us last year, "Women will always have a very important place in the program of this museum," and so far they've lived up to that promise, opening with Suzanne Lacy and Andrea Bowers as resident artists, and later inviting East Los Angeles photographer Star Montana and L.A.-based artist Carolina Caycedo to display their work as resident artists. The application process for 2018 residencies closed Oct. 2, but we can't wait to see what's in store. The year 2020 can't come quickly enough.
Runner-up: Skylight Books
Runner-up: Gotta Have It and Jet Reg