Last summer, we brought you a list of great restaurants where you can sit outside and enjoy L.A.'s perpetual sunlight. But for people who live, work, and play in downtown L.A., an hour's drive to Malibu isn't always in the cards. So, let's say you just got off work, or spent a few hours pillaging a sample sale in the Cooper Building, or wandering through MOCA. You're famished and, frankly, exhausted. What you need is a sun-dappled patio, a chilled glass of rosé, a satisfying bite to eat and a breeze on your cheek.
Unfortunately, finding such a haven in the concrete jungle of downtown can be a challenge. Downtown is, after all, the land of Art Deco monoliths, a grid of cavernous concrete halls imbued with history and architectural romance. The inherent beauty of these old buildings provides a stylish what's-old-is-new ambiance for the spacious eateries they house. What isn't typically provided is an outdoor seating area.Thankfully, this should change now that L.A. City Council is moving forward on their 2-year pilot program which slashes sidewalk dining permit costs for restaurant owners.
For now, when you want more than just a couple tables and chairs outside a storefront – especially in a neighborhood teeming with a diverse, occasionally invasive pedestrian population – here are 10 welcome respites of urban serenity.
10. Bäco Mercat
By now, Bäco might be considered a downtown institution. Busy all day, every day, the first of Josef Centeno's three restaurants is enduringly solid, consistently delicious and reservations necessary. However, out front is an awning-shaded patio with planters hung on its gated perimeter and 10 tables reserved for walk-ins. With the hip crowd, the cafe lights over head, and the butcher paper on the tables, this spot on a more mellow stretch of Main Street feels just like New York City. Many ingredients on the small plate heavy menu require explaining for the uninitiated, but you can't go wrong with one of their straightforward, bäco sandwiches or coca flatbreads. Order up a glass of wine or one of the bar's creative cocktails and settle in for some serious people-watching. 408 S Main St, Los Angeles; (213) 687-8808.
9. Artisan House
Located in the Historic Core at 6th and Main, Artisan House encountered some growing pains when it first opened in late 2011 with a trying-too-hard menu that didn't live up to its Westside prices, as if it didn't understand the locale it was aiming to conquer. Most disappointing was the spacious, inviting patio spanning the front of house that was never more than a third full. Today, after a changing of the guards, the restaurant is slowly winning people back with a new chef and a revamped, more accessible New American menu. And now the always full patio is the epitome of neighborhood conviviality. One side serves the main restaurant, where you can partake in the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet with bottomless mimosas and craft cocktails, the other side provides seating for the attached market, where you can score a made-to-order sandwich and various salads and veggies from the deli case before grabbing a table outside. 600 S Main St, Los Angeles; (213) 622-6333.
8. Urth Caffé
The Eastside hipster sibling of this L.A. chain is kind of like finding a Starbucks in London, a touchstone in a foreign land: familiar, cozy, dependable. Being the first of its kind in downtown certainly cemented it's status, and despite the coffee slingers who've settled around it (hello Handsome), it is still just as busy and popular as ever. This is likely due to its terraced patio, with tables spilling onto the sidewalk perimeter, all shielded from the sun with their green umbrellas and peopled with an artsy, fashion-y, student-y, dog-loving crowd. You know the drill here – organic coffees, teas and boba, a menu catering to both the angel and devil on your shoulder, and desserts for every persuasion and diet. Lots of desserts. 451 S. Hewitt St, Los Angeles; (213) 797-4534.
7. The Must
This new incarnation of an old local favorite is even better than the original, thanks in large part to its dog-friendly patio. After the first The Must was unceremoniously ousted from its home at 5th and Spring, the owners opened PERCH a few blocks away, then eventually sold their shares in the rooftop lounge in order to resurrect The Must in its current and undeniably more desirable location connected to the slowly blooming Medallion complex. This patio feels more like a humble veranda straight out of New Orleans, situated as it is at the front of the restaurant and elevated from the sidewalk on a quiet side street. On weekends, downtowners come out for the hangover busting brunch – try the Huevos on My Face (scrambled eggs, avocado rice, blue corn tortillas, creamy salsa verde) and the giant buckwheat pancake (gluten-free!) – and end up staying for happy hour. When it's sunny outside, it's nearly impossible not to order a dusky red sangria thick with berries or a bottomless Shandy and kick back with one of the many house-provided board games. 117 Winston St, Los Angeles; (213) 628-2000.
6. Le Ka
A newish addition to the neighborhood in the former Cathay Bank space on the corner of 6th and Flower, Le Ka (a French/Cantonese language mashup meaning “The Family”) adheres to the Financial District's sleek, contemporary aesthetic with soaring ceilings, walnut floors and amber lighting. While the dining room isn't winning any design awards, the real seduction happens just outside the 20-foot windows on the large split-level terrace dotted with sofas and glass-shielded fire pits. A popular happy hour hangout, Le Ka functions equally well as a sexy pre-show stop. Bring a date and pair your flirty banter with crispy pork belly over truffled lentils or black cod with shrimp dumplings in spicy dashi from chef David Feau's French-leaning New American menu. 800 W 6th St, Los Angeles; (213) 688-3000.
5. Daily Dose Cafe
Just around the corner from Church & State in the Arts District you'll find this hidden gem. Literally, it's hidden in an alley – a quaint, brick-paved, ivy-covered, not-so-secret garden kind of alley, which has likely graced many an Instagram feed since opening in 2011. The philosophy here is “honest food” and this is evident in the menu which varies depending on their locally-sourced, seasonally available produce. Open all day and boasting free Wi-Fi, they serve the ubiquitous Intelligentsia coffee and fresh-pressed juices alongside creative, artisanal sandwiches, newly added organic deli-style salads, and a variety of baked goods, including vegan and gluten-free selections from Pure Sweetery. 1820 Industrial St #104, Los Angeles; (213) 281-9300.
4. Maccheroni Republic
From the guys behind Ca'Brea and Locanda Veneta comes this unpretentious trattoria. An unassuming facade belies the lovely patio hidden on the side of the restaurant in a landscaped breezeway connecting Broadway to Spring Street. Shrouded by trees, bedecked with twinkle lights, this little oasis in downtown is made for those long spring and summer evenings when the air is still warm and the sky glows pink well past seven o'clock. With their BYOB policy, the uncomplicated yet luscious dishes of handmade organic pasta such as squid ink cuffie pasta with saffron fish ragout and the chalkboard specials such as lamb shank with risotto – none of which will set you back more than $20 – you've got yourself a recipe for a perfectly romantic first date. 332 S Broadway, Los Angeles; (213) 346-9725.
The only thing more beautiful than the Deco bohemian interior of this 15th floor French-inspired bistro and lounge is the panoramic, unobstructed view of downtown L.A. on the wraparound terrace. When happy hour beckons, you can imbibe $7 Penicillin cocktails (Famous Grouse scotch, lemon juice, agave and ginger liqueur) and nibble on charcuterie while watching the sun set over Pershing Square. Brunch is a hot ticket on the weekends, so arrive armed with a reservation if you want to enjoy the $25 sangria pitchers, oyster and Champagne specials, and live jazz quartet. 448 S Hill St, Los Angeles; (213) 802-1770.
2. Drago Centro
Set back from the street in a corner of the City National Bank plaza in the Financial District, Celestino Drago's minimalist Italian restaurant offers two swanky patios to get your zen on. Sit under natural light in the larger dining atrium surrounded by verdant olive trees and order some risotto alla pancetta from the menu of elevated classics. Or spend an afternoon with friends couched near the fireplace in the bar's indoor/outdoor lounge where a wall of glass doors open onto a chic patio and every hour of the day is happy (seriously). Bar manager Lance Kanawi (formerly of Culver City's Muddy Leek) has created a new spring cocktail program, so you can order a crisp Italian Mule (vodka, house ginger beer, lime, amaro) to wash down your truffle popcorn and mini Kobe beef burgers. 525 S Flower St, Los Angeles; (213) 228-8998.
1. Café Pinot
Downtown's old guard of French cuisine still boasts the prettiest patio in all of downtown. Located on a hushed section of Flower St. and adjacent to the 1920s landmark L.A. library, the patio overlooks a stepped courtyard with reflecting pools, a bubbling fountain and the tranquil Maguire Gardens whose cobbled walkways and wooden benches are reminiscent of Central Park. Though Café Pinot is one of those places typically reserved for special occasions – and truly, you feel special dining here – they also cater to business folk in the area looking for a peaceful lunch in the midst of a hectic day. If it's happiness you're after (aren't we all?), their Secret Garden happy hour on Monday through Saturday, from 2:30pm until closing, offers a selection of bites and drinks at prices that won't stress out your wallet. On a particularly picturesque afternoon, take a little stroll through the park, then sit back and relax with the $25 Cheese & Jamon Serrano Bar and Wine Flight that will have you floating home on cloud nine. You're welcome. 700 W 5th St, Los Angeles; (213) 239-6500.