Here are the 20 best restaurants in Downtown L.A.
Nearly a decade after opening and Bestia continues to turn tables—and require weeks-out reservations. It shouldn’t be surprising, given chef-owner Ori Menashe’s penchant for nailing straightforward but innovative Italian food, which arrives hot from that centerpiece of a wood-burning oven. Some of Bestia’s menu highlights have become modern icons of L.A.’s dining scene: the Spaghetti Rustichella—a small pyramid of noodles under dungeness crab, citrus, Calabrian chili, Thai basil and onion seed—is synonymous with this hard-to-land reservation, as is the currant-and-pistachio–laden dish of Agnolotti alla Vaccinara, filled with rich braised oxtail. The desserts by pastry chef and co-owner Genevieve Gergis are equally iconic, and god help anyone who tries to get in between us and a forkful of chocolate budino tart. The eclectic and oft-rotated wine list is Italian-inspired but interntionally and broadly sourced, providing new and surprising twists to your meal with every visit—though the food menu may (blessedly) remain the same.
There are more than a few things to love about Nightshade, but at the heart of the charming, plant-bedecked space and the intimate (but not claustrophobic) vibe is the food: Mei Lin’s hyper-anticipated nouveau-Asian flagship nails execution, creativity and nuance without breaking a sweat, and has style in spades. Classic, beloved Chinese dishes get major reimaginings thanks to the Top Chef winner: The must-order mapo tofu-inspired lasagna tucks pork ragu and tofu cream in between its layers, while strips of shrimp toast full of meaty prawns lie in a pool of Cantonese curry, buried under fried curry leaves. Not to be missed are the desserts—truly, don’t skip any of them—prepared by chef de cuisine Max Boonthanakit so artfully, that the sweets themselves occasionally camoflauge with their serving vessels.
Chef Josef Centeno’s built quite the DTLA restaurant empire, strategically planting restaurants near in location but not in theme. There’s sandwich shop Bäco Mercat and Tex-Mex haven Bar Amá, but the shining gem is his Italian-meets-Japanese den, Orsa & Winston. At first, the cozy restaurant began as a tasting-menu concept—since then, it’s evolved to include à la carte weekday katsu sandos and grain bowls at lunch, and on weekends, one of the city’s most innovative brunches. Where else can you find house-smoked fish plates, masterful matcha and yuzu croissants, donabe pots brimming with nuanced soups, and Centeno’s hyper-creative, genre-bending tasting menu?
Many of chef David Schlosser’s dishes require the kind of time, care, delicacy and extreme effort that define kappo cuisine, which is why we’re convinced that the chef must’ve lost his mind to open a kappo-style restaurant—but we all benefit from it. This style of Japanese tasting menu or omakase fine-dining might serve bites of prawn ripened and fermented—for months—in their own juices, or slow-smoked salmon that cooks over cherry bark. In an almost hidden dining room in DTLA, Schlosser grinds nubs of fresh wasabi, and steams pork jowl with California-grown rice in a heavy iron pot, and experiments and waits, patiently, to create some of the most intricate flavors that can take weeks to develop. Order à la carte, or, more recommended, go for the omakase, which starts at $75 per guest—you’ll be in excellent hands. Be sure to sit at the bar to see the master at work.
Remember when we told you that the husband-and-wife team of Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis redefined modern-Italian food with Bestia? Well they’re doing it all over again with Bavel, and this time, it’s personal. They’re drawing on their familial and cultural heritage, as well as their modern-kitchen savvy, to bring us some of the best hummus and pita in the city, not to mention a fantastic large-format lamb neck shawarma, spiced Persian ice cream and must-order harissa prawns. There’s a comfort in the cuisine at Bavel, which winds its way through Israel, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey. The space livens up the already exciting menu: You can sit on the patio, but inside, near the open kitchen and under the waterfall of hanging vines, is where the action always is.
Tucked behind traditional noren that hang over the door, chef-owner Brandon Go artfully tweezers boutique bento boxes by day, and a multicourse, traditional kaiseki dinner by night. The space is intimate, the ceramics are handcrafted and imported from Japan, and Go’s precision and technique come by way of training under Michelin-starred Japanese chefs. There is something almost criminally understated here; Hayato’s delicate flavors and Go’s humble nature could lead Angelenos to overlook some of the most beautiful cooking happening in the city. We hope they don’t. They’d be missing out on phenomenal dishes such as steamed abalone with an unctuous liver sauce; an owan course of delicate crab meatball soup; and fresh fruit coated in a salted sake jelly. Orders for bento require at least 24 hours’ notice, awhile the stunningly artful kaiseki dinners often fill up a month in advance. Plan ahead.
Chef Steve Samson scores big with this stunning ode to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. At his Fashion District destination, the former Sotto chef turns his gaze not toward pizza (you can find that around the corner at his walk-up window, Superfine). Here, he’s all about flame-licked steaks, braised pork shoulders and rustic, comforting bowls of handmade pasta cloaked in slow-simmered sauces. Clever cocktails celebrate Italian spirits, while the wine list features excellent sparkling options. When the weather permits we love the patio, but our favorite seat in the house will always be right at the kitchen counter, watching the action.
One of L.A.’s most old-school players is known for its deep-fried shrimp tacos—“TACOS DE CAMARON” is painted on the Downtown-adjacent truck in giant letters, for good reason—but Mariscos Jalisco also serves fresh-to-death ceviches, toastadas and oysters on the half shell. Their signature tacos dorado de camaron live up to the hype, with flavorful and fresh shrimp folded into a corn tortilla that is then fried to a golden brown and topped with thick slices of avocado and a vibrant and complex salsa roja. You’ll also want to save room for their legendary tostadas such as the Poseidon, which comes topped with shrimp ceviche, octopus and a fiery red aguachile of shrimp.
Chef Ray Garcia’s Broken Spanish is bright and colorful—and we don’t just mean the setting. Sure, the tables boast hand-woven doilies and Mexican pottery, but the modern-Mexican food is vibrant, spicy and lively every forkful of the way. Garcia may be cooking more familiar ingredients like chicken, lamb, steak and oxtail, and they may come wrapped simply in tamales and quesadillas—but don’t be fooled. The chef works magic in the kitchen, transforming everyday meats and vegetables into hearty, elevated and entirely unique dishes that will leave you wondering just how he squeezed so much flavor out of each component. He perfectly marries tradition with innovation, helping to define what modern-Mexican cuisine is and everything it should be.
At the heart of Downtown L.A. is Grand Central Market, in location and history and culinary heritage. The European-style food hall’s been a neighborhood fixture since 1917, and today serves as a glimpse into the city’s past, and an incubator for some of L.A.’s contemporary best chefs. Some of Downtown’s most unique places to dine are at GCM: Wexler’s Deli, serving phenomenal pastrami sandwiches and smoked fish; Sari Sari Store, bringing us vibrant Filipino rice bowls from the team behind République; Horse Thief BBQ, where you’ll smell the brisket from a block away (and think about it all afternoon); and China Cafe, a GCM stalwart of 60 years. Make sure to stop by McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams for a sweet treat, Golden Road for a beer, and G&B Coffee for some cold brew.
How do we love Sonoratown? Let us count the ways. This humble taqueria has become so much of a welcoming cornerstone of our dining scene that it feels like home the second you walk through the door. Well that, or a party. The staff are lively, open and fun-loving, and their mood is infectious. Patrons from all walks smile, laugh and even dance, all to the scent of chargrilled meats that get slid into handmade, award-winning flour tortillas. Dishes get brightened by cabbage and a rainbow of house salsas, and topped by entire strands of grilled green onions. Sonoratown specializes in—you guessed it—Sonoran-style fare, which means tacos, quesadillas and chivis (think: soft chimichangas oozing cheese) all packed with fresh and straightforward ingredients that will have you planning a Northern Mexico vacation with every bite.
Timothy Hollingsworth could easily skate by on his acclaim—a recent Final Table winner and a French Laundry alum—but the chef keeps pushing out exquisite dishes and cocktails, years into Otium’s run at the base of the Broad museum. The cuisine leans Californian, with pistachios and herbs and fresh citrus woven into dishes like roast chicken and crudos, but you never know quite where Hollingsworth’s menu will take you, and that’s half the fun. (Our tip? Never skip the fresh pasta.)
Hiroyuki Naruke’s omakase experience is on another level from the second you enter Q’s doors. Classical music drifts through the refined space, a formal and tasteful dining room that’s home to a handful of tables and the real showstopper, a 10-seat sushi bar where chef Naruke quietly steals the spotlight. It’s hard to say which is more of a treat: the expertly cut fish sourced from around the world, or chef’s artful precision of a one-man show. Q focuses on Naruke’s Edomae sushi, a style that highlights vinegar-seasoned rice and high-quality, fresh cuts of fish, and at Q’s dinner omakase—at $200 per person—you’ll also receive a smattering of Japanese small plates, such as torched toro with shishito relish. Of course, if you’re not up for the dinner splurge, Q offers two lunch tracks—one for $75, and another for $125—whichever option you pick, day or night, just be sure to make a reservation.
In business since 1908, Philippe the Original claims to have invented the French dip sandwich. Whether or not you believe them, there’s no denying the eatery has an exemplary sandwich. Savvy customers make their way across the sawdust-covered floor to select a traditional lamb, beef or turkey filling, then ask their server to double-dip the bread in the meaty juice; add some of the sinus-clearing house mustard and you’re golden. A bevy of sides include coleslaw, macaroni and potato salad, hard-boiled eggs and pickles—all to be eaten in the midst of friendly strangers, whom you’ll inevitably wind up talking to.
Whether you’re a Philippe’s fan or Cole’s believer, the real question is—do you dip? Originators of the French dip (or at least they claim to be), Cole’s sits in the same Downtown location as it did in 1908, when it opened its doors as a public house inside the Pacific Electric railway station. Today, thanks to a revamp from 213 Hospitality, the booze is still flowing—both up front in the restaurant, and in back at speakeasy the Varnish. Diners can order up hearty, beef-jus–dipped sandwiches in a setting that’s much darker and moodier than Philippe’s, which is just down the road. You just need to ask yourself: Congenial cafeteria vibes at one spot, or the darkened bar where mobsters and Charles Bukowski used to frequent?
The Indian gastropub Badmaash is a family affair, with chef Pawan Mahendro and his sons, Nakul and Arjun, mashing up traditional and modern asethetics and cuisines. Take in the Bollywood movies projected on the wall as small plates arrive at the table. Start with street-cart classics like the addictive Punjabi fish-fry or crunchy papri chaat chips served with masala-flavored potato and chickpeas, yogurt and tamarind and mint chutneys. Beef eaters can fill up on the burger, which comes gussied up with mango jam and spiced mayo on a brioche bun—while those wanting a more traditional experience can opt for butter chicken, saag paneer and tandoori oven favorites like chicken tikka. Thirsty? Badmaash offers wines by the glass and bottle, local beers, a cutting chai with a cult following, plus India’s version of Coke called Thumbs Up (and it’s absolutely killer). And hey, if you’re normally more central, there’s even a Badmaash on Fairfax now.
Nestled on the ground floor of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Joachim Splichal’s haute restaurant hums with perfectly-harmonized service and plates with a perfect symphony of flavors. Since 1989, Splichal’s been serving exquisite contemporary French fare of the caliber usually reserved for healthy expense accounts, and now, executive chef Andreas Roller keeps the tradition alive. The dishes rotate frequently, a touch of Southern California produce in your traditional French cuisine. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, so go for the prix-fixe tasting option, which starts at three courses (for $109), and can scale all the way up to seven courses ($160), plus supplements.
Matteo Ferdinandi and chef Angelo Auriana struck gold with Factory Kitchen, but their Northern Italian-focused restaurant, complete with sexier vibes and a sort of humming electricity, is easily a top contender for best date-night dinner in the Arts District. The food here feels rustic, familial and traditional—especially heartier dishes, like Auriana’s veal porterhouse with polenta and his must-try gnocchi in a creamy sauce. Order something from every section of the menu, then finish with some espresso and their fabulous house-made gelato, for best results.
Wolfgang Puck does Chinese on the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Downtown, and as you can expect, the restaurant’s aspirations are as lofty as the view. The front lounge has an abbreviated menu of plates to share—sushi rolls, dumplings—not to mention the range of cocktails. But make your way to the main dining room and find yourself staring down a full sushi menu, plus dim sum like succulent shrimp-and-scallop har gow dumplings; crispy suckling pig; and Maine lobster spring rolls. There are full menus of from-the-wok entrées, too, plus curries and rice noodles, you know, to keep the feast going all night long.
Who says convention has to be stuffy? This Arts District robatayaki cooks grilled meats and vegetables using the traditional robatayaki technique of grilling over hot coal, but spices up its menu with playful spins on Japanese cuisine and flavor: salmon fillet with grapefruit miso and sansho salt; charred-coconut soft serve with soy; sweet potato served in a husk with chili-nori butter. Can’t decide? Opt for the $65 tasting menu, where you can feast on wagyu, sashimi, yellowtail collar and more. There’s a killer patio, where you’ll dine in the industrial-chic setting surrounded by hanging vines, but our favorite seat is inside—where you can sip sake as meat skewers sizzle on the large, center grill at the heart of the restaurant.