Posted by Glenn Gritzner on July 18, 2014
Hello Enthusiasts –
So, I start off every post half apologetic and half defensive about not posting more often, so I won’t bore you again with the same old apologies and defenses. But yes, it’s been awhile.
And, one of the reasons I know it’s been awhile is that probably twice a week, somebody says to me “Do you still have your blog? I haven’t seen you post in awhile.” To which I sigh and say “Yes, I still have the blog and I KNOW, I GET IT, OK, LEAVE ME ALONE, SORRY I HAVEN’T POSTED. JEEZ.” OK, I don’t actually do that. But you get the idea.
(Tangentially, some people ask me if they’re still on my distribution list and/or if they’re still allowed to read my blog given that they haven’t seen posts from me in awhile. First, I don’t kick anybody off my list unless they ask me to – which they never do. But more importantly, uh, it’s not a password protected website. You can visit amateurenthusiastla.com any damn time you like. But I digress.)
ANYhoodle, part of the reason I don’t post more often is that I feel like I have to think of some big theme and find a bunch of pictures to post and be all clever yada yada yada. But in my self-inflicted pressure to do all that, I realized that I’m letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I’m depriving my loyal readers of this little vanity project of what I love to provide – the information you need to do Downtown like a pro, helping you to love, appreciate, and respect this great city center as much as I do.
So, I’m going to try to be better about that going forward and just do simpler, shorter posts with the basic info you need. But for now, to play catch up, I’m gonna give you all the places that I don’t think I’ve ever written about Downtown, but that I like for one reason or another. Some are old, some are brand new, you’ll know some, you probably won’t know others. But I’m not doing pictures or links or locations – if something sounds good to you, Google it.
So, without further adieu, and in no particular order (though I sorta tried to group things geographically), here goes:
Fifty Seven LA is a cool new place near Bestia that is sort of a glorified pop up – they have guest chefs who rotate every 3 months or so. The last guy was an alum of New York’s Eleven Madison Park (if you don’t know what that is, all you need to know is that it just got 4th best restaurant in the world at the World Restaurant Awards.) The current guy is a Thomas Keller alum (and if you don’t know who that is, stop reading and Google him immediately). Bonus: it has a cool speakeasyish bar downstairs that offers live music almost every night.
Speaking of Bestia, could it really be true that I haven’t posted about Bestia? I’m ashamed. I won’t spend much time on it here because I’m assuming many of you already have been there and/or know about it. But, if you don’t … it’s a) got a really festive, loud, Brooklyn-ish atmosphere to it; b) wayyyyyy on the east side of Downtown – like, your dinner companion will think you’ve taken them somewhere to dump them off or something but don’t worry, it has valet; and c) super authentic, awesome Italian food. Make resos way in advance, and don’t leave without trying one of their amazing cocktails.
Speaking of Italian, and speaking of places I can’t believe I haven’t written about yet, that takes us to Factory Kitchen. Tucked away in the Arts District in a former factory (duh), this place competes with Bestia for best Italian in Downtown. Founded by Valentino and Drago alums, we’d expect no less. All the pasta is homemade, the sauces are to die for, and they’ve even revived some classically Italian dishes that you don’t see much anymore. It’s packed all the time, even in an obscure location with decent-but-not-great décor.
Badmaash is probably the best Indian food in Downtown. At the bottom of the Higgins Building that houses the Edison. Small, but has an upstairs space too. Go at lunch if you want to run into City Hall types.
Mo-Chica is Ricardo Zarate’s place on 7th that serves super interesting and creative Peruvian food. Yep, Peruvian food. It started out as a food stand in Mercado La Paloma before becoming a full fledged restaurant … and now the guy is a three time James Beard award nominee and Food & Wine Best New Chef. For those of you who remember Test Kitchen, which I wrote about, he did that too.
Q is serving amazing sushi on 7th – and you should go there soon because I’m not sure how long it can really stay open. Jewel box spot, easy to miss, expensive, and not crowded. Which is great for diners, but a questionable business model. The chef made a name for himself in Tokyo and then just up and moved because he wanted to try his hand in America. It’s next level sushi – for next level prices. Go for lunch and you might be the only people there (like I was), getting a private show from a world class sushi chef. One word of warning, though: you might be hungry afterwards. It’s great, but it’s basically a snack. And a $100+ snack, no less. Good thing Bottega Louie is across the street. So … only go if you really like sushi. But if you really like sushi, you’ll love Q.
Baco Mercat, which I’m guessing most of you know about and/or have been to, is an amazing place on Main near 4th, just past Pete’s, and is the creation of now-star chef Josef Centeno. Centeno’s “baco” invention is the specialty – sort of a pimped out taco on amazing doughy flatbread-y stuff (which I’m sure is the accurate culinary description). Centeno was previously at Lazy Ox , and then really put himself on the map with Baco. Bill Clinton recently ate there with Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, if that kind of thing matters to you.
Bar Ama on 4th, between Spring and Main, is another Centeno creation (he obviously likes to be able to walk between his places and I don’t blame him) doing a sort of elevated Tex Mex thing. It’s not healthy but boy is it delicious. And, they have a “Super Nacho Hour” on Saturday and Sunday afternoons which I haven’t partaken in, but has to be awesome.
Orsa & Winston is our final Centeno restaurant, right next door to Bar Ama on 4th, with no sign. Orsa & Winston deserves its own post (I’ve had one half written since I ate there) because it’s one of the best restaurants in Downtown, if not the entire City. After making his name with glorified street food, this is Centeno’s announcement to the world that he can cook with the best of ’em. Very small, no décor, but an exposed kitchen doing transcendent things (and fine dining-level service too). He’s there almost every night, indicating his level of seriousness here. Make a reservation 3 days in advance and tell them you want the “super omakase” menu – you sit at the bar and get a 20 course meal served to you directly by the chef. You’ll never forget it.
The Continental Club, also on 4th between Spring & Main, is a pretty cool space and, while often crowded, isn’t all that generally well known, for reasons I can’t quite figure out. Look for the blue door right next to Bar Ama, and descend a staircase into what you would swear is a private club. Definite dark, speakeasy vibe. Big bar right in the middle with ordering on all four sides, which is convenient. Good cocktails, and they do DJs with lots of dancing around the bar on the weekends. BUT, they are going for upscale and they get a lot of resos and they’re generally doing a little bit of the club thing, so the doorman can be super strict. Which I have definite mixed feelings about, but I’m not going out at 11 pm on a Saturday expecting to be let in. So if it’s a weeknight and/or early and/or you’re not with a big group and/or you are a group of girls, go for it because it’s worth it once you’re in. Weekends/late/group of dudes? Skip it.
At 8th & Spring, right next to Terroni, are two quasi-hidden places that you have to go downstairs to find. Peking Tavern and Crane’s Bar. They usually have signs on the sidewalk, but you go down what you swear are just sort of random stairs until you find these two places tucked underground. Peking Tavern has amazing dumplings and generally well done Chinese food. It’s got a good, chill vibe, and is authentic enough to attract people from the SGV. The name is actually telling – it both seems authentically Chinese and like a neighborhood tavern. Crane’s is inside an old bank vault, including the huge old vault door, which is cool – but otherwise it’s just a cool, decent neighborhood bar. You know, trivia Tuesdays and whatnot, with Madonna on the jukebox. What I like about both these places is that they are hidden, which makes them interesting, but are otherwise comfortable, unpretentious, decently priced places – places Downtown needs more of.
Beelman’s Pub is brand new, just opened on 6th & Spring. What I love about it is that it’s remarkably unremarkable. Just a few years back, a place doing cocktails this good in a space this inviting would have had all of Downtown drooling over it. Now, it’s just expected – great cocktails and great spaces are the norm, not the exception. But one cool thing is that you can sit on the patio and order your drinks through a service window. Sort of like the old days, but not.
Aqua Lounge is an easy-to-miss place on Spring at 5th – look for the blue water with bubbles floating up inside, or the glass bubbles hanging from the ceiling. Why all the bubbles? Because this is a champagne bar. Need I say more? (it also serves sashimi and some other small bites…)
Across the street from Aqua Lounge is pretty much the exact opposite – the DnO Bar – ie, the Down & Out. The Down & Out used to be a dive bar back when 5th & Spring was, you know, dangerous. They’ve spruced it up enough that you’re not scared to go in, but this is still a place where you sit at the bar and drink whatever’s on tap (when you click “Booze” on their website, it only shows you beer…). The kind of place that’s open 365 days a year from 11 am to 2 am. And where you know there are people drinking on Christmas.
Just around the corner on 5th just past Spring, you’ll find Onyx. Onyx sort of flies under the radar. In the same spot where the Must used to be, I think people were so heartbroken about the Must (though they shouldn’t be – see below), they just stopped going there. But they’ve got decent cocktails (including a nice punch selection), and decent food, in a well-designed, inviting space. There’s nothing especially remarkable about Onyx … but there’s nothing wrong with it either.
Speaking of The Must, it lives! Not everybody knows this, because it’s sort of tucked down an alley on Winston, around the corner from Pete’s and Baco Mercat off of Main. But they’ve done an amazing job with it. Exposed brick, comfy leather seats, great patio, good combination of healthy and comfort (and gluten free and vegetarian) food. They’ve succeeded in doing a sort of “comfortable urban” thing. Well worth the search.
On your way to the Must, also on Winston, you might see a sign for The Lash. I’m not going to tell you not to go to the Lash. But I will tell you that the Lash is some sort of goth/Euro throwback place. Lots of angles and black and white stripes and cracked glass-and-neon (the neon was in Cyrillic though, so…). Last time I was there, when it was early (for them, meaning like 9:00 on a weeknight), one of only two other people there was a … guy? … in black high heeled boots and waist length hair, clearly awaiting the later hours. They have dancing in the back room, though I’ve never been there at Midnight on a weeknight, when it supposedly “goes off”. But it’s definitely good for a “hey, look at this cool, vaguely threatening place I know” to stop in for a drink. On your way to the very inviting Must.
Then, there’s Stocking Frame, on 9th near Hill. The menu is way more creative than you’d expect – stuff like house smoked pastrami tacos, bison tartare, and maple pork belly – and the atmosphere manages to be upscale-yet-comfortable. It feels like you’re in some sort of warehouse you’d find in the fancy part of Montana (the state, not the street).
Honeycut, another place many of you know of and another place deserving of its own post, is a very unique spot. Downtown nightlife kingpin Cedd Moses and his partners went for the audacious goal of a cocktail-forward dance club, and hit the mark. Why is this audacious? Because dance clubs are about volume – think $15 vodka tonics in Vegas – and people at dance clubs generally don’t care about their tinctures and handmade bitters, so it’s not worth it. But Cedd has always wanted to do more than just pour alcohol down people’s throats. With Honeycut, he has redefined the niche. Incredible cocktails from a HUGE list, and separate rooms for dancing and drinking. The dance floor is lit up from below with multi colored lights, Saturday Night Fever style, and the DJs tend to be pretty stellar. It’s in the alley behind the O Hotel on 8th & Flower, underground. If you haven’t gone yet, it’s worth it. Another place that gets super crowded, but hey – good places get crowded.
AND FINALLY, I give you somewhere I wrote about when it first opened, but where I’ve learned a lot of people don’t know a key feature – the downstairs cantina at Mas Malo. Only open Fridays and Saturdays, look for a door to the right of the bar. You don’t need a password or anything – you just need to know to walk through it. It’s got a cool, underground vibe, and a “found” quality to it. Plus, they do different drinks than they do upstairs.
There you have it. I know I don’t post a lot, but I’m making up for lost time. Just goes to show how Downtown keeps changing literally every day. Which is what makes it continue to be awesome.
Happy travels. (And with this post, I’ve given you many places to travel to!)