Downtown LA: What To Know and Where To Go, Summer 2022 version
Hello Enthusiasts –
Well. It’s been quite the pandemic, hasn’t it? Everything closed, some things reopened, some things didn’t, but then some new things opened, and we’re not going into offices anymore, and … what does it all mean, especially for Downtown? And sure, I posted a season worth of podcast episodes (you’ve listened to them all, right? RIGHT?), but I haven’t written a proper blog post since … well, I looked, and it’s been since February 2020. Shocker. So, here we are, a pandemic later. I’ve got a lot to tell you, and now’s the right time.
For those who don’t regularly come Downtown anymore – and, unfortunately, that’s a lot of you – I frequently hear something like (insert sidelong glance and ominous tone) “how is it these days? Is it a ghost town? Are the homeless everywhere?” Or “yeah … is Downtown just sad right now? Do you think it will come back?” When I hear that, I always know I’m not talking to an actual Downtown aficionado.
That being said, I get it. Hardly any office workers. You hear about all these closings. And yes, homelessness. Not everybody knows what to make of it all. So, your friendly neighborhood Enthusiast is here to help.
First, no, it’s not closed and it’s not empty. Places like Bottega Louie and Little Sister and Seven Grand and Water Grill have reopened. Joey DTLA has never not been packed. New places have opened (more on that below). Sure, we’re hoping that places like the NoMad and the Standard reopen but, honestly, at this point I barely notice they’re shut. Basically, the Downtown you know and love is here and going strong.
Second, yes, the homeless are a bit more visible because there’s fewer of everybody else, but they’re not everywhere. Skid Row is Skid Row, but other than that, it’s just kinda the usual thing. Mind your own business, and everybody is pretty harmless. I have never had an issue.
Third, and here’s the real reason for this post, there are a LOT of cool places to check out. So, instead of going in depth on any one of them, this will be more of a roundup of places, some familiar and some likely new to you. Some in the financial district, some in the historic core, some in South Park, some in the Arts District. Point being that it’s not one or two, and it’s not in only one or two neighborhoods.
So, without further ado, here we go, in no particular order. First grouping in DTLA proper, and then moving on to the Arts District below that.
(* = newish place):
If you haven’t been to the refurbished Hotel Fig, it’s awesome. The restaurant is called Sparrow, and the bar inside Sparrow makes Instagram-worthy drinks that are as much a show as a cocktail. There’s also the front, more casual cafe restaurant for breakfast or lunch or when Sparrow is full. The place is teeming with energy and always worth a trip. Also, pro tip: there’s a very back pool bar that rolls out a DJ and has awesome dancing on the weekends.
939 S. Figueroa
I know – Mastro’s is a chain and you wouldn’t necessarily call it exciting. But I don’t care what anybody says – Mastro’s sets the bar for “conventional steakhouse”, and sometimes you just want a great steak and great sides and a big ole’ piece of butter cake. So … I’m unreasonably excited that there’s a new one Downtown in the bottom of Circa, across from the convention center. For some reason, it’s branded as an Ocean Club, which is what the Malibu one is. DTLA isn’t Malibu, but it’s awesome to have a place like Mastro’s so easily accessible. And the front area is super open and easy to drop into. I just wonder who will still go to the Palm, which is right around the corner.
1200 S. Figueroa
OK, OK. Prank isn’t new. But it’s an amazing indoor/outdoor bar, it’s always fun, and it’s owned by my friend and podcast interviewee Dave Whitton, so I have to give it some love. It’s great before a game or show at … (pauses, consults notes) … Crypto.com arena because it’s a little less packed than the LA Live places and has a lot more personality.
11th & Hope
Caldo Verde is the expansive downstairs restaurant and Cara Cara is the beautiful rooftop bar/restaurant at the brand spankin’ new Proper Hotel. Both places are run by Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne of a.o.c. fame, and they’re great. I love Cara Cara at lunch with a nice breeze and the City flowing out in front of you. And Caldo Verde is a breakfast, lunch, or dinner place, and the bar is easy, too. We should all be grateful for the Ace Hotel, because it showed that you could have a thriving hotel and restaurant in that neighborhood, so now two more have opened right by it (second one below).
1100 S. Broadway (Broadway just past 11th)
Cabra & (hopefully) Sibling Rival *
Housed at the Hoxton hotel, literally across 11th street on Broadway from the Proper, Cabra is an awesome rooftop spot from Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat fame (see below) and Sibling Rival is the leafy downstairs restaurant that, lately, seems to be intermittently open, but is great when it is. Cabra is especially good at night – perching around a pool with a good cocktail and a bite and the city lights twinkling below you is pretty hard to beat.
1060 S. Broadway (Broadway just before 11th)
Full disclosure: I have not been here yet. But I’m super excited about it. Housed in the underground former El Dorado space next to Le Petit Paris in the Historic Core, it’s now an old school piano and jazz supper club. With nights titled things like “Piano Karaoke” and “Crazy Ex Girlfriend Singalong” (with, yes, Rachel Bloom appearing), this kind of place is exactly what DTLA needs.
416 S. Spring St. (between 4th & 5th)
This isn’t open yet, but it will be soon, and it’s going to be a Stunner with a capital S. The Conrad is the hotel part of The Grand, Frank Gehry and Related’s swanky, amazing, 15-years-in-the-making development across the street from Disney Hall (which, full disclosure, I work on), and it’s just incredible. I’m having technical issues with embedding photos here (and I’m probably technically not supposed to yet), but if you’re friends with me on Facebook, look there. Short version: I predict that this is going to be one of the most in demand destinations in DTLA. It’s got everything and it’s designed to within an inch of its life.
100 S. Grand Ave. (across from Disney Concert Hall)
I mildly hesitate to include this place, because I don’t love it. I think it’s owned by the same people as the divey Irish pub Dublin’s around the corner, and it shows. The decor is *awesome*, and it has lots of TVs … but the food and the vibe is sorta “divey Mexican”. That being said, it’s convenient, easy, relatively inexpensive, and the margaritas are good. And the food is just fine – it’s just regular ole’ Mexican. But it fills a niche in Downtown – if that niche is “it’s late and I’m tipsy and I want some Mexican food.”
888 Wilshire Blvd. (actually faces Figueroa, on the corner of Wilshire)
Aside from Cabra and Cara Cara above, both of which are rooftops, DTLA has so many amazing rooftop bars. Most of them have been around, but they’re still awesome, and even better if you can get there for a midday escape. A quick list: the Ace Hotel, Wayfarer Tavern, Perch, Broken Shaker (at Freehand), Cha Cha Cha in the Arts District (more Arts District places below), the Wilshire Grand 70th floor lobby bar (not a rooftop, but close enough, and the actual rooftop requires ridiculous minimums, though it’s certainly amazing), 18 Social inside the Hotel Indigo, and even the Conrad will have a de facto rooftop space. I’m not giving you precise locations, but Ace, Cabra & Cara Cara are pretty much on the same corner, Wilshire Grand and Hotel Indigo are near each other, and Wayfarer and Broken Shaker are definitely walkable from each other. You could easily make a day of nothing but Downtown rooftop exploration and comparison (and day drinking). Not that I’ve done that or anything.
(Gusto Green is also a new place, but I’m not linking to it and not writing about it, because it was on the verge of being creatively great, and then inexplicably fired their chef (who, yes, is a friend of mine), and it’s now kinda generically Italian and it’s all very depressing. But if I’m telling you about new places, I guess I should at least mention it…)
And then, in DTLA proper, there are the reopened stalwarts: Bottega Louie. Seven Grand. Little Sister. Joey DTLA (more recent, but already kind of a stalwart). Cole’s/the Varnish. Cana. Water Grill. And then, in the “silver lining” territory, even the super terrible “Seven”, at the corner of 7th & Grand, closed for good. Karl Strauss is about to reopen. Point being is that almost everything has reopened and is thriving. A few haven’t come back, and probably didn’t deserve to (with the notable exception of the NoMad, which I hold out hope for), but way more have. It may not feel quite like DTLA used to on the streets, but it feels familiar and like old times once you walk through the front door of wherever you’re going. And I love the stalwarts because they feel like coming home.
Now … on to the Arts District:
Long one of my favorites in all of Downtown, Manuela is nestled within an art complex (that is free to wander around in), and serves amazing Southern food. Great cocktails, great, airy vibe, and one of those “just as good for lunch or dinner places”. If you haven’t been, or haven’t been in awhile, it’s worth the effort. Get the cast iron cornbread.
907 E. 3rd St.
Sitting right across the street from Manuela, part of me doesn’t want to love Death & Company. It originated in New York, and has another outpost in Denver – I want something as great as Death & Co to have originated here and not exist anywhere else. But damn if they don’t make the best cocktails in the City. Let me say that again for the people in the back: Death & Company makes the best cocktails in Los Angeles. Yes, I said it and I meant it and I don’t say that lightly, as loyal readers of this little vanity project know full well. What’s more amazing, their cocktails have no business being so good. The menu includes probably 20 different drinks, or more, at any given time. They often have 5 or 6 or 7 ingredients, a couple of which you have never heard of, and might include something like bee pollen. They change the menu quarterly. This is not the traditional recipe for a world class cocktail bar. But there’s a reason Death & Co has been a national trendsetter, released a best selling cocktail recipe book, and requires reservations to get in (though you CAN talk your way in on the right night and with the right approach). Their commitment to excellence, their training, and their execution are second to none. And they even serve a little food, which isn’t all that common in LA cocktail bars. If you haven’t made the effort to go to Death & Co, make the effort. Just don’t order a vodka soda (in fact, never order a vodka soda).
818 E. 3rd St.
Sitting right next door to Death & Co, Cha Cha Cha is another buzzy Mexico City place (see Damian below) that now has an Arts District outpost. I like it more for a drink at the bar than a full blown meal, but it’s worth knowing about. And maybe dropping in while waiting for a spot to open at Death & Co.
812 E. 3rd St.
Even though Girl & the Goat originated in Chicago, it feels quintessentially DTLA. Green and airy and bright, Girl & the Goat is never not packed and buzzing, but in that homey, inviting way (whereas, much as I love Bavel and Bestia, their buzz to me is more scene-y/showy) and the food will knock your socks off. Chef Stephanie Izard is famous for being the first female to win Top Chef, but she isn’t relying on “celebrity” to draw people in. It’s just plain good. Actually, it’s great. And, even though G&G has only been open a year, she already opened Cabra at the Hoxton (see above), so she’s committed. And yes, given the title, the menu does have its share of goat dishes, but try them. It’s not “stunt” food – if you didn’t know what it was, you would just find it flavorful and want more of it. Girl & the Goat is one of those “impress your friends” places when they come to DTLA. Pro tip: resos can be tough, but if you come early, you can almost always find bar seating, and the experience is just as good.
555 Mateo St. (if you know the Arts District at all, it’s up the alley and around the corner from Urth)
Damian’s claim to fame is that the executive chef is Enrique Olvera, who owns Pujol in Mexico City, which currently sits at #9 in the World’s Best Restaurant rankings. Sitting right across the alleyway from Bestia, it is, quite simply, the best and most creative Mexican food you’ve ever had. Cocktails, too. I will say: for a restaurant that’s going for “great”, I’ve had a couple meals there that were more in the “darn good” category. But I’ve never been disappointed, and if you haven’t been there, it’s for sure worth it.
2132 E. 7th Place
De La Nonna is out of this world pizza served in a super inviting space created by legit pizzaiolos. A pandemic-inspired spot born out of popping up and making pizza around the city, De La Nonna is one of those “how did I not know about this?” places. Worth finding.
710 E. 4th Pl
Full disclosure: I haven’t been to Camphor. But if somewhere is on my “must try” list, then I figure it should be on yours too. Housed in the late, highly lamented Nightshade space, Camphor is elevated French food in a relaxed setting (I’ve peeped inside). If you try it before me, report back.
923 E. 3rd St., #109. I’m including the space number because it’s actually down a bit of a walkway, past Eat Drink Americano.
Housed in the former Church & State place in the bottom of the Biscuit Company lofts, Caboco is yet another place I haven’t been to, but it hasn’t been for lack of trying. I do a lot of “drop in and sit at the bar” eating, and it’s closed both Mondays AND Tuesdays, and those are the two days I happened to be in the area and tried. But, again, if it’s on my list, it should be on yours. Brazilian food. A “name” chef who took convincing to try to LA. A very well respected restauranteur. Lots of promise. Good reviews. Try it.
1850 Industrial Street
82 isn’t that well known, so I’m throwing it in here. 82 appeals to a pretty specific clientele (which may include yours truly). Here’s 82 in a nutshell: classic 80s and 90s arcade games that mostly cost 25 cents each to play, that also serves high quality cocktails (and includes a small tray screwed into the wall next to each game to perch your drink). If that appeals to you, you’ll love it. Don’t really need to say more.
707 E. 4th Pl.
And finally … Hayato
Located inside the Row at 7th & Alameda, I have also not been to Hayato but believe me, it’s not for lack of trying. Here’s the deal with Hayato: it’s very, very traditional Japanese food. It’s 7 seats, total. It has one seating a night. It has two Michelin stars. It has been named the best restaurant in LA and beyond many times. Reservations are released on the 1st of every month at 10 am and it’s literally like winning the technological lottery – you frantically click dates and take anything that comes up and when you go to finalize your booking, somebody else has already taken it and then they’re all gone. So yeah. If that’s your thing, take a shot. And then invite me if you get a reso.
1320 E. 7th St.
And then the Arts District has its own stalwarts: Bestia. Bavel (which I actually like a bit better than Bestia). Arts District Brewing Company. Pali Wine Company. Factory Kitchen. Oficine Brera. Wurstkuche. Eat Drink Americano. Angel City Brewery. Zinc. KTCHN (linked here because not everyone knows about that one and should). And yes, there’s a Father’s Office in DTLA.
Even more than DTLA proper, the Arts District is “back”. Walking around the Arts District on a weekend night feels like a legit night out – and weeknights are about the same. Pop into Salt & Straw for ice cream. Get a slice of pie at the Pie Hole. Get a couple tacos from Loqui. Get a sausage and a beer from Wurstkuche. Play Skeeball at Arts District Brewing. You get the idea.
So … there you have it. An epic post after a long absence. I hope I’ve convinced you to make a night, or a day, or a weekend out of Downtown Los Angeles. There’s still nowhere like it in this great, chaotic, surprising, amazing, interesting, it’s-many-things-but-it’s-never-dull city that many of us call home. Come back. It’s worth it.