I found myself visiting Los Angeles four different times this year, which to some of my fellow New Yorkers is four times too many. But I’m prone to cut the city some serious slack — I have a weakness for lamb barbacoa tacos and driving cars to things, kay? But what I wasn’t a fan of was downtown Los Angeles, the concrete sprawl famous for mile-long skid rows and, more recently, a giant mall vaguely resembling a sports arena where very-well-funded sport franchises win championships against the teams I cheered for. L.A. Live, as it turns out, is pretty dead.
But as a great non-shocker to anybody who has lived a relatively food-focused life in Los Angeles, there’s another reason to visit downtown these — a rapidly growing, already respected restaurant scene that has all sorts of people driving in as far as Orange fucking County to visit. Here are the six places I most enjoyed.
The Parish (Closed as of Oct. 2013)
To call The Parish a gastropub sells the chef, Casey Lane, a little short. Sure he serves a mighty fine fish and chips — lager-battered cod with a celeriac remoulade — and pork head pie. There’s quivering bone marrow, as decadent as they come, and a burger ready for that South Beach bash all patty sculptors hope to be invited to. But then there’s the bowl of crunchy green beans mingling with masala, grilled peaches and large scoops of local burrata. That is mostly certainly not the grub you want to pair with a heavy porter. (Though, Lane’s fried chicken and two types of poutine —one with fried oysters — will do just fine.) The sliver of a space downstairs leads to an expansive upper level packed with buttery leather banquettes and the dim Edison bulb lighting that is so ubiquitous in NYC. You will want to fight the crowds for a seat up top, unless of course you’re in the mood to witness the transforming downtown scene before your very eyes. Sit on the patio then and soak it all in. 840 S Spring St Los Angeles, 90015 213-225-2400 theparishla.com
Ever since I interviewed Latin America superstar chef Gastón Acurio last year, I’ve been waiting for his native Peruvian cuisine to have its big moment in the States — as was promised by many of the glossy food magazines hot on the case. I was still waiting after the New York City branch of Acurio’s La Mar Cebichería failed to catch fire, and I was still waiting after countless mixologists attempted to shoehorn pisco onto their drinks menus (they were reading the same glossy magazines, apparently). But after visiting Ricardo Zarate’s sleek Mo-Chica, my wait was finally over. Zarate and partner Stephane Bombet opened their West 7th Street restaurant in May 2012 as a follow-up to their townhouse cantina Picca in Beverly Hills.
For a party of four you can have a grand time working through the menu of small plates, like albacore ceviche, roasted beet salad with candied corn kernels and a fried egg crostini. There’s an oxtail stew and a lamb shank with cilantro beer sauce. And, of course, the wonderful house pisco sour made to specs with lime, lemon, egg white and dashes of Angostura. L.A. is a driving town, but you might as well take a cab for this drink. 514 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles, 213-622-3744, mo-chica.com
When I was in town last month for the L.A. Food & Wine Festival, all everybody could talk was Bäco — and we're talking about mostly restaurant professionals (chefs, publicists, bartenders) who didn’t work at Bäco. It’s a true industry sort of place from 38-year-old chef Josef Centeno, formerly of Lazy Ox Canteen. It’s casual, but not sloppy. Accessible, but still interesting.
The 40+ dishes are influenced mostly by Spain, but still with a clear Southern California vibe. Case in point, the massive Vegetables menu — another reason fellow chefs are down: vegetable cookery is SO IN. There’s Caesar brussels sprouts and charred gem lettuce with coriander and feta. Sugar snap peas work magic with burrata. The namesake flatbread sandwiches range from light, fried favas, to insane beef tongue schnitzel, and can be ordered three to a table if not for the larger meat courses like tender braised beef with kumquats or lamb neck pasta. Save room for those. The Catalan pizzas called Cocas were suggested by the industry friends.
Big points for design, as Centeno renovated this former office building with mood in mind. Bonus points also for a bar staff that seconds as deft waiter and story teller, all the while mixing a mean gin and ginger shrub. 408 S. Main St., Los Angeles, California 90013 213-687-8808 bacomercat.com
Handsome Coffee Roasters
Oh boy, the three men who opened this Arts District coffee house and roaster sure are handsome, as are the shop’s customers — a mix of well-scrubbed design professionals and competitive cyclists. (On two recent visits it felt like the Starbucks at the staging area of a Giro d'Italia stop with all that Spandex.) The coffee is worth the pedal — all served in the very-American sizes of 3, 5 and 10 ounces. Pick between expertly pulled cappuccinos, macchiatos and cortados. The only iced option is a cold-brew. And the beans, mostly of South and Central American origins, are roasted onsite — so you can buy a fresh one-pound bag for $20. 582 Mateo Street Los Angeles, CA 90013 323-606-3593 handsomecoffee.com
The Varnish and Seven Grand
Both of these Cedd Moses bars are pioneers in their own rights. Moses opened The Varnish three and a half years ago in the back of Cole’s French Dip — an L.A. relic in need of a shot in the arm. What it got was a serious cocktail program shepherded by the very well-liked bartender Eric Alperin. Classics, like the paloma or gin fizz, are the anchor of the slim seven-drink menu. The bartender’s choice, often risky in other parts of the country, is your go-to here. The space, formerly the restaurant’s stock room, maintains an intimate, aged-leather vibe that is only furthered by the ragtime piano player on duty.
Seven Grand, conversely, is all about what’s in the bottle and one of the finest brown-liquor bars you will find in the United States. Apparently, they sell more Maker’s Mark here than anywhere in the country, which a packed house on a recent Friday night visit all but confirmed. The list is something to contemplate. All these rare bottles (Black Maple Hill 16-year, Hirsch 16-year, Jefferson’s 18 Year) are sitting in downtown Los Angeles? The best bars in Louisville don’t have this kind of range. Seven Grand is a must visit for any bourbon freak. The Varnish 118 East 6th Street Los Angeles, CA 90014 213-622-9999 | Seven Grand 515 West 7th Street Los Angeles, CA 90014, 213-614-0737 213nightlife.com
From the people behind the global phenomenon Umami Burger arrives this bar and food hall “inspired by international street bazaars and the classic American delicatessen,” as the website claims. The offerings include charcuterie, crispy pigs ears with brainaise and pig sashimi from Chris Cosentino; there’s a lox-and-more deli called The Cure and, of course, a burger stand serving sliders and full-sized versions. Guests can order all of this from their server, so there is no need to walk around to the different stations set up around the expansive room in the ground floor of the Orpheum lots. Time will tell if this ambitious concepts works, but we’re certain it’s the best place to load up on serious calories in Southern California. 852 S Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90014 213-413-8626 umami.com/umamicatessen
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