The Staples Center, located in downtown Los Angeles, is home to championship sports teams like the Lakers and Kings, while also drawing world-class acts (Jay-Z and Paul McCartney) and award shows. Unfortunately, most of the on-site eating options aren’t nearly as captivating. Instead of submitting to sub-par nachos — served with a side of price gouging — explore the surrounding neighborhoods and eat before or after a game or show. Here are 10 of our favorite restaurants, all within a short walk, drive or Metro ride.
Lima native Ricardo Zarate has come a long way from his Mercado La Paloma days, when he was working two jobs and running a Mo-chica stall at the USC-adjacent market during the day. Now he helms a contemporary Peruvian empire that extends to Santa Barbara. The restaurant that made his reputation, Mo-chica, relocated to the heart of downtown, complete with a more fashionable backdrop. A glass front gives way to high-top tables near a wall filled with painted Peruvian figurines. Vivid ceviches and tiraditos give way to enlightened takes on Peruvian comfort foods like patita (pig trotter stew), paiche (Amazonian fish) and alpaca (yes, the fuzzy Andean animal). 514 West 7th Street, Downtown, 213-622-3744, mo-chica.com
The new TASTE food court at the base of an office tower includes branches of Loteria Grill (Mexican), Mendocino Farms (sandwiches) and New Moon Café (Chinese). Other standouts include the fast casual Korean restaurant called Oleego (by Park’s Barbecue), Indus by Saffron and Juicy Lucy — a Minneapolis-inspired burger bar from Paul Shoemaker famous for stuffing the patties with molten cheese. Upstairs, City Tavern recently expanded from Culver City, bringing their focus on craft beer and bar bites east while raising their cocktail game with bartenders Cari Hah and Brent Falco. 735 South Figueroa Street, Downtown, 213-955-7150, figat7th.com
Downtown’s historic Broadway Theater District has a fashionable new star in the Ace Hotel. LA Chapter is operated by Ken Addington and business partner Jud Mongell of Brooklyn’s Five Leaves — a duo who migrated west and enlisted local Top Chef competitor Micah Fields to deliver an approachable restaurant that’s open from breakfast through dinner. The seasonal menu has included dishes like lemongrass rabbit ragu, grilled scallops with lobster vinaigrette and a spicy seaweed Caesar. Since L.A. is a burger town, they’ve got a kooky version — the Five Leaves Burger with premium Lindy & Grundy grass-fed beef, grilled pineapple, a slab of pickled beet, sunny-side-up egg and harissa mayo. 929 South Broadway, Downtown, 213-955-7150, acehotel.com/losangeles
At this rate, downtown’s Old Bank District may someday be named for Josef Centeno, who also has Tex-Mex–tinged Bar Ama and an upscale Italian-Japanese restaurant called Orsa & Winston. Still, Bäco Mercat is his most approachable establishment. Sure, he invented the bäco — a supercharged flatbread sandwich that has won worldwide fandom — but the restaurant may be even more of a destination due to Centeno’s skill with seasonal vegetables, which could include Caesar Brussels sprouts, blistered okra and caramelized cauliflower. Bring a group to divvy up his harvest, and to share big plate specials like whole-roasted New Zealand snapper or a 32-ounce pork porterhouse treated with Aleppo pepper, sage, pine nuts and pomegranate. 408 South Main Street, Downtown, 213-687-8808, bacomercat.com
Take the Metro due west to MacArthur Park where you will encounter pastrami nirvana. Sure, New Yorkers will gripe, but the #19 sandwich with Swiss, cole slaw and Russian dressing is gospel, and an unadulterated sandwich on double baked rye is still really damn good. So is the grilled #44 with sauerkraut and nippy cheese. Line up, settle into a boxy brown booth and be sure to order a Dr. Brown’s soda with your sandwich. 704 South Alvarado Street, Los Angeles, 213.483.8050, langersdeli.com
In an era of cheap meat offered at dozens of all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ joints, chef Jenee Kim is upholding the Prime mantle at Park’s. Her restaurant, which resides in a strip mall on K-Town’s east side, draws actors, performers and athletes to tabletop charcoal grills. Skip past the ubiquitous dishes like kimchi stew and bibimbap in favor of prime cuts of short rib, skirt steak and brisket. They even have a special section for true ballers, with American Wagyu versions of ggot sal, galbi, rib eye and boneless beef short rib, each topping $50. 955 South Vermont Avenue, Koreatown, 213-380-2084, parksbbq.com
Pollos El Brasero
Sometimes, simple is best — and matters don’t get much more straightforward than they do at this Pico-Union rotisserie chicken emporium. The family-run establishment features a brick exterior, red booths indoors and spinning chickens cooking over smoldering firewood. Birds marinated in Peruvian seasonings emerge from the rotisserie with juicy meat and caramelized skins. Spoon on spicy green aji and be sure to order sides of steamed white rice and stewed pinto beans to limit the heat. 2821 W. Pico Boulevard, Pico-Union, 213-381-6060
Modern Southwest cooking pioneer John Rivera Sedlar continues to bridge the gap between history and present day, Latin America and Los Angeles at his eponymous restaurant in South Park. In the blood red Sangre room, bar-centric Samba room and beachy Playa counter, it’s still possible to order airy flan de elote, warm tortillas with Indian butter and duck enfrijolada with blue corn tortillas and red wine chile sauce. He recently added State Bird Provisions-style lonchera carts that roam the dining room, dispensing small bites like cornmeal tempura oysters with chile verde remoulade. Either way, expect seasonal finds from his aeroponic Cielo Verde garden. 1050 South Flower Street, Downtown, 213-749-1460, riverarestaurant.com
Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa
Kazunori Nozawa is no longer behind the bar at Studio City’s late, great Sushi Nozawa, and nobody’s behind the bar at any branch of the burgeoning chain he developed with Jerry Greenberg, Lele Massimini and Cameron Broumand. At Nozawa’s bustling downtown location, settle into a table and sushi chefs in back will mold the day’s catch to form set menus like Trust Me Lite, Trust Me and The Nozawa, which includes Nozawa’s signature albacore sushi and blue crab roll. The restaurant also runs daily specials, and depending on what’s in season, it’s easy to supplement halibut fin, uni or giant clam. 600 West 7th Street, Downtown, 213-627-3000, sugarfishsushi.com
WP24 + NEST
The most ambitious restaurant in AEG’s LA LIVE development is clearly WP24, a high-end Chinese restaurant from culinary icon on the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The space smartly features prime views of the city, plus deluxe versions of Chinese classics, some served tableside, including Peking duck. Yes, tasting menus are available and since it’s Puck, he also has modern interpretations. Think General Tso quail and oxtail hot & sour soup. NEST is the casual lounge with seating pods that resemble bird’s nests and more straightforward bites like prawn toast, pork belly bao and stir-fries. 900 W. Olympic Blvd., Downtown, 213-743-8824, wolfgangpuck.com
Joshua Lurie is the L.A. based founder of Food GPS.
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