The Downtown LA Dinner Guide
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Downtown LA is like that kid everyone avoided in high school, only to discover years later that he’s now a high-profile model/actor/influencer. In the span of a decade, DTLA’s restaurant scene went from non-existent to completely saturated with great spots. Now it’s so crowded with places to eat that you forget it hasn’t always been that way.
Whether you work downtown and want to switch up your usual dinner plans or you’re looking for a place to eat after an hours-long photoshoot in front of the angel wings mural, your restaurant options are overwhelming. Which is why we’ve narrowed them down for you. Here are our favorite places for everything from after-work snacks to an anniversary dinner.
If you’re passionate about eating in Los Angeles, you’ve probably heard about Bavel, the Middle Eastern restaurant from the people behind Bestia. But this massive Arts District spot is more than just the latest place where you’re forced to eat at 5pm (even with a reservation). It’s home to truly fantastic food, including so many different types of bread, you’ll be forced to order all of them just so you can have a March Madness-style bread bracket. Between tough reservations and high prices, this isn’t exactly a casual dinner option. But it is one you’ll look forward to.
DTLA restaurants have a well-earned reputation for being productions: long waits, aggressive themes, dress codes, and mandatory valet. Then there’s Badmaash, the fantastic Indian restaurant on the north end of downtown that’s as low-maintenance as they come. The food is affordable, the modern space is easy to get in and out of, and its slightly remote location makes street parking a possible reality. Ordering the tikka masala poutine is a non-negotiable.
Majordomo is an OK place for a date where you’ll sit at the bar and have a couple of cocktails alongside some very good modern Korean food. But when you come with a crowd, Majordomo becomes a fantastic restaurant. That way, you’ll sit at one of the enormous round tables and, more importantly, you’ll have an excuse to order at least one of the truly excellent large format dishes. The bone-in short rib is $190, but divide that by eight and it’ll only cost $23.75 a head. Which leaves enough room for you to order sausage-stuffed peppers, Chinese flatbreads, and some noodles too.
This criminally-overlooked Italian restaurant has been around for about 100 years in Arts District time (it opened in 2013) and serves pasta that’s every bit as good as its famous neighbor, Bestia. The converted warehouse space is upscale, but it still feels local and low-key. Get their prosciutto or don’t bother telling people you came here.
For years we built our daily schedules around Guerrilla Tacos truck’s pending location. And now that they’ve permanently parked the truck and opened a restaurant, we just spend a lot of time in the Arts District. The brick and mortar Guerrilla has some familiar aspects (sweet potato tacos, excellent seafood tostadas, very friendly staff) and new options too (quesadillas, even more taco options, booze). It’s a quick and casual, order-at-the-counter set-up, but they also won’t mind if you hang out for a while until you feel ready to order a second round.
As far as we’re concerned, there is no better big group dinner spot Downtown than ERB. This casual bar/restaurant not only has one of the best patios in the city, but also an excellent bar food menu that will give even your pickiest friend a reason to be happy in public. Get the burger, the hamachi tostada, and a margarita, and enjoy a place that makes getting everything right look incredibly easy.
Truffle-stuffed roast chicken isn’t exactly an everyday dish, but The Restaurant At The NoMad isn’t an everyday restaurant. This is the best place for a celebration in the whole city because, in addition to the excellent food, you feel like you’re in a private club where the bathrooms are in a downstairs bank vault and cocktails are served in golden skulls. Yes, it’s over-the-top, but it never feels particularly pretentious or annoying. You’re having too much fun drinking from that skull anyway.
Q Sushi is a very traditional omakase spot on 7th St. in a windowless, but very calm room. You’ll find fish that’s flown in from Japan daily, businessmen sitting at the bar drinking sake, and a single sushi chef who’ll hand you every cut of fish himself. It’s expensive - you’ll pay $165 for 19 courses of sushi - and doesn’t involve anything particularly unusual, but this is simple sushi done at the highest level. Q is a nice spot for a fancy night out, especially if you’ve made it your personal goal to try every good sushi place in Los Angeles.
Kasih seems like just another restaurant at the bottom of a mixed user, but don’t let that deter you. The Indonesian food you’ll find inside is interesting and tasty. Some dishes here are traditional, like sate and sambals, and others less so, like the fantastic snapper ceviche that has crispy fish skin and a creep-up-on-you spice level. This is a restaurant where you’ll always be able to get in, order a few things to share, and walk out still being able to afford to eat for the rest of the week.
There are plenty of restaurants in warehouses in DTLA, but there aren’t many that will also make you feel like you’re in a colonial mansion on a tropical island. So Dama stands out, and while you can easily pretend you’re on vacation here, the food is much better than what you’d get in an island resort. We like to order a few of the smaller plates (and never skip the white bean dip), intersperse them with cocktails, and always leave room for the banana soft serve.
Opened by the Sotto people in a new development in the Fashion District (and across a courtyard from Dama), Rossoblu takes some effort to get to, but once you’re there, it’s more than worth it. Is it expensive? Yes. But if you’re looking to throw down or impress somebody important, this is where you do it. The food is excellent (get the charcuterie and pork chop belly), the space is beautiful, and the wine list will get everybody in a good mood.
It’s true: eating at Bestia involves a lot of patience, with a not-unlikely wait for your table even though you made your 9pm reservation eight weeks ago. But this is some of the best Italian food in the city, so you should do it at least once. The menu is enormous (and kind of overwhelming) and is best tackled by letting the waitstaff guide you in the right direction. Which should always involve the charcuterie and the bone marrow.
LA has never been a beacon of great Tex-Mex food, but Bar Ama is doing its job to make up for the rest of the city. Bar Ama is laid-back, easy to get into, and the kind of place you stroll in with a few friends after work and end up staying till 10pm. You’re going to want the queso, lots of vegetable stuff, and the off-menu puffy tacos.
Lasa is technically in Chinatown, but it’s worth the extra couple minutes in the car (and trips around the block looking for a parking spot) for their excellent modern Filipino food. The restaurant itself, in the same building as Howlin’ Rays, is pretty bare bones, but the excellent service makes you feel like you’re part of the family that runs this place. And while it’s casual enough for a group dinner, you’re not going to get dumped for bringing a date here either. Especially if you order the condensed milk ice cream for dessert.
If you’re downtown to see a show at The Ahmanson or Walt Disney Music Hall or want to impress your parents with how well you’re (pretending) to have your sh*t together, Redbird should be at the top of your list. Its Bunker Hill location is a quick walk to all the major theaters and museums, the large space (that used to be a church) is stunning, and though it can get pricey, the menu is huge and ideal for people who never know what they want.
It’s 8:45pm, you just finished work, and you know there are exactly zero things to eat at home. Stop in at Shibumi on your way home, and grab a seat at the bar instead. It’s the best way to experience this Japanese spot, and they’ll help you pick the perfect sake to make you forget that you spent your day trying to figure out how to make a pivot table in Excel. The food is like what you’d actually eat in Japan, with delicate flavors and constantly-changing seasonal dishes. And if you need to apologize for too many late nights at the office, all the dark lighting and sharing-sized plates make this a great date night option too.
Being 71 floors above LA’s sprawl makes you feel like you’re in this place for something important. If you’re dining at 71Above, you probably should be - it’s an experience too expensive to waste on an event that isn’t either celebratory or corporate. That said, the food, a choose-your-own prix-fixe, is delicious. Get their egg and sausage appetizer and the prime ribeye main, but know the menu changes regularly and pretty much everything on it will be great. If you’re looking for somewhere to do a special occasion, or your boss needs somewhere to take a new client, 71Above is your best bet.
Back in the day when not a whole lot of new restaurants were opening in DTLA (2006), Wood Spoon arrived to give the neighborhood a casual Brazilian spot. Fast forward to now: 9th and Main is in the center of the action, and Wood Spoon is as reliable as ever. It’s not a big place, so reservations are a good idea, but you won’t find many better low-key date spots than this place. Order the pot pie.