Getting dressed up is a miserable process. Not just because it takes you forever to brush your hair in a way that hides the fact that you fell asleep eating Oreos on the couch today. But because deep down, you know you’ll inevitably run into someone you vaguely know, who will be wearing some hooded sequined pantsuit they put together five minutes before they walked out the door.
Dama is that person in restaurant form. This upscale Latin restaurant in the Fashion District is one of the most visually-impressive spaces in the city - and when you throw in its fantastic food and the kind of laid-back atmosphere usually reserved for tropical vacations, it’s also one of the most exciting.
Breaking from the sprawling warehouse blueprint that most high-end restaurants downtown adhere to, Dama looks like the grounds of a colonial mansion in Cuba. The space has a gigantic wooden bar, tiled floors in every direction, and wicker ceiling fans that double as an ocean breeze after three rum cocktails and some tacos. There also aren’t any real walls to speak of, so no matter where you sit, you’ll feel like you’re outside. Executed poorly, and you might think you’re inside some over-designed set piece on the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride. Instead, Dama feels original, as if there’s always been a Cuban mansion downtown and you just didn’t know about it.
As far as Dama’s food goes, the tremendous Latin-influenced menu reads like the pool bar offerings inside a beach resort in the Caribbean. There’s a seafood tostada, a celery salad that’ll make you feel good while frolicking in the ocean later, and beef empanadas that won’t. It’s the kind of food you snack on over the course of several hours with a date or while drinking mezcal with coworkers until you believe you actually are in the Cayman Islands. It’s also the kind of food you wake up texting your friends about - partially to brag, and partially to set up a return visit as fast as possible.
There are bigger dishes on Dama’s menu (and you should definitely order them), but at no point does a meal at Dama feel like you’re at an official sit-down dinner. Dishes arrive intermittently, separated by rounds of cocktails, followed by more food because you got re-hungry. Nobody at Dama is in a rush, or trying to push you out the door. And you can wear whatever you want - bonus points for a hooded sequined pantsuit, though.
It might seem a bit absurd to spend $11 on restaurant bread, but this is special. Topped with heirloom tomatoes and Portuguese olive oil, it’s basically garlic bread on steroids and one of our favorite things on the menu.
Mixed with crispy pork, cotjia cheese, and pickled onions, this bean dip is rich and creamy, with just the right amount of bite. The crispy tortillas that it comes with are forgettable - use some leftover bread to dip instead.
You can find clams in a lot of LA restaurants, but Dama’s are different. The broth is dark and fragrant, and the chorizo provides just the right amount of spice.
It might not be the most shareable dish on the menu, but this bocadillo is a must-order. It’s essentially a squid ink calamari po’boy that’s perfectly balanced with the pickled sweet peppers on top.
If you’re going to do a big plate at Dama, order this Portuguese sausage. It’s spicy and crunchy, and there’s a bonus frisee salad sitting on top for the person at your table still complaining they didn’t get enough vegetables.
This is basically a banana sundae served in a popcorn tub and we would drive to the Fashion District just eat to it. Actually, we’re en route right now.