Food fit for the angels: What to eat in Downtown Los Angele
David Skipwith gets fed up with LA in the best possible way.
Los Angeles has always been popular with Kiwi tourists heading to Hollywood and Disneyland but the City of Angels is also a dream destination for food lovers.
Temptations are everywhere in the form of traditional diner meals and classic fast food, but LA has a wealth of eclectic eateries and high-end restaurants providing myriad options beyond chicken waffles, hotdogs, burgers and fries.
From coastal locales such as Manhattan Beach, to the revitalised Downtown and Hollywood areas and beyond, LA boasts a vibrant culinary scene that reflects the city’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity.
A hidden gem of the South Bay, Love & Salt has established itself as one of the city’s most popular restaurants, laying down rustic, Italian-inspired dishes just steps from the renowned Manhattan Beach Pier.
The large open space features a slate-blue and grey dining room, long granite bar and an open kitchen, providing a relaxed and lively setting for a fun date, or group or family meal.
Share plates, pasta and pizza are the go-to options here — standouts from our table include an entree of prosciutto and pear with bufala mozzarella, a grilled skirt steak with Jerusalem artichokes, grilled radicchio, and chimichurri, plus grilled octopus salad.
The cocktail and wine lists are suitably laidback and complement the menu well; there’s a good selection of French and Italian labels and their California equivalents and several tasty local craft beers are available on tap. If you lived in the neighbourhood, you’d be here every week.
A similar buzz has been created in Downtown at Broken Spanish — an award-winning modern Mexican restaurant, just a stone’s throw from the Staples Centre entertainment precinct.
The menu follows the evolution of its classically trained head chef, Ray Garcia, an LA native, whose food is strongly influenced by his Latin upbringing. Drawing inspiration and flavours from a diverse and colourful community, Broken Spanish offers a unique experience serving up shared crowd-pleasing home-style dishes.
The duck meatballs and bacon, with salsa chipotle are a must, before mixing and matching tortillas with a variety of sumptuous dishes such as esquites — corn, with bone marrow, guero chile, and Cotija cheese — and barbacoa short rib, with Sangre de Toro beans, bacon, and chipotle.
The restaurant features a beautiful bar area adjacent to the main high-ceilinged dining space, where you can indulge in a cocktail or two, or choose from a well-rounded wine list and quality selection of beers.
If you’re Downtown during the day around lunchtime, or are looking for a more casual setting for a bite in the evening, explore the international fare on offer at Grand Central Market.
Having celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2017, the bustling thoroughfare building packs in more than 50 food stalls of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, and fish from California and around the world.
Choose from an almost endless variety of creative cuisine, from vegan ramen and handmade pasta to authentic street tacos and award-winning coffee.
I did the rounds and queued at Prawn Coastal’s seafood counter to order a soft bread roll chockful of Maine lobster stewed in a broth with roasted onion and red pepper, fresh Thai basil, tangy coleslaw and aioli. Superb flavours abound and the sandwich provides ample fuel to keep you going for the rest of the afternoon or night.
Another casual dining option is The Fields LA — a new foodhall next to the recently opened Banc of California Stadium in Downtown’s Exposition Park.
The 200-seat dining area features seven hip eateries from multi-award winning chefs and a spacious outdoor cafe, while upstairs houses Free Play DTLA — a gastropub run by chef Tim Hollingsworth.
If you want to treat yourself come dinner time, take things up a notch at Gwen, a European-style, chef-driven butcher shop and restaurant that is redefining fine dining culture in LA.
On Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, Gwen is the second restaurant from Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone (his first is Maude) and offers an elegant feast-style menu presenting up to 20 dishes that call on fire-based cooking techniques.
Gwen’s in-house butcher shop is the heart of the restaurant, sourcing hormone-free, ethically raised and slaughtered meats and game direct from ranchers, to provide to the kitchen and the home chef seven days a week.
Vegetarians be warned — the tasting menu is dominated by meat, and a focus on steaks, which range in price and size from $95 for a 500g New York strip to a $199 1kg aged ribeye, with sides of duck-fat potatoes and Josper roasted carrots the perfect complements.
No matter where you are in LA, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Dowtown on the up
Downtown Los Angeles used to be a place to avoid but in recent years the district has been dramatically transformed into a bustling cultural hub well worth your holiday time.
The once-desolate area has been revamped and has grown beyond housing the city’s drab business centre, sparking life into a collection of neighbourhoods each with their own distinct personalities.
Deciding what not to do Downtown is now the hard part for tourists, with a huge range of first-class hotels, bars, restaurants and shopping on offer, along with museum attractions, and live sporting and music entertainment.
I was fortunate enough to bunk down at the Freehand Los Angeles — a
high-end hotel/hostel hybrid featuring mostly private and exquisite rooms along with a range of comfortable shared accommodation spaces for groups of four, six and eight.
Located in the former Commercial Exchange building at 8th and Olive (formerly the publishing house of Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs), the Freehand is full of beautiful dark cedar and hand-woven textiles, which give it a film-noir feel.
Be sure to pop up to the popular Broken Shaker bar on the rooftop pool deck before dinner and enjoy a cocktail or craft beer while casting your eye across the beautiful LA skyline.
Countless attractions are within striking distance of Downtown — including the magnificent Natural History Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits, or contemporary art museums such as The Broad and Getty Center.
If you have the time and are visiting during the NBA season (October-April), make the effort to catch a Lakers or Clippers basketball game, or big-ticket concert at the Staples Center.
You don’t have to be a sports nut to enjoy US basketball — entertainment is the name of the game. All the glitz and hype, with amazing selections of food, beverages and merchandise conveniently at hand, ensure the spectator experience is far above and beyond anything served up at Auckland’s Spark Arena or Eden Park.
Downtown shopping offers something for everyone but avid readers simply can’t go past The Last Bookstore — a giant two-storey space packed with more than 250,000 new and used books and magazines, rare collectibles, and a large space dedicated to new and used vinyl records.
If you feel like venturing further afield, take an afternoon trip to the Griffith Observatory, where you can enjoy incredible views of the Hollywood Sign, Downtown LA and the Pacific Ocean.
Entry to this iconic cultural attraction — featured in many Hollywood films including Rebel Without a Cause, The Terminator, and La La Land — is free. Time your visit for sunset to get the best photos but be prepared for crowds looking to do the same.