Essential Eats: A Downtown LA Food Guide

Everyone and their mother has a favorite restaurant, a tried-and-true haunt, and within the confines of those doors, a favorite dish that keeps calling them back. With the Downtown LA scene showing zero signs of cooling off, it’s a given that the food scene is at its polished prime.

This month, we asked some of our favorite Angelenos for the skinny on their must-hit Downtown LA restaurants and the dishes they can’t live without. Spaghetti with sea urchin, scallop and crab sushi rolls, and classic queso dip are among the chosen few. Bookmark this list of urban core eateries and add them to your rotation.


Bestia is one of those restaurants that might make you question….everyone likes it?! What gives? Nothing! Chef Ori has figured out how to make really delicious food for the large number of people and that is a feat in itself.  It’s their gorgonzola pizza that does it for me—I crave the earthy cheese cooked with crisp, almost charred kale, mozzarella, grand padano, and olive oil. Like everything else that comes out of that kitchen, I know I’ll eat everything when I get there, so I make it worth it! The spaghetti with sea urchin, calabrian chilies, and squid ink bottarga is a signature there for a reason and it's probably my favorite dish on the menu. Jessica Koslow, chef of Sqirl

"I love Bestia and their roasted marrow bone with spinach gnocchetti, crispy breadcrumbs, and aged balsamic. It's a really surprising dish. At first, you're not sure how it's going to work, but once the bone marrow mixes with the spinach gnocchetti, it creates one of the most decadent bites you'll have in LA. " —Rudy Moujaes, creative director of Folklor 


“At Maragame Monzo, plum shiso bukkake udon is one of the best things to eat on a hot day. The chilled noodles are springy and perfect, and I love the salty pickled plum with shiso that they top it with. It's light and refreshing while still being satisfying.” Jessica Koslow, chef of Sqirl


“I have been going to Shojin for 3 years now and it never disappoints. It is LA’s premiere all-vegan sushi restaurant and for this sushi lover, it’s imperative that I get my proper sushi fix at least every couple months. It’s tapas style, the sushi rolls have very creative names (Pirates of the Crunchy, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Crunchy Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and all ingredients are free of animal products, chemicals, and refined sugar (and most items are also organic).

My two favorites are the spicy “tuna” on crispy rice topped with avocado and tofu. The dynamite roll is a spicy tofu and avocado roll prepared with brown rice served with both spicy mayo and beet sauce. As someone who has partaken in the standard versions for many years, these definitely satisfy any leftover cravings of my former, non-vegan diet.” —Valida Carroll, KCRW radio host, DJ and nightlife maven


“My favorite restaurant in downtown LA is Hama Sushi. Right in the center of the historic core, it’s an easy in-and-out. It’s kind of like stepping into a masu cup: minimal with quality and purpose. Everything is wooden, clean, and geometric. The place runs so efficiently; there’s no room for error. Its menu basically consists of hand rolls, which are timed to perfection. My go-to is the standard 3-roll that typically consists of the daily special, blue crab, and salmon. I’m obsessed with the little individual sake glass cans, so be sure to order that, too. It’s very small, about 15 people can sit at a time, so be prepared to wait in line!” —Lisa Solberg, artist


"In LA, subscription boxes are very popular—I'm talking about a company that mails you ingredients and a recipe every week. I don't subscribe to any, but if chef Josef Centeno started a queso club and I would receive queso consistently, I would be very, very happy. Chef Josef already has four restaurants downtown: Baco Mercat, Orsa & Winston, Ledlow, and Bar Ama. I frequent them all, but spend the most time at Bar Ama. Josef is a highly-pedigreed, top-tier chef, but knows better than to mess with classic queso. This isn't fancy queso. It's simple and is something I insist on having on the table at each meal. I'll even pour some on the off-menu puffy tacos, it's that good!" —Kris Yenbamroong, chef of Night + Market

“My favorite DTLA restaurant is chef Josef Centeno’s Bar Ama. They’re the restaurant that offers chef-driven Tex Mex. My must order items are the fideo with octopus, peptides, cotija, and paprika oil; and the seared lingua with potato, avocado, corn tortillas, and tomatillo.” —Shawn Pham, chef and owner of Simbal 


“My favorite (and a forever staple) is KazuNori on Main and 4th, hidden next to a parking garage and totally discrete. This place is amazing, because it's right by my design studio, fast, efficient, and delicious. It's sushi bar style, so it's really quick, and they serve a set menu of hand rolls. Normally, I'm a sashimi and cut roll gal, but the rolls here are simply to die for. I love the scallop roll and the crab roll, ironically everywhere else they're my least favorite, but here they're amazing! It's amazing sushi for the price. Total gem.”  Maria Korovilas, Designer

"I love KazuNori, the handroll restaurant downtown, brought to you by the SUGARFISH folks. Like most great things, it’s hard to explain what is magical about it. Partly, it’s the simplicity of the menu—they have six to eight handrolls and a couple of sashimi choices. Or maybe it’s the simplicity of the way the space works—it’s small, and there’s this very efficient queue and ordering system that eliminates everything between you and the food. And the end result is that you get this beautiful, tiny bundle of nori that is perfectly toasted and warm with delicious fish inside. Each piece is a gift that has been made just for you. Get the scallop." —Liz Lambert, founder of Bunkhouse 


"I am a bit of an outlier on this one, but my favorite restaurant is Maccheroni Republic. It’s a very humble restaurant: all fresh pasta and old school Italian dishes. I love it for its honesty and integrity, and, as a father, for their fondness of my daughter. My favorite dishes are the biggoli de nona, a thick chewy fresh pasta with a deep rich oxtail ragout (it's also my daughter's favorite); and of course the lasagna, a classic so well-represented here with a nicely acidic sauce, bolognese, and soft flowing sheets of fresh pasta.” Greg Bernhardt, chef of Paley


Badmaash is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. It has a great energy; it’s really loud and fun. It’s a great mix of both the traditional and more modern dishes, as well as a really fun place to eat." —Ari Taymor, chef of Alma at the Standard 


"Sushi Gen serves traditional, no-frills sushi and sashimi. The price point is great, the place is always packed,, and it has no pretension about it. Really good fish, really good service."  —Ari Taymor, chef of Alma at the Standard 


"For the best bagel in the city, Wexler’s does really, really good Jewish deli classics. I try to get a bagel and lox as often as I can, but all the smoked meat and fish are excellent.” —Ari Taymor, chef of Alma at the Standard 


I actually don't go out to eat very often, because when I'm not at Alma, I enjoy cooking at home with friends. I have a love affair with the coffee shops around town, but G&B Coffee in Grand Central Market feels like the best date spot. The counter seating feels sort of bar-like and the variety of drinks they have to offer is endless. I recommend the black coffee and the turmeric drink served hot or cold." Ashleigh Parsons, co-owner and creative director of Alma at The Standard


“When I last stayed at The Standard, Downtown LA working on my This Charming Guest x Room Report project, I checked out Little Sister. It was so good that I went twice with two different groups of really picky eaters. Their menu is pretty spot-on, and if I had to choose one thing that you must eat when you go, it would be the red braised lamb curry with yams, herbs, pickled vegetables, and an onion pancake. Everything about this dish is amazing. The lamb curry mixed with the vegetables does a cute two-step in your mouth. The onion pancake which sits on top of the dish is not to be ignored—use it to sop up all the curry. I believe this dish is made to share, but I doubt you will want to. I didn't.” —Shaniqwa Jarvis, photographer


“Do I go because the food is delicious? I mean, it is, but there are many places in Los Angeles cooking up delicious and compelling Mexican food. Sonoratown is a great restaurant because of its warmth and vibrancy. There’s a nowness to the place. I could wax poetic about the handmade flour tortillas, at once both delicate and hearty. The carne asada is properly grilled over a charbroiler (instead of the ubiquitous flattop griddle).  The chorizo is earthy and well-spiced. I've been there four times in the past three weeks and I couldn't really tell you what I ordered each time because each dish was fantastic. (They have a Chimichanga for God's sake!) All I know is that Jen and Teodoro are excited by their restaurant, therefore I am excited by it.” —Jason Bernstein, co-owner The Golden State, Bludso’s Bar & Que, Prime Pizza, and Cofax     


"Blacktop is my favorite spot to meet friends and hang. I love the wooden stool seating and outdoor area—it doesn't feel overcrowded. The staff is super friendly, the coffee is great and they offer delicious teas, both iced and hot.” —Ashleigh Parsons, co-owner and creative director of Alma at The Standard


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