It’s a story you hear time and time again, in cities all over the globe: an unloved, desolate section of town goes through an unexpected renaissance and quickly becomes the trendiest new ’hood in which to see and be seen.
But Downtown Los Angeles is more than just another hackneyed hipster flavour-of-the-week. It isn’t just the great restaurants, shopping and nightlife that are drawing Angelenos here. There’s a real culture brewing amid its mishmash of industrial spaces and grand old buildings, a palpable energy and eclecticism and rawness that call to mind New York in the ’70s or Tokyo in the ’90s.
We’d say Downtown LA is finally back — except it isn’t clear that it was ever as fully present as it is today.
The Ace Hotel
Housed in a hulking 1920s Gothic Revival straight out of Tim Burton’s Batman flicks, The Ace’s LA outpost is heavy on sunny, offbeat charm. The soaring cement walls, colour-blocked midcentury furniture and curated in-room vinyl collections make it feel like you’re staying the night in the penthouse loft of the art world super-star friend you wish you had. There’s a stunning pool (and correspondingly hip social scene) on the roof, a historic 1,600-seat theatre space in the basement, and a host of excellent food, coffee, and cocktail options wedged between the two. You’ll feel — and might even actually be — the tiniest bit cooler just for being there.
Don’t make any plans for after your meal if you dine at this deceptively laid-back Italian eatery. You’re in for the kind of awe-inspiring culinary experience that you’ll need a good three to four hours following to unpack and recover from. Begin with the house-cured salumi, which comes with a flavour-packed burst of mostarda and fresh grilled bread. Move on to the Agnolotti alla Vaccinara, an assembly of delicate cacao pasta parcels stuffed with braised oxtail and heaped with a blend of burro fuso, grana padano, pine nuts, and currants. Or try the grilled Aspen Ridge skirt steak, which, surprisingly melts in your mouth, over a bed of cipollini agrodolce, heirloom carrots and fingerling potatoes.
When you approach this unassuming Japanese noodle joint, you’ll likely encounter the round-the-block lines for Daikokuya, the raved-about ramen hotspot right next door. Don’t get caught up in the hype. Monzo’s delicate hand-pulled udon will give you just as satisfying kicks of umami minus the hour-long wait — especially if you opt for the sumptuous Kakuni Udon, chilled Shisho Mentai or their truly elevated take on Tempura.
329 E 1st St.
A new-school highlight of LA’s century-old Grand Central Market, Eggslut specializes in to-die-for breakfast sandwiches that are the perfect complement to a stroll around the stall’s sprawling, enchanting surroundings.
Led by homegrown chef Roy Choi, Commissary boasts a gorgeous greenhouse setting, a somewhat cryptic pictograph menu and cocktails served in plastic takeout containers. Whether those quirks sound fun or frustrating is almost beside the point, because the food is indisputably delicious: Choi serves up fresh, vegetable-focused dishes like charred carrots topped with a zesty chimichurri and a pitch-perfect take on avocado toast topped with goat cheese, green chillies and smoked salmon.
The Pie Hole
Let’s keep this simple: we all love pie. This cozy café serves up dozens of seasonal, sensational variations of it: a superb apple crumble for classicists, a heavenly maple custard for sweet tooths, and an exquisite Earl Grey for the adventurous. Great coffee, too. Go there, and be happy.
Looking for a Swingers-esque LA nightlife experience? Head to this speakeasy hidden in the back of Cole’s Downtown, the landmark French dip sandwich spot, where you’ll tipple classic cocktails and soak in first-rate live jazz. You’re money, baby.
Relive your childhood — except, you know, with alcohol — at this reconverted warehouse space loaded with over 40 vintage arcade and pinball games, a top-notch selection of craft beers and a spacious outdoor patio.
Apolis: Common Gallery
Everything in this unfussy boutique was created by establishing responsible, fair-trade partnerships with manufacturers everywhere from Uganda and Peru to right around the corner in LA. So you’ll feel extra good about yourself when you walk out with a hardy wool chore jacket, waterproof leather notebook and hand-stitched linen pocket square.
Is it possible to be minimalist and maximalist all at once? Poketo makes us think so. The shop focuses on home goods, accessories and stationery that are cleanly designed and functional — except you wind up wanting to clutter your space with every last geometric chandelier, brass watering can and Japanese organic bath mat they sell.
The Broad Museum
The vast, astonishing architecture of this newly opened gallery is a must-see work of art in itself, but they still saw fit to pack its interiors with over 2,000 contemporary masterpieces by the likes of Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, and Cindy Sherman. Best of all — thanks to its billionaire philanthropist founder Eli Broad — admission is entirely free.