BERNARD'S (in the Biltmore, 515 S. Olive St., (213) 612-1580). Recently renovated to the tune of millions of dollars, this fine old hotel is filled with fine new restaurants. Bernard's, the elegant French restaurant, is a wonderful place to take a business client whom you want to impress. The quiet, elegant room is dark and cold and classy, with widely spaced tables and extremely correct service. The hotel also serves a less expensive lunch in the Court Cafe, and an elegant tea in the Rendezvous Court. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, for dinner Monday-Saturday. All major credit cards. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, $50-$100. LANGER'S DELICATESSEN (704 S. Alvarado St., (213) 483-8050). Not quite downtown, but a great delicatessen. Need we say more? Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. MasterCard and Visa. Lunch for two, $8-$20. THE PANTRY (877 S. Figueroa St., (213) 972-9279). A Los Angeles institution that has been open continuously since 1924 (the front door doesn't even have a lock). It is a humble looking place, but the statistics are staggering: They use 40 tons of sourdough bread a year, 4 tons of potatoes a week, 20 head of cattle a day. . . . What the food lacks in finesse it makes up in sheer size; this is a place where they serve you a steak accompanied by another plate just for the potatoes, and when they talk about a stack of pancakes, they aren't kidding. Open 24 hours every day. No liquor. No credit cards. Dinner for two, $10-$16. PHILIPPE THE ORIGINAL (1001 N. Alameda St., (213) 628-3781). Back in the early 1900s Philippe Mathieu made a sandwich for a customer. Before he piled the beef onto the roll he dipped it into the gravy. Little did he know that he had just invented Los Angeles' most famous regional dish. Philippe's still looks much the same as it did back then. There is sawdust on the floor, and customers retire to long communal tables to eat after they have waited in line for their beef and their beer. The sandwiches are still big and memorable (they come in beef, pork and lamb) and the cole slaw is fine too. And with your coffee, which costs a dime, be sure to try a homemade doughnut. Open 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Beer and wine. Parking lot. No credit cards. Meal for two, $3-$14. PLUM TREE INN (937 N. Hill St., (213) 613-1819). Plunge into the tumult of Chinatown, and you are suddenly far from the cold high-rise streets of downtown. Nobody wears suits here, and everybody eats. You can hardly turn around without walking into women carrying live chickens in paper bags, or walk into a store without seeing men hovering over tanks, nets in hand, scooping out the fish, the crabs, the lobsters. With so many wonderful little nooks serving up steaming bowls of noodles, fine dim sum and delightful seafood, how do you choose a single restaurant? If you want something soothing and not too noisy, the choice is easy. Plum Tree Inn is a dark, slightly glitzy and very reliable restaurant on the far end of Hill Street. The menu ranges wide, but the chefs create clear flavors in their artfully arranged dishes, and the Peking Duck is wonderful. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Visa and MasterCard. Full bar. Parking lot. Dinner for two, $15-$30. REX IL RISTORANTE (617 S. Olive St., (213) 627-2300). For sheer beauty, there are few restaurants anywhere that can compete with Rex. A Los Angeles landmark, the Oviatt Building has been lovingly restored, and when you swing open the Lalique doors, you step into luxury. It is as if you had walked back into a more gracious time when everybody dressed for dinner and servants knew how to serve. The glass is Murano, the silver is Ricci, the china is Ginori. The food, Italian nuova cucina, is quite brilliantly realized. Put yourself into your captain's hands, sink back into the sensuous chairs, and simply let yourself be swept away. Open Monday-Friday for lunch, Monday-Saturday for dinner. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards. Dinner for two, $80-$120. SEVENTH STREET BISTRO (815 West 7th St., (213) 627-1242). Another beautifully restored old building, this time in the post-modern mode. Chef Laurent Quenioux offers innovative dishes like snapper with a confit of lime, lemon, oranges and basil or tournedos of salmon wrapped in spinach with lobster dressing. For people interested in tasting many dishes, half portions are available. His desserts, like crepe "pasta" tossed with warm honey vanilla cream, are memorable. For people who really care about fine dining, the restaurant offers a special six-course prix fixe dinner, with wine, to 20 people each evening. The price for the special meal is $100 per person. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, for dinner Monday-Saturday. All major credit cards. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, $60-$100.
SONORA CAFE (445 S. Figueroa St., (213) 624-1800). "New Southwest Cuisine" is what they serve here. That means dishes like tamales made of duck, tacos made of lobster, enchiladas filled with crab and wild mushroom and fajitas served in pans that sizzle all around the dining room. The room is dressed up in casually expensive furniture, and this has become a favorite downtown haunt. Businessmen come in after work to sip margaritas, munch on chips and good guacamole as they examine the cactus motifs. Open Monday-Friday for lunch, Monday-Saturday for dinner. Full bar. All major credit cards. Validated parking at dinner time. Dinner for two, $30-$60. STEPPS (Crocker Court, 333 S. Hope St., (213) 626-0900). Where do you go for dinner before a downtown performance? Stepps is the perfect place. Just a few blocks from the Music Center, the restaurant has free parking and a minibus that leaves every ten minutes for both the Music Center and Los Angeles Theatre Center. And since the restaurant is open until 2 a.m., you can defer dessert until it's time to collect your car. The food at this large and attractively designed restaurant is good pre-performance fare. The menu is enormous, with everything from coconut beer shrimp with cajun marmalade to sushi, Chinese noodles and fresh grilled fish. (The simplest dishes tend to be the best.) There is a full bar, efficient service, and the desserts are worth waiting for. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, for dinner nightly. All major credit cards accepted. Full bar. Validated parking at dinner. Dinner for two, $20-$45. A THOUSAND CRANES (in the New Otani Hotel, 120 S. Los Angeles St. (213) 629-1200). Little Tokyo's Weller Court has noodle houses, traditional Japanese restaurants and the only restaurant in America that specializes in eel. The Court connects to the New Otani, which boasts what is surely downtown's most peaceful restaurant. As you look out at a pool which mirrors the sky you hear the sound of water splashing across rocks, muting the traffic two stories below. Kimono-clad waitresses rustle from table to table, giggling softly. There is a sushi bar, a tempura bar, and tatami rooms for those who want privacy. The Japanese food is simple, traditional and beautifully served. Open Monday-Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Saturday and Sunday, dinner only. Full bar. All major credit cards. Validated parking. Dinner for two, $20-$60.