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Food

101 Best Restaurants: 15 dining destinations in downtown Los Angeles

Peach pavlova, one of Lincoln Carson’s standout desserts at Bon Temps.
Peach pavlova, one of Lincoln Carson’s standout desserts at Bon Temps.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

[Looking for the 2019 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. list? Look no further.]

With three restaurants in the top 10 in our 101 Best Restaurants list, downtown Los Angeles is one of the most dining-rich neighborhoods in the city.

In total, 15 DTLA restaurants made the cut, ranging from food stalls at bustling Grand Central Market to the serene, ultra-luxe kaiseki spot Hayato at the Row.

Here’s the complete downtown list.

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The official L.A. Times list of the 101 best restaurants in Los Angeles, curated by our restaurant critics.

5. Sonoratown

Sonoratown is Jennifer Feltham and Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez’s culinary love letter to San Luis Río Colorado, the Arizona-Sonora border town where Diaz-Rodriguez was weaned on the basic dyad of modern norteño cooking: wheat flour tortillas and mesquite-grilled beef. The menu is basic, economical and utterly satisfying, revolving around carne asada, quesadillas in various configurations and guisados-filled chivichangas. — P.I.E.

208 E. 8th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014, sonoratown.com

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7. Centenoplex (Orsa & Winston, Bar Amá, Bäco Mercat)

Orsa & Winston is a 32-seat tasting-menu restaurant that merges Italian and Japanese cuisines, a gambit that rarely succeeds. It does here. Bar Amá is the California embassy for Tex-Mex cuisine, where queso, cheddary enchiladas and picadillo-stuffed peppers receive the noble rendering they deserve.

Josef Centeno, a San Antonio native who has cooked at high temples of gastronomy across America, is chef and owner of these opposites, which stand as equals. By the way: In case tasting menus don’t appeal — even $85 five-coursers serving beauties such as rice porridge with uni cream, Hokkaido scallop and Parmesan — please don’t overlook Orsa & Winston. Centeno began serving an a la carte roster of “snacks” at the restaurant this year that keeps growing in its ambitions; the squid ink spaghettini puttanesca is reason enough to swing by, and you’ll find his handmade pastas on the a la carte lunch menu.

Centeno may be the city’s most creatively restive chef, which is evident at each of his restaurants but arguably most so at Bäco Mercat, the longest-running of his downtown trio. Collectively, Centenoplex represents a chef at the apex of his powers, a single downtown block with portals to many cultures. — B.A.

118 W. 4th St., Los Angeles, CA 90013

Donabe with dashi broth, wagyu beef, market vegetables, mushroom, tofu, nori and egg from Orsa & Winston.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Josef Centeno is the chef-owner of downtown’s Bäco Mercat, Bar Amá, Orsa &; Winston and, most recently, Pete’s Los Angeles.

8. Hayato

The latest world-class dining experience in Los Angeles is a signless, seven-seat restaurant, all but anonymous among the concrete gorges of the Row DTLA complex. For three hours, aided by a few chefs who dash in and out of sight, Brandon Hayato Go stands at the restaurant’s central counter, wielding chopsticks and knives to compose dishes of profound beauty.

A dinner of 10 to 12 courses will segue through sushi and sashimi; pairings of seafood and vegetables in weightless tempura; and nabe, or hot pot, filled perhaps with crab, nappa cabbage and shiitake mushrooms. By the last savory course — rice and fish donabe served in a copper pot, made with second or third helpings in mind — diners are often peppering Go with questions, nearly silly from the elation of an astounding meal.

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Reservations for Hayato become available at 10 a.m. on the first of the month for the following month’s seatings. On Fridays and Saturdays, Go also assembles a small number of $50 lunchtime bento boxes that require an online reservation. They’re nearly as difficult to score as a dinner booking, but persevere. — B.A.

1320 E. 7th St., Suite 126, Los Angeles, CA 90021, hayatorestaurant.com

Brandon Go, chef and owner of Hayato, prepares his famous bento boxes.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
Chefs love control, and sushi chef Mori Onodera exercises about the maximum amount of control a chef can have over food served at a restaurant.

11. Bavel

No atlas exists that can trace the exact geographic influences of Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ second Arts District restaurant. Menashe was raised in Israel and also comes from Turkish and Moroccan roots; Gergis’ family is of Egyptian ancestry. With Bavel’s menu they pay homage to their personal lineages, but the food traverses Southern California and the terrain of their own imaginations too. A whirl of hummus, nearly as smooth as yogurt, topped with a pool of duck ’nduja is the passport dish into their worldview; the soft, pancake-shaped pita served alongside will fill you too quickly, but you’ll keep eating anyway. Swing to something lighter — grilled prawns marinated in harissa and served with a clever tzatziki that subs zucchini for the usual cucumbers — then dive back into the deep end with the signature lamb neck shawarma (more straight-from-the-oven flatbread; more futile resistance) or the beef cheek tagine over couscous. Ordering at least one of Gergis’ desserts is non-negotiable — a Levantine version of a Pop-Tart filled with strawberry and sweet cheese if you saved room, or mulberry ice cream if you can only manage one bite. — B.A.

500 Mateo St., Los Angeles, CA 90013, baveldtla.com

Strawberry sumac and sweet cheese pastry with pistachio ice cream, labneh cream and cured sumac from Bavel.
(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)
There was no way we could not name Bavel our Restaurant of the Year.
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17. Rossoblu

Steve Samson spent parts of his childhood growing up in Bologna, the capital of Italy’s fertile northern region Emilia-Romagna — a literal culinary wonderland that gave the world Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, prosciutto di Parma, aceto balsamico and some of Italy’s most recognizable stuffed pastas. Samson’s menu isn’t dogmatic about serving only Bolognese dishes, but they’re the terra firma upon which the restaurant builds its foundation: tortellini in brodo filled with two kinds of meat in four different forms; Parmesan dumplings that are gently plonked into cloudy broth tableside; the sort of light-handed lasagna one usually has to book a flight to experience; milk-braised pork shoulder, the meat’s every molecule sweetened and transformed. Above all else, make room to share pastas, including the impeccable tagliatelle al ragù Bolognese. — B.A.

1124 San Julian St., Los Angeles, CA 90015, rossoblula.com

Salumi served at Rossoblu with squacquerone and crescentine fritte.
Salumi served at Rossoblu with squacquerone and crescentine fritte.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

20. Grand Central Market

The crowds at Los Angeles’ century-old food hall are a microcosm of downtown life: Office workers stand in line for the marvelous carnitas at Villa Moreliana; under-caffeinated locals sip espresso shots at G&B Coffee; weekend tourists, phone cameras aloft, document everything from Sari Sari Store silog bowls to drippy ice cream cones from McConnell’s. You can practically hear the whoosh of Instagram hashtags in the ether. Grand Central Market is more popular than ever; an estimated 2 million people now pass through its neon-lighted aisles every year. You can’t blame everyone for wanting to be here — this is the culinary nucleus of the city. — P.I.E.

317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013, grandcentralmarket.com

Diners make their way through the aisles at Grand Central Market.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

22. Bon Temps

At a time when many restaurants write off desserts as an afterthought — throw together a sundae, outsource a Key lime pie — Bon Temps swerves strategically in the opposite direction. Lincoln Carson, a lauded pastry chef who opened his first solo restaurant this year in the Arts District, makes erudite sweets that are themselves reason to head downtown. These include a stately, intricately flavored chocolate soufflé; a fruit Pavlova flipped upside down with a meringue nearly as big as a portobello mushroom cap; a meticulous circle of silky cheesecake wittily named Gateaux Philadelphia. Morning pastries, including a cream-cheese-stuffed croissant covered in everything bagel seasoning that is, indeed, everything, are excellent, affordable introductions to his wizardry. — B.A.

712 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90021, bontempsla.com

The strawberry and ricotta danish at Bon Temps.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

24. Bestia

Before walking into Bestia’s concrete bunker of a dining room I brace involuntarily, as if walking into a downpour. Only instead of pelting rain, it’s a torrent of decibels and bodies. Why do the crowds never let up at Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ first Arts District rumpus? Because of the bombastic food in the eye of the storm. Menashe grabs the notion of California-Italian cooking by its neck, and then he pummels it with chiles, salt-cures it in squid ink and buries it in burnt breadcrumbs. Take out the day’s aggressions by destroying a pizza splattered with ’nduja and fennel pollen or thwacked with guanciale, capers and Aleppo pepper. Gergis’ desserts are fleeting pleasures — here’s hoping her summer berry pudding cake returns next July — but her maple ricotta fritters are a year-round balm. — B.A.

2121 E. 7th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90021, bestiala.com

Roasted bone marrow with spinach gnocchetti, crispy breadcrumbs and aged balsamic from Bestia.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)
Koreatown, one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Los Angeles, boasts an impressive array of restaurants serving some of the most exciting food in the city.

27. Broken Spanish

As the restaurant’s name alludes, the key to relishing Ray Garcia’s cooking is to not dwell too much on province or region, or where true-minded Mexican culinary traditions blur with Angeleno modernism. Trust his melding and imagining. Albondigas made with duck meat and blasted with bacon and chipotle push the classic meatball dish to smokier, spicier outer limits. Tamales filled with shredded lamb neck and king oyster mushrooms or with spinach, celeriac, feta, green garlic and pistachio etch new paths through the brain’s pleasure centers. — B.A.

1050 S. Flower St., Los Angeles, CA 90015, brokenspanish.com

Chicharron with elephant garlic mojo, radish sprout and picked herbs from Broken Spanish.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times )

40. Shibumi

When Shibumi opened in 2016 on a lonely downtown block, next to the yawning concrete maw of a parking garage entrance, the buzzword around its format was kappo, a style of multicourse counter dining in Japan that splits the difference between casual izakaya and ceremonial kaiseki. David Schlosser, who spent years cooking in Japanese restaurants locally and abroad (including the original Masa and its successor, Urasawa), has eased up on that definition over time; a la carte and omakase are both available. Schlosser likes to pickle just about any fruit or vegetable he gets in his hands. He marinates greens in black sesame tofu sauce, smokes salmon over cherry bark and batters hemp leaves in the most fragile tempura. — B.A.

815 S. Hill St., Los Angeles, CA 90014, shibumidtla.com

Hemp leaf tempura at Shibumi.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

43. Q

To sit at the counter at Q, a small, sedate omakase restaurant in downtown L.A., is to receive an education in edomae sushi, a mode of sushi-making that involves lightly treating the fish with some type of cooking or curing element. Chef Hiroyuki Naruke is a master of the genre. At dinner, he guides you through 20 or so pristine bites, the fish manipulated just far enough to amplify its essential tones and flavor. The flavors at Q are thrilling in their precision, and memorable most of all for their fleeting, ephemeral quality. — P.I.E.

521 W. 7th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014, qsushila.com

A sushi plate from Q
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

52. Nightshade

The cooking at Mei Lin’s debut restaurant in the Arts District is driven as much by ideas as ingredients. She has a propensity for erasing the boundaries between cultures on the plate. Her signature dish is probably the mapo tofu lasagna, a slinky block of egg noodles layered with Sichuan peppercorn ragù and tofu cream. But try the Sichuan hot quail, a brilliantly spicy dish that reckons with the local obsession with Howlin’ Ray’s and the numbing properties of Sichuan peppercorns. — P.I.E.

923 E. 3rd St., Suite 109, Los Angeles, CA 90013, nightshadela.com

Szechuan hot quail on Japanese milk bread, served with house pickles from Nightshade, the new restaurant from chef Mei Lin.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)
The congee at Mei Lin’s downtown restaurant Nightshade is not the plain congee I ate growing up in the San Gabriel Valley.

53. The Exchange

The menu at the Exchange is airily described on the restaurant’s website as a celebration of L.A.’s multicultural flavors refracted through an Israeli lens. I thought the conceit sounded unwieldy, but chef Alex Chang proved me wrong at the Exchange, the stylish restaurant wedged into a corner of downtown’s Freehand L.A. hotel. Chang makes harissa with Mexican chiles, and grills sweet potatoes and drapes them in a creamy Chile morita-spackled almond sauce. For brunch, he cooks shakshuka divorciados, a dish that probably does more for modern Israel-Mexico relations than any hard-working diplomat. There is no shortage of dinner showpieces; try the terrific yellowtail collar marinated in amba, or the crisp, fragrant whole grilled branzino accented with glistening heaps of seaweed chermoula. — P.I.E.

416 W. 8th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014, freehandhotels.com/los-angeles/the-exchange

Grilled O’Henry sweet potato, creamy almond, Chile morita and cilantro at the Exchange.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

68. Little Sister

The menu at chef Tin Vuong’s Vietnamese-leaning small-plates restaurant is a collage of flavors and impressions; dishes ping-pong between Saigon, Singapore, Hong Kong and the San Gabriel Valley, never fully stopping in one place. Vuong gleefully remixes familiar dishes. Autumn rolls are stuffed with sweet potato, jicama, Chinese sausage and candied shrimp. His pho banh cuon is an eccentric mashup of spring rolls and thinly sliced flank steak. His rendition of shaking beef incorporates crisp, fresh watercress and nutty burnt-butter soy. The lemongrass chicken — tossed with garlic, herbs and vast sums of dried chiles — probably doesn’t resemble the one at your local Vietnamese cafe. But it is indisputably delicious and snackable, bar fare masquerading as dinner. — P.I.E.

523 W. 7th St., Los Angeles, CA 90017, dinelittlesister.com

Snapper fillets with hot curry and dill at Little Sister.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

72. Badmaash

Pawan Mahendro and sons Nakul and Arjun mine their family’s dual heritage to produce brash culinary remixes that reference everything from familiar tandoori standards to Canadian comfort food. They make a gravy-smothered chicken tikka poutine with masala-dusted French fries; chili cheese-stuffed naan, vivid and bright with serrano peppers; and fried Punjabi-style catfish that has been transmuted into snackable crispy nuggets. There are Indian restaurant standard-bearers like saag paneer and butter chicken, but you’re here for the spiced lamb burger, a delicious byproduct of the sort of cooking that happens at the Mahendro family’s backyard tandoori barbecues. — P.I.E.

108 W. 2nd St., Suite 104, Los Angeles, CA 90012, badmaashla.com

Goan pork curry from Badmaash.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
Food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson goes to Artesia with Arjun and Nakul Mahendro and their father, Pawan, to try some of the best Indian food in the city. The Mahendros own a modern Indian restaurant, Badmaash, with two locations in Los Angeles.
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