If I could move anywhere in LA right now, it would be downtown. When the sun finally sets and the super moon comes out, I get an uncontrollable desire to hop on the 10E, throw on some M83, and discover every nook and corner of our city’s new center. You know, because the city is my church. Here are five places that I’m constantly drawn to downtown:
Trying to decide on a downtown restaurant to meet up with a few friends? Make your life easy and tell everyone to meet you at UMAMIcatessen. You’ve heard restaurants bragging that they offer something for everyone; Umami actually does.
If you are an Angeleno and haven’t had an Umami burger yet, you are out of excuses. There are eight locations in Southern California, and many, many, many more on the way. Don’t be surprised if you see Umami’s gourmet burgers ($10-12 mostly) paired with local craft beer & fun sides available in all corners of the country in the next 7 years.
When Umami was ready to offer downtown residents easy access to its Truffle Burger (a must try Umami bomb featuring truffle cheese & glaze), Manly Burger (beer-cheddar cheese, smoked-salt onion strings, & bacon lardons), and vegetarian Earth Burger, just another Umami burger outpost wasn’t going to cut it. This is downtown we are talking about.
You can still get these delicious burgers at UMAMIcatessen, but there is plenty more on offer. Umami Burger founder Adam Fleichman tells TreasureLA what makes UMAMIcatessen so special, “UMAMIcatessen is unlike anything on the West Coast. There are a lot of creative food options all under one roof. From Pigg by Chris Cosentino to Umami Burger to the great deli items at The Cure to Spring for Coffee, you could eat here every day for a year and always get something new.”
To make UMAMIcatessen unlike anything on the West Coast, Fleichman called on the help of some friends. Instead of doing the coffee program himself, he asked his go-to coffee shop (also one of mine) Spring for Coffee to man the espresso machine and offer pour-overs from the finest roasters like Sightglass and Stumptown.
The restaurant also features a reliable cocktail menu courtesy of the busy Adrian Biggs. Don’t feel like a burger? Get your deli on with bagels, fish, and soup courtesy of Chef Micah Wexlar of Mezze. Rounding out The Cure’s menu is corned beef, a chicken salad, and the recent hot topic – a thick-cut pastrami sandwich, all from the in-house Umami team.
For kick-ass charcuterie, Adam brought in Chris Consentino from San Francisco’s Incanto. Consentino is famous for his creative devotion to offal, but I found myself surprised at how traditional most of the menu was on a recent visit to Incanto. For UMAMIcatessen, Consentino was allowed to loosen his tie and have fun with his cured pork products. His rotating pork elevator in the beautiful dining room is my favorite reason for visiting UMAMIcatessen.
Unlike some of the other spots on this list, UMAMIcatessen isn’t for foodies looking for something you can’t get elsewhere. Instead, UMAMIcatessen is one of the five places to visit downtown because it does so many things well, all in one place.
852 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
On far too many Friday afternoons, when my friends ask where I want to go to dinner to kick off the weekend with a bang, I yell, “Baco!”
What is a baco you ask? It’s a bread taco with brilliant and aggressive Spanish-inspired flavor combinations. I’m not going to waste my time telling you all the virtues of Baco Mercat. Make a reservation, get your butt in a seat, and just start ordering everything. Bacos, great cocktails, vegetable dishes – I haven’t had anything bad on the menu yet. Now that Chef Josef Centeno has left Lazy Ox Canteen and devoted his time fully to Baco Mercat and his upcoming Tex-Mex concept Bar Ama, you’ll be seeing his name buzzed about for years to come.
408 S. Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Mexicali Taco & Co.
The moment I sent in my deposit for grad school this coming fall in Boston, I got the most intense urge for tacos. I immediately jumped in my car and barreled down the 10E to get to my hands on a Mexicali Vampiro – a cheesy quesadilla-like creation featuring wonderful carne asada and an addictive garlic sauce. My craving was satisfied, but for only about 15 hours. The next day, I was back at Mexicali for another Vampiro, as well as cachetadas (crispy open-faced corn tortilla, more bomb meat, chipotle aioli), carne asada fries, and pretty much everything else on the menu.
On most days, you’ll find co-founder and Chef Esdras Ochoa at the register, walking you through the menu, and ensuring you have an awesome experience. Whether you dine-in or take-out, you’ll be leaving with a doggy bag full of positive energy, smiles, and a desire to return immediately. Enough of my blabbering – here are some excerpts from an interview I did with Edras:
“We started as a street vendor on 1st & Beaudry, and it was imperative to us that we stay in or near Downtown LA. Our initial search was within a 5 mile radius of the parking lot that we started at, and once we saw our current location, we knew right away that the space had potential while still serving the direct community around us. We received so much love at 1st & Beaudry that we really wanted to stay in the area because of the personal relationship that we established with our patrons.
“Currently, DTLA is one of the hottest spots in LA in terms of the food scene…and not just with high-end type restaurants, but restaurants that serve great ethnic foods in a comfortable setting that allows customers to feel relaxed in their dining experience. In our case, we really want to bring the common taco experience from Mexicali with a slightly modern twist in terms of our dining room decor. It is simple and minimal in decorations, but with the benches and colors, should give you a slightly rustic yet homey feel. The DTLA diner is sophisticated with their palates, but also different from Beverly Hills diners, so we feel that DTLA is really ‘home’ for us.”
“We have been overwhelmed with the support that we have received since becoming a brick and mortar. People come in with smiles saying how happy they are for us to have a restaurant, and of course they leave with smiles after having some good food! It was very important to us to bring the same type of ‘backyard grilling’ feel to an enclosed restaurant. There is something about cooking outdoors with the DTLA night skyline behind you that was very attractive for not only us, but all of our patrons as well. It almost felt like a food adventure to pull up to the street stand and order your tacos while we were grilling.
“Nothing has ‘surprised’ us as we entered the transition thinking that it would be a great challenge. There are a lot of business aspects that have to be taken care of and it is a lot of hard work overall with the long hours, etc. However, there is no greater satisfaction than to have happy customers smile while they enjoy our food and give us a compliment or handshake as they leave the restaurant. That truly makes our day!
“In addition, the biggest personal gain for myself, Javier & our business partner Paul is all the friends we have made through Mexicali. We hope to serve great food, but also place a lot of importance in making sure the people we serve know who we are, we know them, and thus makes the food more enjoyable. Every person that walks through our doors is not only a patron, but could be a true friend–which has happened on many many occasions. That is the greatest reward from this venture, and we hope to continue it for years to come!”
As my departure date for Boston approaches, I have a feeling I will be gorging at Mexicali Tacos all the time – all the while realizing that I’ll never find anywhere in Boston that can satisfy my taco cravings like founders Esdras Ochoa & Javier Fregoso can.
702 N. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
If City Tavern is my go-to midweek drinking spot, Villains Tavern is my weekend getaway. Nestled in downtown not far from Handsome Roasters, Villains Tavern is close to the bar of my dreams.
No cover? Check.
Beautiful design? Check.
Live music every night, with an Americana folksie twang? Check
Craft beer and a good cocktail list? Yes, please.
Villains Tavern is a place where everyone is welcome, it’s lively without being uncomfortably crowded, and the people are always friendly. Best of all, need a break from the music and dancing? You can hang by the bar or the other side of the patio and you wouldn’t even know that there’s a concert going on.
As a bonus, co-owner Dave Whitton creates seasonal cocktail lists that are more ambitious than the space requires. Formerly of Seven Grand, Dave has even created a shrub menu to feature one of my favorite cocktail trends – infusing vinegar instead of simple syrup with flavor.
Treasure Tip: When the place gets packed on the weekend, I skip the main bar and go to the bar by the stage. You can’t get a shrub cocktail there, but you can get a shot and a beer for $12. Choose any craft beer – Craftsman, Golden Road, Eagle Rock, they are all there. For shots, I always go with Bulleit Rye or Fernet. Delicious, quick, affordable – it will get you right back to the dance floor or shuffleboard.
Dave explains, “I wanted to do the shrubs to add layers and complexity to the spring menu while not turning off the everyday drinker. Making them accessible to everybody was the challenge and a really fun, tricky process. I want Villains to always feel like an escape from the norm, a place you want to take everyone you know. A bluegrass/Americana circus with live music that is always at a moderate level. An experience – Jack the Ripper meets Jimi Hendricks.”
1356 Palmetto Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Transmission LA: AV Club at Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
I wasn’t able to get this up in time before the short-lived Transmission LA: AV Club exhibit at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA closed, but I wanted to give them a much-deserved shout-out. While LACMA, the Gettys, Norton Simon, and Huntington Library have all found their groove and identity, MOCA is still searching for theirs. The long-awaited and massively popular Art in the Streets showcased MOCA Contemporary’s ambition and desire to attract a young, hip crowd, but it’s poor curation also showed an institutional focus on style over substance. The Under the Big Black Sun Geffen Contemporary exhibit was simply bad, with few redeeming qualities.
Just when I was starting to lose interest in MOCA Contemporary, they sucked me back in with Transmission LA. Mike D of the Beastie Boys did a wonderful job curating a worthwhile exhibit, but thanks to a big check from Mercedes, MOCA was able to do much more. Enter Roy Choi doing a Kogi pop-up during free outdoor performances by big names like James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Diplo, Santigold, and Thom Yorke (!!!).
For a couple of weeks, MOCA succeeded in doing something quite difficult: bringing all different kinds of hipsters under one roof to party. Music hipsters, foodies, art hipsters – all having a great time under the … well, even if you can’t see the stars downtown, they are there. Bravo to MOCA for doing something truly special.
Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
152 North Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA, 90013