A relative newcomer to the Downtown LA dining scene, Miro is making a big statement in the Financial District. Occupying the highly visible corner of Figueroa and Wilshire, the restaurant has transformed a pleasant, if somewhat unremarkable space into a real showstopper. As the former home of Cucina Rustica and an office for the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) before that, Miro and the building it occupies illustrate the dramatic and ongoing transformation of the Financial District and Downtown LA as a whole. When the Wilshire Grand Tower debuts across the street next year, this intersection will be unrecognizable.
When La Gran Cucina Restaurant at Figueroa and Olympic quietly shuttered in late 2014, I assumed it was the end of the stout Downtown LA Car Wash building, which had been sold a few months prior for a record price of $25 million. After a short period of dormancy, however, a green banner cheerfully announcing the arrival of a new restaurant concept appeared. Fast forward to January of this year and EJ’s Bites made its debut serving up some of the tastiest Mediterranean fare in Downtown LA.
After several years of construction, Le Petit Paris made its debut at the base of the beautiful El Dorado Lofts building on Spring Street in September. The restaurant space is impressive both in terms of its sheer size and architectural details. Formerly the lobby of the once grand El Dorado hotel prior to residential conversion, the space been beautifully transformed into an expansive dining room. At the rear of the main dining area, the original lobby staircase serves as both a focal point of the space and an access point to a bar area and additional intimate seating nooks located on the mezzanine floor. Striking new crystal chandeliers line the ceiling, nicely complementing the original art deco details visible throughout the space.
It’s no secret that Bunker Hill has seen a surge of redevelopment activity recently. The debut of new housing and restaurants including The Emerson Apartments and Vespaio affirm the neighborhood’s continued role in Downtown L.A.’s renaissance, while the grand opening of The Broad Museum has cemented Grand Avenue as one of the California’s most important cultural corridors. (Click here to take a tour of the new museum and its amazing contemporary art collection.)
After over 5 years of operation, LA Live began the process of refreshing its tenant mix in 2013 with the introduction of several new concepts. Offering Chinese fusion cuisine, Triple 8 China Bar & Grill (the number “8” is a lucky number in Chinese), which officially debuted on May 21st, is the latest addition and replaces the once venerable Trader Vic’s on the Olympic Blvd side of LA Live. Although Triple 8’s menu is not overly large at this stage, it offers enough variety to satisfy most tastes and is a welcome addition to LA Live’s evolving dining mix. During my recent visit, I toured the space and sampled a variety of menu offerings including xiao long bao dumplings and several delicious entrees.
With the transformative One Santa Fe mixed use complex now complete in the Arts District, the project is slowly beginning to welcome its ground floor commercial tenants. First onto the scene is the wildly popular Café Gratitude which will soon join a diverse range of new businesses scheduled to debut in the building over the course of the coming year. No stranger to Los Angeles, this is Café Gratitude’s third location in the region following the opening of its original SoCal outpost in Larchmont and its second locale in Venice in 2012. The new downtown space maintains a bright, modern aesthetic and is nestled in the center of the complex. Large windows facing Santa Fe Ave provide views into the kitchen and an intimate front patio softens the space while adding nice interaction with the street and complex. The real attraction, however, is the food inside.
In 2012, Chef Ricardo Zarate’s Mo-Chica opened to much fanfare on 7th Street, adding new flavors to downtown’s nascent restaurant row. After a much publicized fall from grace, Zarate shuttered Mo-Chica in late 2014 following the closure of his Westside concept Picca, leaving behind a highly desirable restaurant space in a quickly changing neighborhood. Four months later the space has been reborn as B.S. Taqueria, a casual Mexican concept with a solid menu. The B.S. Taqueria name is both a fun play on words and a reference to Chef Ray Garcia’s forthcoming sit down restaurant Broken Spanish, which will soon debut in the former Rivera space in South Park near L.A. Live.
In December 2014, 10E Restaurant quietly opened its doors on the ground floor of the Financial District’s historic Fine Arts Building, which itself is welcoming a major new office tenant from New York. Occupying a beautiful space with ornate vaulted ceilings, the restaurant took 2 years to build following a more than decade’s long run as a less-than-stellar McDonald’s. The result is a formal, but comfortable setting with a great mezzanine level bar overlooking the dining room below. You would hardly know that the smell of Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets once wafted through the space. The restaurant’s name 10E, an interpretation of the ancient Armenian name Tenney, is reflective of the menu’s inspiration and the heritage of the restaurant’s two owners which is Armenian and Lebanese.
When it was announced in 2010 that Neal and Amy Fraser’s venerable Fairfax district restaurant Grace was moving into the rectory of St. Vibiana’s Cathedral, the anticipation was palpable. Following the then recent debut of Bottega Louie, a re-launch of Grace seemed like the next feather in downtown’s dining cap. Suddenly, all went silent. After 5 years, unforeseen delays and a slight concept change, Chef Fraser’s latest dining experience, RedBird arrived in mid-December 2014. I’m happy to report that it was worth the wait.
The reopening of the long shuttered Regent Theater in November 2014 has proven to be a huge boon to a once dormant stretch of Main Street in Downtown’s Old Bank District. Formerly an adult theater, the venue shut its doors in 2000 to be purchased six years later by Tom Gilmore. Following a deep recession and years of intermittent use as a gallery during Art Walk, the venue finally began its transformation into its latest iteration in 2012. With a range of live concerts and programming, it’s clear that the theater has found a second lease on life. The long vacant retail spaces flanking the theater’s entrance have also made a comeback. Re-imagined as Prufrock Pizzeria and The Love Song Bar, both have become welcome additions to a growing neighborhood that has seen an influx of new eateries including Kazu Nori and Sushi Zo to name a few.
I consider myself a longtime fan of Japanese cuisine, especially sushi, sashimi, and ramen. Soba on the other hand never seemed all that appetizing to me. The idea of cold buckwheat noodles just never felt as appealing. That all changed following a recent week-long trip to Tokyo, Japan and the opening of Gentaro Soba at FIGat7th, which has seen a variety of dining options open in its lower level dining area over the past year.
The moment you enter Little Jewel of New Orleans you are transported to the heart of Louisiana. Housed in an original 1870’s era building in the heart of Chinatown, the space is a combination market and southern deli offering some of the best Creole cooking in Los Angeles. While new to the block, Little Jewel feels like it has been a neighborhood staple for years. From the quirky artwork that adorns the walls to the awesome collection of classic jazz and soul that emanates from the sound system, the space feels casual, welcoming and unpretentious.
When Babycakes NYC closed its doors at the corner of 6th and Los Angeles Streets in early 2013, it seemed like a step back for what had been an intimate and quickly developing block. A new generation of businesses, however, have jump started the area’s upward trajectory with the latest addition being Hero Shop L.A. Offering a new and delicious take on Banh-Mi and rice bowls, Hero Shop provides a budget friendly dining option, while reactivating an important historic core corner.
When The Must wine bar closed in 2010 as the result of a lease dispute, the downtown community was shocked and saddened. At the time, owners Rachel Thomas and Coly Den Haan promised the return of what had quickly become a neighborhood gathering place. After three years and the successful launch of an equally unique establishment (The Perch), the duo located the perfect space for a comeback of their original concept. In November 2013, The Must opened on the ground floor of The Jeffries Lofts, a historic residential conversion on Winston Street near the Old Bank District. Coming in at 4,300 Sq. feet, the new Must space is larger than its original; however it easily maintains the charm and welcoming feel that made it so popular when it first came onto the downtown scene in 2008. During my most recent visit, I had an opportunity to try a variety of menu items and came away happy with everything I tasted. Of course, I also saved room for my favorite dessert ever (The Fluffer Nutter), which I’ll get to later.
As Downtown L.A. continues its growth into a desirable destination for large conventions and visitors alike, it has become clear that the neighborhood is in need of additional hotel rooms. Expanding on the success of its JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels at the L.A. Live Campus, Marriott had doubled down on its investment in downtown with the recent opening of its dual brand Courtyard and Residence Inn property across the street at the corner of Olympic and Georgia Streets. Featuring 393 attractive rooms and modern amenities, the new property showcases a boutique aesthetic that is a welcome change from the more standardized look and feel of similar properties in more suburban locales.