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Words like “revitalized” and “reborn” have been tossed around for many years, but the once-derelict wasteland that is downtown is finally finding its feet, now full of sexy restaurants and bars. It’s still a little scruffy (in a film noir way, you understand), but that’s how you know you’ve landed someplace worth exploring
Bäco Mercat (408 S. Main St., 213-687-8808.), a bright, airy room in the Old Bank district, has been widely celebrated since it opened last year. Chef Josef Centeno, who cooked at Daniel in New York, turns out innovative but thoroughly unpretentious dishes that pull from Mexican, Spanish, French, and American South ingredients and cooking traditions. The star is Centeno’s bäco, a taco and flatbread love child that comes stuffed with, say, fried pork belly and beef carnitas topped with salbitxada (tomato-almond) sauce or beef-tongue schnitzel or crispy shrimp and Sriracha. The soujouk pork belly ragu with ricotta cavatelli, pecorino, and tomato is sinfully good. If you’ve only got one night to treat yourself, do it here.
The look-at-me ethos that defines L.A. is best experienced at the high-ceilinged, utterly baroque Bottega Louie (700 S. Grand Ave., 213-802-1470.), where excellent cocktails, thin Neapolitan pizzas, even beignets from the in-house patisserie are delivered by impossibly handsome waitstaff.
For something a little more low-key, The Parish (840 S. Spring St., 213-225-2400.) is an excellent gastropub, serving smart takes on simple staples: burgers, fish ’n’ chips, and, most excitingly, fried oyster poutine with Indian paneer subbing in for cheese curds.
Alma (952 S. Broadway), a pop-up restaurant that recently went permanent, is on a deserted stretch (an Ace Hotel is set to open across the street this fall), but sit down for the farmers-market-focused tasting menu, paying particular attention to chef’s excellent way with veggies, and you might think you’re in the centre of the culinary universe.
Okay, this wasn’t Kobe’s year (we like the Clippers better anyway), but if you’re planning on catching a basketball game then LUXE CITY CENTER HOTEL (from $209; 1020 S. Figueroa St., 213-748-1291.) is the spot: it sits right across the street from Staples Center and there’s plenty of pre- and post-game mania on the second-floor, open-air bar that looks out over the street.
If budget allows, then THE RITZ CARLTON (from $395; 900 W. Olympic Blvd., 213-743-8800.) can’t get you any closer; the tower looms over the Staples Center.
The rooftop pool and bar favoured by glowing 20-somethings at THE STANDARD DOWNTOWN (from $278; 550 S. Flower St., 213-892-8080.) offer plenty of distraction at this modern and minimalist spot.
In a part of the city where fickle diners obsess over the best cold-press juice bars as much as the hottest new fine-dining room, it can be a trick for a restaurant to live up to the hype. Here are three rooms that deliver.
Top Chef fans will remember the Voltaggio brothers from Season 6; winner Michael opened Ink (8360 Melrose Ave., 323-651-5866.) in fall 2011, and it still stands as one of the hottest reservations in town: the food is gorgeous and playfully interactive but the powders, snows, and showy techniques never get in the way of deliciousness. (Know that chef had us at corn porridge with miso and housemade Doritos.)
For lunch visit the Larder at Maple Drive (345 N. Maple Dr., 310-248-3779.), an excellent salad and sandwich counter tucked in the interior courtyard of a nondescript office complex. The Cobb salad with avocado, beets, kabocha squash, tomato, and chickpeas is hearty and healthful with no ham or egg in sight; the Laurel Canyon sandwich-avocado, market peppers, feta yogurt, and sprouts-comes with lightly dilled refrigerator pickles and salty housemade chips.
The sublime griddle cakes aren’t even the main attraction at Salt’s Cure (7494 Santa Monica Blvd., 323-850-7258.), where brunch should absolutely include the charcuterie plate with whatever’s on offer, as long as it includes what’s widely considered the best chicken liver mousse in town. Be greedy and get the burger, too, made with dry-aged beef-its morning-after restorative powers shouldn’t be underestimated.
Luxe lodgings are a dime a dozen in Beverly Hills, but for unparalleled service and a true escape from the ordinary, book into the sumptuous PENINSULA BEVERLY HILLS (from $540; 9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd., 310-551-2888.), which has a clubby atmosphere and is the preferred spot for vacationing Saudi royalty and celebs healing after a little pick-me-up surgery. Pillows monogrammed with guests’ initials is a lovely touch, but what’s most luxurious? “Peninsula Time”-check out any time before 11:59 p.m.
Old and New Hollywood collide at THE BEVERLY HILTON, where you’re likely to see Joan Collins holding court in the original Trader Vic’s lounge and Ben Stiller on the red carpet upstairs. Book the Golden Globe package (from $2,800) for a two-night stay and bleacher seats to catch red-carpet arrivals live at the January awards event.
A more chill Old Hollywood experience can be found at THE AVALON (from $180; 9400 W. Olympic Blvd., 310-277-5221. Viceroyhotelgroup.com/Avalon), a 1950s-style hotel packed with mid-century Eames, Noguchi, and Nelson furniture, all against a sherbet palette. Marilyn Monroe called it home for many years.
The Brentwood Country Mart is the toniest of strip malls, with a cluster of cute boutiques (James Perse, Space NK Apothecary) ranged around an outdoor food court with excellent tacos from Frida Taqueria and stacked SoCal salads from Barney’s. The market at FarmShop is just the spot to pick up gourmet provisions for a picnic on the beach.
Travelling with kids? Pony rides and a petting zoo take over the parking lot on weekends, and Sweet Rose Creamery, with its seasonal flavours (quince swirl with Manchego cheese; pink grapefruit with anise sorbet) and adult-friendly frozen treats (brioche-bun sliders with vanilla ice cream, cinnamon sauce, and bacon; Valrhona fudge pops), will pacify all weary travellers.
Yes, there’s the boardwalk with its tattoo artists and T-shirt hawkers, and the legendary skate park-worth it to see six-year-olds put any skills you once had to shame-but Venice has another major corridor: Abbot Kinney Boulevard, an eclectic strip of boutiques, bars, and excellent restaurants
The Tasting Kitchen (1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., 310-392-6644.) is also a chef Casey Lane room (he of downtown’s The Parish), but here the focus is on rustic Italian and dishes that change daily. You might find roasted hen and raffano tortelli or salt-roasted branzino with chanterelles and brown butter.
At Gjelina (1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., 310-450-1429.) tuck in to slices of what might be L.A.’s best pizza, especially when topped with house-cured chorizo, or nettles with garlic confit and chili.
Inventive, veggie-centric dishes (like black kale with jalapeño-pickled raisins, pine nuts, pecorino and a crouton) rule at Superba Snack Bar (533 Rose Ave., 310-399-6400.), located a few blocks off the strip. Carnivores will find plenty of clever mains like wakame spaghettini with uni and Dungeness crab.
Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax (for your surfboard) is one element of the excellent minibar setup at HOTEL ERWIN (from $180; 1697 Pacific Ave.,
310-452-1111.), but you’re here for the gorgeous open-air rooftop patio-it’s the highest point on the beach, all the better to peer at the action on Muscle Beach or take in the sunset and views north to the Santa Monica Pier and Malibu, blood-orange julep in hand.