Dozens of brand-new restaurants have sprung up in downtown in the last few months (including six AIA/LA Restaurant Design Award finalists), so we tapped Lesley Balla, Los Angeles editor of TastingTable.com to help us determine which ones could best fulfill the typical Dwell on Design craving. Most of these are a few blocks from the convention center, others, where noted, are only a quick cab ride away. Downtown also has great train and bus lines, should you choose to go that route: Just punch in your destinations at Metro.net.
You're up early and want to enjoy a leisurely breakfast before the conference kicks off for the day. "You have to get the bacon maple doughnut at Nickel Diner (524 S. Main, at 5th)," Balla says, with extreme seriousness. Cab it to this shiny new diner with great breakfasts and one very compelling design feature: "The hand-painted signage along the walls is original, from the 1940's—it was actually discovered by the owners during renovation."
You're famished but you don't want to miss the next session in the Sustainability Forum. How about a bite to-go? "Bottega Louie (700 S. Grand, at 7th) has great grab-and-go," says Balla. Take-out includes traditional Italian pizzas, pastas, sandwiches and good coffee and pastries about a six-block walk from Dwell on Design (they also have dine-in lunch and dinner). "Plus it's in this huge space covered in shockingly-white marble. It's like nowhere else in downtown L.A."
You just met a ton of new friends at the last Design Innovation panel. Where to for a hassle-free lunch? The sister of its Hollywood original Magnolia Downtown (825 W. 9th St., at Cottage Place) is both close and comfy. "They have some great lunch specials," Balla notes. Think mac & cheese, steak salad, rigatoni bolognese in a sleek urban setting that's a few blocks from the convention center. There are two patios for prime outdoor lunching.
You're an out-of-towner and dying to sample some local flavor. What says Southern California? "Corkbar (403 W. 12th St., at Grand) serves only California wines," says Balla. The very walkable winebar has a beautiful patio and is a great bet for lunch, too, with an inspired burger and a popular brussels sprouts and duck salad. Plus you can take some of that wine home with you, too, she says. "It's a great way to taste the bounty of the state without having to go to Napa or Santa Barbara."
You want to treat your rear to the best design experience possible. Where are the finest chairs? Hands—er, seats—down, it's got to be the nearby Rivera (1050 S. Flower, at 11th), says Balla. "They have these great leather chairs, and if you look on the side they have the same metal "R" as the decorative gate out front." But that's not all! "They also have these little trays that fold up like airline tables, where you can put your drink." The food is another reason to sit here for a few hours: Modern pan-Latin cuisine and fun cocktails from legendary chef John Sedlar, who brought flavors like blue corn and chipotle to our American palates. Dinner only on weekends.
You're feeling a little starchitect-y this evening after all this talk about cutting-edge design. Where to? You can't beat the Ghost Chairs and geishas courtesy of Philippe Starck at Katsuya (800 Olympic, in LA Live). Besides the design, there's killer sushi and a great fresh cocktail menu, plus, says Balla, "It's having its soft-opening Thursday—it's not officially open until Monday." So you can brag to all your friends that you went there first.
You want to see the historic side of Los Angeles. Does it really exist? Definitely, says Balla. "Cole's French Dip (118 E. 6th St., at Main) claims to be the oldest bar in L.A., and they've really restored it beautifully." Sure, you can hop in a cab to come here and have a really good lamb French Dip for lunch or dinner. "But the best part is The Varnish, through a secret door in back. It really is a speakeasy," she says. With century-old cocktails to match.
You just hit it off with the cutie working the Ligne Roset booth and now you've got to find somewhere for a romantic drink. Balla says The Must (118 W. 5th St., at Spring) is a must. Cab it to this place for a cozy nightcap, and this winebar also has beer and noshy snacks. "It's smaller and funkier than lots of the other places nearby," she says. "This is also the place I once had a port ice cream float."
You want to have a dinner that also includes a unique view of L.A.'s ever-changing urbanism. Where to soak up some city life? "The City National Building's plaza is one of the best cityscapes in L.A.," says Balla, and it's also home to two unique restaurants, a little over a mile from Dwell on Design. People-watch through the huge windows of Chaya Downtown (525 S. Flower, at 5th) with its colorful chandelier and great happy hour sushi specials. Or head for the great Italian bar menu at Drago Centro (525 S. Flower, at 5th) housed in a former bank. "They took the vault and turned it into this great kitchen, which you can see from the street," she says. "Check out how thick the walls are that they had to cut through."
You've had just about your fill of design...now you're ready to dance the night away at a hot new downtown club. Where's the music? You'll want to shake it over to the high-energy, Salsa-meets-SciFi Conga Room (800 Olympic, in LA Live) which is filled with details from local artists and architects. The Latino dance institution moved downtown in 2008 and it feels like the party hasn't stopped since then. "You can really see some pretty great shows, especially when you eat here," says Balla. Live bands, dancing and Latino fare; Friday's hip hop, Saturday's salsa.
...and now you really need a late night snack to be fresh for tomorrow's first 10am session. If a rattlesnake sausage and order of truffle fries at modern German biergarten Wurstkuche (800 E. 3rd St., at Traction) doesn't set you straight, you should have another sausage. And maybe one of the dozens of beers on tap. It's only open until midnight, but that's late by L.A. standards. "And it's cheap!" says Balla. Don't worry, if you don't remember it, you can always can grab a cab back here for lunch tomorrow.
TastingTable.com is a daily email for Los Angeles, New York, and Everywhere, with Chicago & San Francisco launching soon. Want to explore more of L.A.'s dining destinations? Check out Dwell's Guide to Los Angeles for restaurants, shopping and cultural locations around town. And we'll see you at Dwell on Design!