Downtown LA is the central business district, and until very recently, it was a wasteland of bland, glassy office blocks – but that’s all changed in the last year or two: there’s new energy, new art and very well-documented macadamia nut iced lattes. It’s the oldest bit of the city and there are enough interesting landmarks here, as well as spots you’ll recognise from the movies. Abandoned commercial buildings have been filled with creative people and their work – filmmakers, musicians and artists – with a result that feels a lot like Brooklyn, NY.
At the centre of it all, the Grand Central Market has been in place since 1917, but has become a kind of hotbed for creative and cultural LA cuisine. You can get four different and invigorating falafel wraps at Madcapra, pupusas (Salvadoran corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans and pork) at Sarita’s, pastrami sandwiches at Wexler’s Deli, pad Thai at Sticky Rice, and that famous macadamia nut iced latte at G&B Coffee (described by The New York Times as the best iced latte in the US).
Otium at The Broad
The Broad opened at the end of 2015. It was named after the billionaire philanthropists who funded all $140m of it, and is one of the more obvious and expensive attempts to turn around Downtown; it’s also free to get in and brilliant. The gallery space isn’t enormous, but it’s completely stuffed with wonders by Warhol, Hirst, Twombly, Basquiat and more, resulting in a soothing and well-paced experience, even on busy Saturdays. Jeff Koons’s giant stainless steel ‘balloons’ make fabulous centerpieces, especially the Technicolor tulips. And Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room must be seen to be believed: it can accommodate one person at a time (for about 40 seconds).
Then there’s the food. Otium at The Broad isn’t an afterthought tacked on to serve tea and sandwiches – it’s breathtaking and groundbreaking and well worth a detour even if you’re not in it for the art. The head chef, Tim Hollingsworth, spent 13 years at celebrated restaurant The French Laundry, in Napa Valley. His menu here takes its cues from picnics and barbeques, and includes dishes that feel extremely current, such as spaghetti with cauliflower and sea urchin, or lamb with pole beans, pine nuts and yoghurt. Plus, there are funnel cakes and avocados for brunch, and cocktails made with huckleberry –Hollingsworth’s LA tastes just right.
The Millennium Biltmore Hotel
It’s the juxtaposition of old and brand new that makes Downtown so exciting. And on the older side of things, there’s no place grander than The Biltmore. This wildly beautiful 1923 grand dame – with its Crystal Ballroom, frescoed ceilings and bronze stairwells – is forever being used as a filming location (it sparkles in Mad Men, King Kong, Ghostbusters, Fight Club, and more). You can visit for three tiers of cake and a pot of tea in the Rendezvous Court, or you can take one of the popular tours run by the Los Angeles Conservancy – a non-profit organisation that preserves and revitalises local historic landmarks – every Sunday at 2pm. Well-informed guides cover the architecture and history of the hotel, and sweep you through the palatial hallway and beaux-arts banqueting halls while painting a picture of the hotel’s heyday, when it was known as the “host of the coast”.
There are green juices in Malibu, chia smoothies in Hollywood and healthy shakes in Venice - and Moon Juice serves all three. It opened in 2012, selling juices and nut milks, and has become a beacon of all things good. They have two locations: one in Venice and one in Silver Lake, as well as a Moon Rover (food truck).
Moon Milks include the Date Shake (California almonds, dates, maca, pink salt and cardamom, and the Rose Moon (coconut, strawberries, rose water and honey), while juices include Gracious Greens (cucumber, romaine lettuce, spinach, mint and lemon), and Watermelon Lime Punch. On top of this, the ever-expanding range includes jars of take-home “dusts” to be added to hot or cold drinks, including “Spirit Dust” (for a mere $65), and “Cosmic Provisions” such as raw chocolate, macadamia cheese and coconut yoghurt.
One of LA’s best diners can be found Downtown. It’s located on what used to be one of the most notorious intersections in the city, on the stretch known as Skid Row. People didn’t really do brunch here until 2008, when Monica May and Kristen Trattner opened the Nickel in an abandoned restaurant that had been used as a front for drugs for years.. Despite its contemporary attitude, it looks exactly like the old-school diner of your dreams, replete with dark red pleather and vintage posters.
The Nickel is possibly best known for its maple bacon doughnuts (they were the originators – many copycats have followed), plus triple-layer red velvet cakes and whoopee pies. But breakfast (of course!) is when this place really shines – fill your table with the Flat Iron steak and eggs, the cinnamon swirl brioche French toast, and the BLTAE – a mammoth and perfectly arranged open-faced sandwich of bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado and a fried egg. Here, it’s all about doughnuts made with homemade brioche dough, laboured over for three days, and eggs scrambled on the spot with ham, leeks and fontina cheese, by people who love food.