DOWNTOWN Los Angeles has been “reviving” for the better part of 20 years.
The seed may have been planted in 1988, with the naming of Frank Gehry as the architect for Walt Disney Concert Hall — a civic commitment to return downtown to its early 20th-century glory days, when it was a hubbub of activity rather than a place to flee come sunset. Revitalization continued in the 1990s, with rezoning laws that allowed for the transformation of old warehouses into sleek lofts.
In recent years, the openings of the Grammy Museum and a Ritz-Carlton, as well as the philanthropist Eli Broad’s unwavering focus on Grand Avenue as a cultural destination, have hastened the otherwise glacial pace of downtown redux.
There have been barriers: a large and intransigent homelessness problem, the recent credit crisis that left some developers in the lurch, and the physical nature of downtown, enveloped in a sea of freeways that make it feel cut off from large swaths of the rest of this city. Yet downtown Los Angeles is now genuinely a place where people want to live and travel to for art fairs, music festivals, basketball games and more.
But, until recently, not to eat.
Yes, there is Little Tokyo, where I have sat in silent awe of the fish at Sushi Gen, and the occasional historic spot, like Philippe the Original, which makes claims on inventing the French dip. But true destination restaurants have been few.
That, too, is changing, with smart new bistros emphasizing creativity and local produce; hidden bars; and cheap-but-chic fare springing up from points east and west. An increasing number of intrepid diners are venturing a few miles east on the 10 Freeway toward the contemporary response to years of suburbanization and sprawl that led to downtown’s descent years ago. And they will now be well fed.