It's obvious to most locals that downtown's restaurant resurgence is in the fast lane. Only three decades ago, weekdays at 5pm meant a massive exodus to the safety of suburbia. Downtown storefronts were chained, parking garages emptied, graffiti artists salivated. A mere smattering of white table-clothed restaurants served the theater-going crowd.
The current American dream, even for many families with children, is to live in the city center. Loft renovation projects and apartment construction progress at a furious pace. Futuristic, industrial-driven restaurants, serving fried pig-snouts and roasted marrow on redwood tables amid rusted metal-corrugated walls are born almost daily.
White table-cloths have given way to aluminum diamond-plate. Crystal sconces replaced by exposed pipes. Bow-tied, pencil-thin moustached maitre d’s named Enzo have been exchanged for eyelid-pierced, soul-patched waiters named Elijah or Chloe.
Residents and restaurateurs, particularly in eastern districts have accepted, or perhaps embraced a SoHo-esque tolerance for grunge and graffiti. Sustainable is the crusade du jour, Farm-to-fork is the new 'fresh catch (words) of the day.'
With so many dining choices, and summer in full blaze, let's explore one restaurant category - downtown outdoor dining. View a few options in the photo list above.
Joachim Splichal's lovely garden café in the Patina franchise. A leafy setting in the art-deco shadow of the Central Library. Service is theater-goer savvy. As with many area eateries, free shuttle to the Music Center. French onion soup followed by dijon-crusted rotisserie chicken.
Takami Sushi & Robata
21st floor Financial District Asian-Fusion (sushi & grilled skewers focused) with wrap-around, open-air
patio and 360-degree city views. Go for happy hour - gyoza skin spicy shrimp taco with spicy mayo and avocado, cooled by icy lychee mojitos.
Soleto Trattoria and Pizza Bar
Casual patio setting for summer evening al fresco dining on Figueroa. Nice vibe at spacious bar inside. Sausage and white truffle oil pizza. Honey Sriracha fried chicken. Kale salad with salmon, cranberries, and hazelnuts.
Nick & Stef's Steakhouse
Inside the Wells Fargo Building, and home of the glass-enshrined, dry-aging meat locker. Snag a table on the less-stuffy outside patio. Combine a table-side Caesar, dry-aged ribeye, a jammy cabernet from the huge cellar, and a balmy evening - recipe for a memorable dinner.
At the forefront of downtown's restaurant revival when it opened inside Union Station in the 90's. The dining room is charming, but sit in the little-known garden patio, where lantern-lit Jacarandas and tranquil tile fountain embellish the magical art-deco ambiance.
Upscale French-Japanese inspired in the Financial District. Quirky yet elegant Asian decor inside, breezy, romantic 'yakitori patio' outside. Full Sushi bar. Lovely dish presentation and creative drinks. Maine lobster & shrimp ravioli, zesty Blackberry Tokyo Mule cocktail.
Begin the evening at the rooftop bar, before the sun sets. Enjoy cocktails and Parisian café music before descending one floor to the lively restaurant. Romantic patio seating, looming city views, a live yet subtle jazz combo, and a succinct, delicious menu of French country dishes...have made The Standard rooftop an afterthought.
Stealthily located jewel in Little Tokyo, wedged between brick buildings on 1st Street. Entrance and patio could pass for a turn-of-the-century Grant Ave alleyway in San Francisco. Interior gets mobbed during happy hour, where it seems "Big Trouble in Little China" is always on the TV.
Historic Core neighborhood bar-restaurant off of Main opened by founders of Perch. Enjoy Yo’ Mama’s Chicken, Caesar Chavez Salad, and pitchers of Dog Ate My Homework Ale, or sip muddled grapefruit MUSTgaritas while mingling with friendly urbanites in the spacious interior or the airy patio.
Blue Cow Kitchen & Bar
Sandwiches, salads, and craft beers by The Mendocino Farms team. A modernistic, offbeat patio setting in the Lower California Plaza. Noteworthy: Braised, caramelized pork belly with fried egg on french baguette. Marinated steak sandwich with candied bacon & cilantro spread.