DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - It’s never been easier than it is today to eat healthy in Downtown Los Angeles.
That’s not to say it was difficult in recent years — the residential revolution that began in 2000 led to a surge of restaurants, and the management at most of them understood that area inhabitants and workers want more than meat piled on cholesterol piled on more meat. There were always a number of salads, vegetable plates and other options.
However, in the past couple years Downtown restaurants have gotten even more health conscious, and now it’s easy, whether you’re in South Park, Bunker Hill, the Arts District or somewhere in between, to get a meal without having to worry about fat-laden dishes and high calorie counts. Even better, these options are available at numerous price points.
In the following pages Los Angeles Downtown News runs down 20 of the Central City restaurants offering healthy lunch choices. Many of these establishments have come online in the past year, while a few others have been around longer and have a track record of keeping you fed, and helping you stay trim.
Kazunori Nozawa rose to fame as a notoriously strict sushi pioneer at his Studio City restaurant Sushi Nozawa. Today, he’s the mind behind an ever-growing Sugarfish empire, but it’s the Old Bank District’s diminutive Kazu Nori that serves as Nozawa’s purest and simplest endeavor. The restaurant, which opened in September, serves just one thing: hand rolls. Warm rice seasoned with sugar and vinegar is layered on toasted seaweed (or nori, in Japanese), then topped with a choice of seven fillings, including bay scallops, salmon, blue crab and cucumber. You can get the rolls à la carte or, for a better deal, in set menus of three, four or five rolls. Whatever you pick, rest easy — there’s little guilt in eating pristine seafood with a bit of perfectly seasoned rice and seaweed.
At 421 S. Main St., (213) 493-6956 or kazunorisushi.com.
No one pretends that eating a lot of beef is good for your arteries long term. However, Belcampo Meat Co., which has a stand in Grand Central Market, strives to make sure that the meat they serve is healthier than that served by most competitors. Just check their website to see why they’re different — they raise, process and butcher their own meat; they even describe the soil upon which the animals graze (a huge recent New Yorker article sang Belcampo’s praises). This is manifested in dishes such as the 5.5-ounce Belcampo Burger (dry-aged and grass-fed beef, of course), the poblano pork cemita and the twice-cooked duck. Note: The menu changes daily.
At 317 S. Broadway, (213) 625-0304 or belcampomeatco.com.
Downtowners rejoiced last fall when Tender Greens opened in the PacMutual Building near Pershing Square. The small chain is known for its reliance on locally grown, farm-fresh ingredients. “Big Plates” can be ordered as a hot plate, salad or sandwich: Options include herb-brushed albacore with sea salt, lemon and olive oil, or grilled and roasted vegetables. Salads are made with a variety of simple greens and are topped with a garlic herb crostini, while sandwiches come on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers, aioli and greens. Of course there are straight-up salads, among them the Happy Vegan, with wheat, cranberry and hazelnuts, quinoa with cucumber and beets, green hummus and tabbouleh.
At 523 W. Sixth St., (213) 873-1890 or tendergreens.com.
Fish Your Wish
Former Patina Executive Chef Bret Thompson opened Pez Cantina in December, delivering sustainably processed seafood and supporting ingredients to build up a menu of coastal fare inspired by the dishes of Central Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja. Lunch choices include Tacos Pescador, with a choice of beer-battered fish, scallops, shrimp or oysters, served on handmade tortillas with lime aioli, slaw and salsa negra. There’s also the El Pez, a sandwich built on grilled dorado and avocado. Or sample some of the refreshing ceviche options.
At 401 S. Grand Ave., (213) 258-2280 or pezcantina.com.
While there are plenty of ways to break your diet at this bustling Arts District eatery (think bread crumb-topped macaroni and cheese and a host of wood-fired pizzas), the vegetarian restaurant Zinc Café also offers the waistline-conscious a host of appetizing choices. The Zinc Lunch Burrito Bowl melds black beans, brown rice, white cheddar cheese, avocado and more. There’s a Thai salad, where brown rice and shredded Napa cabbage meet carrots, bean sprouts and braised tofu. Operator John Secretan opened the restaurant last May. It features an open kitchen, a cocktail room and a large outdoor patio where patrons can bring their dogs.
At 580 Mateo St., (323) 825-5381 or zinccafe.com.
A Seat at the Table
Based on Figueroa Street, Local Table utilizes fresh, organic and locally grown ingredients. Although there’s a solid offering of cleansing juices, the lunch menu is hearty and no one will leave hungry. Choices include crispy natural lemongrass chicken rice noodles with farmers market carrots, Valdivia sweet pea tendrils, toasted cashews and Local Table’s own Asian vinaigrette dressing. Need the meat? There’s the LT Bahn-Mi, a crispy pork belly sandwich with homemade carrot-daikon pickles, crisp cucumbers and spicy Fresno chilies served atop a French baguette. Snacks and other goodies are available in the Local Table marketplace, among them kale chips, granola, fruit crisps and jams.
At 800 S. Figueroa St., (213) 488-2654 or localtable-la.com.
South Park’s Faith and Flower has one of Downtown’s most glamorous dining rooms, and that sense of richness extends to the menu. That shouldn’t discourage the health-conscious from eating here, though, as chef Michael Hung has crafted dishes that won’t bust a diet. Start with a selection of fresh raw oysters or littleneck clams, dressed simply with peppercorn-infused vinegar or house-made hot sauce. There’s an assortment of light salads, including a fennel-and-citrus version with touches of Greek yogurt and sheep’s milk cheese. Those wanting a heftier vegetable dish can opt for the broccolini, simply grilled and slicked with a salsa infused with garlic and anchovy. Want some protein? Try the seared trout kissed with Moroccan spices and served over a warm three-bean salad.
At 705 W. Ninth St., (213) 239-0642 or faithandflowerla.com
A Must Try
Since its return to the Historic Core in 2013, The Must has been complementing its ample wine offerings with ambitiously delicious mains, sides and healthy snacks. The lunch menu features a number of vegetarian and gluten-free options, such as the green bucatini, a hollow pasta tossed in kale pistachio pesto, parmesan and sea beans, and the fried tofu version of the Cholo Fried Rice. There’s also a Kasha Chop salad withbaby kale, chickpeas, tomato, cucumber and toasted kasha (buckwheat), tossed in a “master cleanse dressing.” We think that’s a description, not a warning.
At 117 Winston St., (213) 628-2000 or themust.com.
The Civic Center’s Au Lac opened last month, following a successful outpost in Fountain Valley. Nestled in the former home of First and Hope, across from the DWP headquarters, Au Lac offers Vietnamese and Buddhist-inspired vegan and raw dishes. The restaurant’s pho soup is a mock-meat version with anise and clove broth, rice noodles, bean curd, bean sprouts and Thai basil. There’s also the Green Pyramid, a raw dish of soaked wild rice served with coconut meat, zucchini squash, Thai basil and pesto. The sweet and spicy tempeh is served with broccoli, snap peas and bell peppers.
At 710 W. First St., (213) 617-2533 or aulac.com.
Picks From the Mix
The Cal-Asian joint Chaya is just about perfect on a warm day — the restaurant at City National Plaza has a calm vibe and indoor and patio seating. Food-wise, there are plenty of healthy choices. There’s a daily “simply grilled fish” as well as a chef’s daily bento box. Entree salads include one with a grilled Jidori chicken breast and a chopped Cajun shrimp version. Or try the marinated sea bass. Side orders include farmer’s market daily vegetables. The menu also offers an ample selection of sushi.
At 525 S. Flower St., (213) 236-9577 or thechaya.com.
Chef Mario Christerna’s fusion of cultural identity fuels the menu at The Briks, where North African, Spanish and French techniques are infused with a dash of Christerna’s Chicano roots. At lunch Spanish-style pizzas break the classic pie mold and include the chicken shawarma version with red onion, tomatoes, fetz and za’atar oil, and the seafood pizza, with shrimp scampi, calamari, clams, tomatoes, basil and pink vodka sauce. Pining for pasta? Try the Green Maquina, a rigatoni dish with Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, spinach and pesto. For sandwich lovers there’s the La Torta, which comes with harissa chicken, avocado, black beans, harissa mayo, lettuce and onion cortido.
At 111 S. Hope St., (213) 746-7766 or
Spring Toward Health
Think of The Springs as a gigantic temple of wellness. Along with yoga classes and massage, there’s a raw, entirely organic vegan restaurant. Chef Michael Falso helms the 92-seat establishment in which no food has been heated over 118 degrees (the purveyors say this retains the nutritional value and enzymatic quality of the food). Lunch options at the Arts District establishment include spicy “tuna” rolls made from nori, pate, cucumber, avocado and chipotle mayo, and a Reuben Collard Wrap that is prepared from collard greens, marinated mushrooms, sauerkraut and dill pickles. Among the salad choices are a falafel version and a seaweed Caesar salad.
At 608 Mateo St., (213) 223-6226 or thespringsla.com.
Everyone likes noodles. But at Gentaro Soba, located in the Taste food complex at the FIGat7th shopping center, you won’t find spaghetti. Don’t worry, as Gentaro has excellent chilled soba, or buckwheat noodles, served with a savory cold dipping sauce made from Japanese dashistock and soy sauce. The variations meander from there: Get it with lean chicken in the sauce, or with an infusion of mixed herbs, or with crunchy fried vegetable and shrimp tempura (although that’s probably not the most health-conscious choice). There’s also a variety of hot soba, a soba salad and rice bowls, including one topped with spicy raw tuna. The cold soba, however, reigns supreme as the best light lunch option.
At 735 S. Figueroa St., (213) 622-0020 or gentarosoba.com.
Bad Is Good
The Historic Core’s Localita and the Badasserie is part health food market, part convenience store, sans the smokes and scratchers. Proprietors Melissa Rosen and Greg Horos are on a simple, but take-no-prisoners mission to serve what they call “badass food that happens to be healthy.” Vegan and vegetarian driven, Localita ingredients are locally acquired, with no GMOs, hormones or antibiotics. Try the Quinoa Kid bowl with tempeh bacon, black beans, romaine lettuce, bell peppers, cucumbers and chipotle lime dressing.There’s also vegan chili, organic smoothies and a full lineup of salads including the Naughty Kale with sundried tomatoes, toasted walnuts and a lemon cayenne dressing. Those seeking sandwiches can try the vegan Reuben with marinated mock meats, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing served on rye bread.
At 817 S. Los Angeles St., (213) 623-3223 or localiyours.com/localita.
The Wrap Game
The City West Kachi Deli Café and Grill has kale, kombucha and even something called a “Cholesterol Buster” on the juice list. That’s a nice start, and when it comes to lunch, choices include the Miso Wrap, which has quinoa, miso spread, cucumber, avocado, sprouts and romaine. The Black Bean Wrap has, well, black beans, wild rice, red onions, feta, chopped kale and lemon vinaigrette. Kachi’s lemon tuna panini features fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and olive oil. That’s just the start.
At 1055 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 482-4553 or kachidelicafegrill.com.
The Third Street restaurant Eat.Drink.Americano describes its fare as “locally grown, artisanally produced and globally inspired.” Though some of the menu is meat and cheese inspired, dishes are comprised of “compassionately” bred livestock raised on organic, antibiotic- and hormone-free farms. The Speck Americano (smoked prosciutto), for example, is from Niman Ranch. The daily soups include pumpkin on Monday and cauliflower on Thursday. Among the sandwiches are the Green Valley, with hummus, avocado, organic tomatoes, cucumber and more. There’s also a roasted poblano chicken salad with Mandarin oranges and croutons.
At 923 E. Third St., (213) 620-0781 or eatdrinkamericano.com.
In the House
The Historic Core’s Artisan House is a big joint with plenty of health-conscious dishes, among them vegan and vegetarian offerings. Choices
include an organic farm chicken breast with marsala and wild mushroom sauce. Gluten-free penne noodles are available, and you might try them with the Bolognese sauce. Grains are plentiful here: Try the organic quinoa with zucchini, peas, asparagus, mushrooms, basil, pine nuts and vegetable stock. In addition to daily soup options, Artisan House has a dairy-free tomato soup and another with yellow lentils. In the attached market you’ll find goodies such as broccolini with crushed chili flakes and lemon vinaigrette, and Israeli couscous.
At 600 S. Main St., (213) 622-6333 or artisanhouse.net.
The Name Game
Sarkis Vartanian, the owner of Daily Dose, says he used to live off junk food. But everyone changes, and now he provides local, organically grown foods to Arts District denizens. Daily Dose opened in 2011 and serves some wittily named salads, such as the Super Bowl, which has quinoa, chickpeas, lettuce, etc. Then there’s the Kal-E-Fornication with kale, seasonal fruit and citrus vinaigrette dressing and croutons. Or try the assortment of sandwiches that run the gamut from vegetarian (The Tailor) to an extra meaty option known as The Butcher, with thinly sliced soppressata salami.
At 1820 Industrial St., (213) 281-9300 or dailydosela.com
Life After Pete’s
OK, you can’t get a Hellman burger with blue cheese fries at Pete’s anymore. That’s because a) Pete’s is now Ledlow, and b) new chef Josef Centeno (Bäco Mercat, Bar Ama) has revamped the menu, delivering a New American lineup full of intriguing dishes, including a number that could compose a healthy lunch. There’s the caramelized cauliflower, awash in herbs, capers and lemon, that one could pair with aged beef carpaccio, served with an olive vinaigrette. Or try the grilled seafood cocktail flavored with punchy horseradish, lime and saffron, as well as an entree of market-selection fish served with a mix of cooked spinach, tomato and fennel.
At 400 S. Main St., (213) 687-7000 or ledlowla.com.
Yes, the gastropub City Tavern has thick burgers, a grilled cheese sandwich and plenty of beers that will pack on the pounds. However, the indoor-outdoor space on the bottom level of the FIGat7th shopping center also has a number of health-conscious lunch offerings. There’s a veggie burger built around a black bean and quinoa patty, as well as a veggie banh mi sandwich with carrot, cucumber, pickled daikon and more. Those desperately seeking salads can easily go beyond the traditional field of greens: Try the seared albacore salad, a shrimp and mango offering, a chopped vegetable salad or even a kale and quinoa version. Do your best to resist the urge for a bowl of chocolate pudding at the end of the meal.
At 735 S. Figueroa St., (213) 239-5654 or citytaverndtla.com.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2015