Located in the center of downtown, the Historic Core is filled with glorious old movie palaces, fantastic vintage buildings, and tons of places to eat and dine. Technically, the Historic Core encompasses the terrain bounded by Hill, Main, 3rd and 9th streets, but it's anchored around the intersections of 4th, 5th, Main and Spring, a micro-neighborhood known as the Old Bank District.
The area had its heyday before World War II when it was the city's social hub. After a period of decline, it's experiencing a renaissance. Classic buildings have been converted into lofts, stores, and restaurants, making it one of the busiest and most popular neighborhoods in downtown. And of course, once Clifton's reopens, it'll be even more vibrant, once again.
Cole's: Opened in 1908, this no-frills restaurant was known as Cole's P.E. Buffet until nightlife impresario Cedd Moses revamped the joint in 2008. Famous for its French dip, Cole's maintains a long-running rivalry with Philippe The Original as to which restaurant served the first -- and which serves the best -- sandwich. Cole's is also a top-flight cocktail lounge with a moody vibe and 1930s-inspired decorative touches. For a more intimate experience, head toward the back where The Varnish, the small in-house "speakeasy," offers a rotating menu of adventurous libations. (If mezcal and tequila are more your thing, walk across the street to Las Perlas, which Moses also owns. The spacious, colorful bar serves a huge variety of the two liquors.)
118 E. 6th St., 213-622-4090
Bäco Mercat:What Cedd Moses is to downtown's bars, chef Josef Centeno is to the neighborhood's restaurants. He started his reign with Bäco Mercat, staked on his trademark bäco, a multiethnic taco/sandwich hybrid that might pair an Austrian-inspired schnitzel with Tunisian harissa. Centeno's next venture was the upscale Tex-Mex restaurant Bar Ama, where it's all about puffy tacos, Frito pie with lengua chili con carne and queso dressed up with chorizo. Next came the formal Orsa & Winston, where you choose between a six or ten-course prix fixe menu. Theoretically the food is a fusion of Japanese and Italian, but the menu incorporates cuisines that go far beyond those two countries. (A recent foray into lunch served up more casual grain and protein bowls.) Most recently Centeno took over downtown stalwart Pete's, which has been renamed Ledlow and now serves upmarket iterations of American gastropub fare including burgers, pork rinds, buns with housemade pimento cheese and market-driven vegetable plates.
408 S. Main St., 213-687-8808
Guisados: While most of L.A.'s taco trucks and carts are focused on grilled meats, Guisados takes a different tack, specializing in stews that are complex flavor bombs -- and they're all great. You might try the flank steak topped with a tomato and red bell pepper-based salsa roja, shredded chicken breast in nutty, dark brown mole, mushrooms stewed with cilantro and onions, and a classic cochinita pibil taco made with shredded pork, achiote and a hint of orange. If you've got a cast iron stomach, the chiles toreados taco is heaped with blistered habanero, serrano, jalapeno and Thai chiles. All the tacos are served on fluffy tortillas made from masa that's ground fresh every day. The business is also a local success story, expanding from one location in Boyle Heights in 2010 to multiple locations around the city. The downtown outpost is adding life to the Spring Street Arcade, which developers are aiming to turn into a foodie hub.
541 S. Spring St. #101, 213-627-7656
Bierbeisl Imbiss: After closing the first iteration of his Austrian restaurant, located in Beverly Hills, chef Bernhard Mairinger moved east and opened a more casual version of Bierbeisl in the Spring Street Arcade. Bierbeisl 2.0 is like a classy cafeteria, setting up the Arcade to become another downtown destination once again: when it was built in 1924, the office building was considered quite luxurious. The atmosphere is laid back but Mairinger takes the food seriously, whether its the multiple mustards, the assortment of house baked breads, or the sausages. The cheese-infused kasekrainer is a tart, salty Polish pork sausage bathed in creamy cheese. Beer, bread and sausages: what else do you need? How about a marzipan-filled pastry. They make those in the konditorei (bakery) on the premises.
541 S. Spring St. #108-110, 213-935-8035
The Nickel Diner: It hardly serves the most innovative fare, but it is an institution. The vintage-style diner, with walls covered in old school ads (who doesn't wish they could still buy a burger for 19 cents?), serves slightly classed up comfort food. When it opened in 2009, the neighborhood (this intersection in particular) was generally considered to be quite dangerous. The restaurant's owners took a leap, and now it's one of L.A.'s trendier blocks. Food-wise, the Nickel is probably best known for its desserts: fluffy red velvet cake, grown up takes on Pop-Tarts and a semi-famous bacon maple donut. The atmosphere is relaxed and funky, as you may have guessed from the kooky mannequin heads in the window.
524 S. Main St., 213-623-8301