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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Arts District

The Arts District's name conjures one swath of its recent history from the mid-1970s, whereby a loose community of artists lived and worked out of this largely industrial downtown L.A. area. But it wasn't until the '90s that a resident and playwright named Joel Bloom campaigned to have the neighborhood known officially as the Arts District. Making a home in old factories might have seemed progressive at the time, but this part of downtown wasn't officially rezoned for industrial use until the early 20th century.

In fact, in the 19th century, the 52-block area was a mix of agricultural, manufacturing, and residential development. The neighborhood has played host to a string of contrasting land design ever since. Two major arteries, one human-made and the other wholly natural, define the district's northeast margins. Towards the north, there's the 101 tapering into the 10 and the 60, while the L.A. River flows along the east.

The Arts District is in the midst of getting redeveloped again, brought on by key players like real estate broker Tyler Stonebreaker. Retailers, restaurateurs, and residential developers have been remodeling extensively or downright razing then erecting new buildings for more than several years now. Of the ten neighborhoods that make up downtown L.A., the Arts District might be changing the most as of late. And the momentum will not be slowing any time soon, with the 6th Street Viaduct not completing until 2019, for one.

Even so, the Arts District remains rough around the edges. You'll find crater-like pot holes on asphalt that'll require deft maneuvering if traveling by car, impressively notable in a city where plenty of streets regularly ruin tire alignments. The neighborhood's unevenness is made up by more than road conditions. On some streets, the homeless population increases even as a one-bedroom loft sells upwards of $950,000 a few streets over.

Little remain of the smattering of restaurants, cafes, and bars frequented by the artists once associated with the original neighborhood. One of the last vestiges from that era, Al's Bar, a popular watering hole in its heyday, shuttered in 2001. And so our list features some of the restaurants that helped situate the latest major shift instead.

 

Church & State: When the bistro first opened in the Biscuit Co. Lofts in 2008, it generated much buzz for French fare in what was then an unlikely location with significant help from chef Walter Manzke (who left less than two years later). Critic S. Irene Virbila gave the restaurant three stars, and Jonathan Gold enthused about the chef's crispy pig ears dish, declaring the restaurant demonstrative of "the most refined bistro cooking." The fooderati soon followed. This was before Factory Lounge and Bestia dished regional Italian fare, before Blue Bottle poured New Orleans-styled iced coffee, before Urban Radish stocked small-batch preserves. Church & State cast the district in a new light, signaling potential to other chefs and restaurateurs. Since 2013, chef Tony Esnault has kept the Church & State kitchen humming. 1850 Industrial St.; (213) 405-1434.

 

Daily Dose Cafe: There are few alleys in L.A. that charm more than the one alongside the Daily Dose Cafe. If the tucked-in kitchen and counter space are the heart of the operation, then the part salon, part lounge outdoor area between Mill St. and Industrial St. is the soul. The menu reflects owner Sarkis Vartanian's eco-conscious lifestyle whereupon ancient grains and farmers market produce shine. Every so often, he'll post an Instagram photo of a paleo special or a weekend morning hike crew gathered at the cafe. 1820 Industrial St.; (844) 932-4593.

 

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Wurstküche: When Joseph Pitruzzelli and Tyler Wilson first rolled back Wurstküche's red and yellow stripe barn door seven years ago, sausage options outside of your typical meat variety was muted, almost lackluster. Nowadays, Friday evenings through the end of the weekend typically bring a line made up mostly of Millennials that extends alongside its brick exterior. They wait, chatting while perusing the menus to lock down their selections of sausages, European beer, and dipping sauces for twice-fried Belgian fries. The exchanges about the menu options reveal that Filipino Maharlika, rattlesnake and rabbit, or lamb sausages get as much serious consideration as the bratwurst and kielbasa. 803 E. 3rd St.; (213) 687-4444.

 

Photo: Christine Chiao

Photo: Christine Chiao

Pizzanista: Rules are decidedly lax at this order-by-the-slice pizzeria on the southern edge of the district. There might be mac'n cheese slices available if you stop by on a Sunday. You can order from Tony's Saloon, the bar right next door. And you can eat your slice right on the sidewalk, what with a bar top built right over the sill of the large window facing 7th Street. All of this could come across as gimmicky, except that it comes off as authentically counterculture instead. Before slinging pies, Salman Agah, who co-owns the joint with wife Price Latimer Agah, was a professional skateboarder. 2019 E. 7th St.; (213) 627-1430.

 

The Factory Kitchen: Mention The Factory Kitchen and you might get an immediate comparison to Bestia (which according to the neighborhood council map is not in the Arts District), just a few blocks away. The two are different both in vibe and menu. Factory Kitchen is compact with a bit more subdued ambiance, yet no less active at peak hours. Your eyes will be drawn to the open kitchen, bustling with staff making pasta by hand, helmed by chef Angelo Auriana whose specialties are of Northern Italian ilk. A signature, his mandilli di seta, a delicate Ligurian-style handkerchief pasta coated in pesto and pecorino, is as good as it's been reported. 1300 Factory Pl.; (213) 996-6000.

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