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Conquering downtown, one lunch at a time

I've worked in downtown (by Union Station, specifically) for a little over a year now. I must say I'm absolutely in love with the plethora of lunch options here. I'm putting together a shortlist of my favorite spots around here and rate them from 1-3 (+,++,+++).

I'll also put stars* next to spots I WANT to try, because there are so many places I still want to hit up.

It's hard to not go broke down here with all the good lunch options!

Lil Tokyo:
Sushi Gen+++
Hama Sushi+++
Tenno Sushi+
Daikokuya Ramen+++
Sushi Go 55*
Spice Table*
Lazy Ox*

Chinatown/NE downtown:
Phillipe The Original+++
Empress Pavilion++
Olvera Street (too many places I haven't tried)*

Arts District:
Urth Caffe++
Little Bear*

Arashi Sushi++
Mexican Hot Dogs after Laker games++++++++++++
Sai Sai Noodle Bar+
Mendocino Farms*
Grand Central Market*

Berlin Currywurst++

Let me know where I need to go, or places I should avoid. I'm a huge sushi fan, but it'll be VERY hard to pull me away from Hama and Gen... I enjoy all types of food. The cheaper the better... I don't want recommendations like Drago Centro. Let me know what you think, fellow downtowners! Help a fellow CHer conquer all!

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  1. You should really add Langer's Deli to your list for the best pastrami and rye on the planet. Just an easy 5 minute trip on the Red Line from Union Station. Langer's is just across the street from the Westlake/MacArthur Park subway station. Open till 4pm and closed Sunday.

    1 Reply
    1. re: wienermobile

      totally forgot to put it on there--I have been meaning to try Langers.

    2. The best biggest lunch deal around is the grilled chicken combo at Dino's. Half a chicken, marinated in a wonderful reddish garlic/vinegar sauce and flame-grilled, served over a mountain of fries with cole slaw and tortillas. All of $5.50! At least that is how it is at the location on Pico at Berendo, two short blocks west of Vermont. But there is another location on Main just north of you and east of Chinatown. I've only had burgers there, and decades ago. Same name but I don't think it is the same ownership. Anyone able to tell how they compare?

      3 Replies
      1. re: nosh

        Yet hardly downtown. Think K-town, or maybe Pico-Union, and I am with you.

        1. re: carter

          Yes, the one I've been to innumerable times. But there is another Dino's just N/E or downtown close to Union Station, I believe on upper Main.

          1. re: nosh

            Are you thinking of the one in Lincoln Heights? It's at 2817 N. Main st just north of U$C Hospital and east of the 5. I drive by it all the time but have never stopped there as I just want to get home.

      2. Where do you get Mexican Hot Dogs? My husband would love it. TIA

        2 Replies
        1. re: paprkutr

          Bacon hot dogs can be found on the sidewalk outside Staples after almost any event.

          1. re: paprkutr

            wienermobile is correct. That's exactly what I meant. It was kind of a joke, but they are friggin' good.

          2. Interestingly, I have been wanting to get together with a business acquaintenance whose business is in Chinatown, and short of eating in chinatown, we never know where to eat.
            We want to open a decent/good bottle of wine, yet basically no place on your list is conducive to that whatsoever. Mostly fast or fastish food, or Japanese, which does not go with wine, nor do I care to eat. When will people understand that tastebuds for lunch are wider than these 2 foodgroups!!!

            8 Replies
            1. re: carter

              Chinese is tough to pair with wine; my dad used to do a Gewurtzraminer (sic). I'd try Yang Chow, but then again I'll always try Yang Chow. Call and ask about their corkage policy. Always good service there. Slippery shrimp is a classic, fantastic dish. I also really like their spicy wonton soup from the specialty menu, the green beans, and the eggplant.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Note sandwiches and entree salads at Traxx run $14-18, plates run $17-23, at lunch.

                  1. re: nosh

                    I didn't know carter had a price restriction

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      "the cheaper the better" ... no Drago Centro ...

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Trust me, I do NOT have a price restriction.
                          But after about 5-6 very good lunches at ABC Seafood, with a good bottle(or two) of Cabernet that actually went very well with the lamb or chicken or even calamari dishes, we are looking for an alternative.
                          I drive or subway from the SF Valley while the downtown contingent works in upper chinatown, and will probably drive EVERY time and to any location. thus parking is an issue for them, not me.
                          Parking in the historic core for lunch is really a pain, regardless of which place you have selected.
                          Don't need Urth Caffe or Traxx, btw!

                2. re: carter

                  carter, i have the same problem! except i can't seem to find a place to bring my take-out McDonald's into! Like, what's wrong with these fancy restaurants?

                  I hope you understand the sarcasm. You're looking for more upscale places. I only break bank when going to sushi around here. Otherwise, I'll gladly spend 10 buckarooski's at Phillipe's and leave very full.

                3. Really like Wood Spoon and their chicken pot pie or their pork burger.

                  and Clifton's should be back open soon.

                  1. Try Shabu Shabu House in Little Tokyo if your lunch break is long enough. Sometimes the wait can be between 30 minutes to an hour.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: selfportrait93

                      I've heard about this place. Care to give a little more detail? I find Chowhounders more adept at giving restaurant run-downs than yelp or other internet sources.

                      1. re: beaubourne

                        pluses- thinly sliced ribeye beef and the temperature it is served at
                        - reasonably priced lunch (about $12 for medium and $14 for large)
                        -their home made Ponzu is addicting and one of the best I've tasted
                        -quick service once you are seated
                        minuses- the wait can start from a minimum of 30 minutes
                        - don't go too far after you've signed up, cuz Maruyama San is quite strict about having customers being around when he calls them
                        -it seems that once you are seated, its all about seriously eating and finishing
                        your meal in order to cut down on the wait time of people next in line

                    2. Senor Fish. 1st and Alameda. Fish, shrimp, or scallop tacos.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: ebethsdad

                        Had the SeƱor Fish Fish Taco during CicLAvia. The Fish Taco seemed more a Guacamole delivery device than a Fish Taco. I noticed everyone else seemed to be having the fish plate instead. If I decide to go back, maybe I'll try that instead.

                        1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                          They serve three types of fish tacos. The Ensenada style does have quite a bit of guacamole on it. I'm partial to the fried scallop tacos. The fish plates are very good.

                      2. You might want to add Baco Mercat to your list. Finally made it there and it was delicious. The beef tongue baco was outstanding as was the mixed eggplant salad.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: dgusanz

                          Yes, this has been recommended before. Is it expensive? What kind of food?

                          1. re: beaubourne

                            lunch was reasonable - Bacos (sandwiches) about $10-12, salads from about $7 and had a delicious cocktail for $11 (el pilar, I think). Type of food - not sure - quite eclectic and lots of small plates. Bacos are some kind of South American sandwich. The Chef is Jose Centano who was the original chef at Lazy Ox. They also have flatbreads that looked really good at neigboring tables. Here is a link to check it out:

                          2. re: dgusanz

                            Not a Baco fan. Found the cubed fat in the Baco gross.

                          3. Eastside Market and Deli just outside Chinatown.

                            1. In Chinatown, I like JR Bistro on Hill. High quality Cantonese. I think they make the best sweet sour pork in LA. also their lemon chicken.

                              Won Kok for noodles, particularly their chow fun. Also they serve bao's to go. And they have parking.

                              Both places are very reasonable for the quality.

                              The Park's Finest on Temple is a Filipino take on American BBQ. Street parking.

                              1. WHO CAN TELL ME ABOUT SPICE TABLE?

                                1 Reply
                                1. Aburiya Toranoko, next door to Lazy Ox, has amazing $10-$15 lunch deals. They have a daily special for $10, and there's always an amazing $15 sashimi special. All their lunches come with miso soup, garden salad and pickle salad. It's my favorite lunch place in the area!

                                  Here's are photos of a $10 salmon bowl and $15 sushi special.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: madcao

                                    I just found a photo of the $15 sashimi special at Toranoko too! I'm having trouble adding the photo to my previous post so I'm posting again.

                                  2. no one seems to have mentioned suehiro cafe on 1st. is a $4.20 lunch special cheap enough? choices all come with rice & miso soup
                                    A ginger beef
                                    B crab croquette (i think)
                                    C curry (chicken, beef or shrimp)

                                    A & B $5.45