United States of Mexico

Eating upscale in a taco-loving town

Angelenos are generally skeptical of white-tablecloth Mexican restaurants, but a spate of newcomers may have L.A. reconsidering its stance. And if you’re looking to sample the City of Angels’ upscale Mexican flavors, Downtown is where the action is--and where you should focus your efforts.
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LOS ANGELES, CA DIRECTIONS

Rivera
John Sedlar’s pan-Latin restaurant draws inspiration from many Spanish-speaking countries, with three separate menus for Spain, South America, and Mexico-driven fare. Purists should book a table at Playa Bar for the latter; try plates like the shrimp ceviche, with orange, avocado, cilantro and fresno chilies.
Order: Tortillas florales--made daily by a native of Oaxaca and impressed with herbs or edible flowers--are a must.

1050 S. Flower St. #102; 213-749-1460 or riverarestaurant.com

Border Grill Downtown
Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger are America’s godmothers of upscale Mexican: With the opening of Border Grill in 1985, the duo brought L.A. a gentrified version of tamales and carne asada. Last fall, the pair expanded their Border Grill empire to include this Downtown outpost. It’s every bit as good as the West Hollywood original.
Order: There’s an entire menu section devoted to quesadillas--and all of them are excellent.

445 S. Figueroa St., 213-486-5171 or bordergrill.com

Red O
Rick Bayless’ Melrose Avenue restaurant isn’t downtown--and it smacks of Hollywood’s glam scene. Thankfully, it’s as delicious as it is hip, with perfectly executed alto cocina dishes (like sopes and pollo en mole poblano) and an excellent list of small-batch tequilas. Ignore the beefcake bouncers and starlets, but make sure to book a table well in advance.
Order: Opt for the tinga poblana, a duo of pork shoulder and belly with house-made chorizo and chipotle chilies.

8155 Melrose Ave.; 323-655-5009 or redorestaurant.com

The Standard Downtown L.A.
With so much restaurant buzz Downtown, it’s worth shacking up there as well. This slick, arty hotel started life as Superior Oil’s headquarters, and while rooms still feel a bit utilitarian, the rest of the hotel has been reimagined in Technicolor.
Do: Make a trip to the über-hip rooftop lounge (guests get bracelets to guarantee entry).

550 South Flower St.; 213-892-8080 or standardhotels.com