Eating L.A. doesn't hand out awards, but if we did, the best re-use of building award would go to Sanjang Coffee Garden on Virgil and 1st. I drive by this corner every day, and for several years it harbored one of the smallest and scariest-looking private schools I've ever seen, the kind of place where you wanted to rescue the kids so they wouldn't be forced to go to school in a tiny pink stucco building surrounded by chain link fencing. All that is gone, and somehow from the stucco ruins has risen a Zen-like Korean coffee garden. The interior has soothing wood walls and glass jars lined with teas, while the outdoor area is large and attractive.
A wood-burning firepit is the focal point of a huge grassy patio. They're obviously expecting a crowd of, I imagine, young Koreans looking for an alternative to beer bars, so the coffee and tea drinks are priced high ($6-7) for maximum lingering, and it's open until 2 a.m. In addition to all the usual cappucinos and ice-blended drinks, there's apricot ice-blended, jujube tea, black bean and sesame soy milk tea, and the de rigueur plain-flavored non-fat frozen yogurt with toppings. There's also free high-speed wireless internet and lunch items including sandwiches, ramen, udon and grilled sweet potato. (Drinks are more reasonably priced for take-out and with lunch). Oh, and for a while, they're giving out free coffees to go in the morning, starting at 7 a.m.!
Sanjang Coffee Garden
101 S. Virgil Ave.