The Hollywood Reporter's Top 25 Power Lunch Spots of 2014
This story first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
For the Hollywood Reporter's 2014 Power lunch survey, 250 top industry players -- studio heads, A-listers and big-time producers -- have weighed in on one of the industry's constant obsessions: where to eat lunch. The result is THR's second annual ranking of the top 25 L.A. restaurants where relationships are forged, deals are done and checks are fought over.
THR inaugurated its invite-only Power Lunch Survey in 2013, with the No. 1 spot going to Soho House in West Hollywood. This year, Soho House comes out on top again but the rest of the landscape has shifted. While Pizzeria Mozza has jumped from 19 to 12, Studio City's Katsu-ya dropped from 11 to 23. Seven restaurants dropped off this year's list, including Son of a Gun and Cafe Gratitude. They made way for newcomers including AOC and Hinoki & the Bird (which jumped the highest in its debut to No. 11)
THR's Power Lunch survey respondents represent a cross-section of the top executives in the field, including Disney Media Networks co-chairman and Disney/ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney, Shine America CEO Rich Ross, Paramount Pictures vice chairman Rob Moore, E! Entertainment president Suzanne Kolb, attorney Ken Ziffren and manager Peter Principato.
What most restaurants on the list have in common isn't adventurous cuisine, though. The survey's voters over and over cited location, quick service, staff that knows their names and even free valet when choosing where to lunch. This predilection for comfort and ease explains the presence on the list of so many tried-and-true mainstays (such as Chateau Marmont and La Scala) as well as unassuming more casual spots (like South Beverly Grill and Joan's on Third.)
When it comes down to it, says Principato, "It's convenience."
And for those who are stuck in a lunch rut, THR recommends 10 new spots to try out right now, from Santa Monica's Blue Plate Taco (where Electus chairman Ben Silverman is an investor) to West Hollywood's fancified seafood shack Connie & Ted's.
1. Soho House
9200 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
With a hypercurated members' list (including a limit on the number of agents), this outpost of the private London social club reigns as an inarguable hit four years in. The 14th-floor aerie is a hub for everything from awards-season jockeying (Harvey Weinstein routinely screens his films there) and peacekeeping (NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt noshed with Jay Leno during a peak talk-show crisis moment last summer) to screenwriting and networking. "It's like a reunion here every day during lunch," says FX senior vp series development Nicole Clemens. "You see everyone without having to set up a meeting." Last year, chef Andrea Cavaliere added an upgraded equivalent of a salad bar, The Garden Table. "We get 300 people all pretty much at 1:15, and these are the ultimate modification clients. Everyone is on some special diet. The table lets them get a salad, a protein and a grain in their own way," he says. Billionaire Ron Burkle upped his membership two years ago with a $383 million cash infusion to expand globally. A second L.A. location, mostly likely downtown, is expected.
2. The Polo Lounge
9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills
When the Beverly Hills Hotel renovated its iconic Polo Lounge last year, it wisely decided to spruce up a bit here (tartan carpets indoors) and a bit there (enhanced outdoor heating). After all, its regulars -- Sumner Redstone with Tom Cruise at an inside booth; Lorne Michaels, Terry Semel and Lili Fini Zanuck at back-to-back-booths outside -- are drawn to its history and constancy (up to 25 percent of lunchers order the famed McCarthy Salad). Says Relativity president Tucker Tooley of the 73-year-old spot, where Charlie Chaplin once held sway at Booth 1, "The legacy of this place is amazing." Even so, the menu continues to evolve. The new West Hollywood salad includes kale and quinoa, vegan upon request.
3. Barney Greengrass
9570 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills
Perhaps it's the ability to shop after lunch that lures so many power players to Barneys New York's fifth floor. Or that so many ex-New Yorkers crave the smoked fish flown in from the original Barney Greengrass in Manhattan. Either way, the past year has seen the likes of Ryan Murphy, Sony TV president Steve Mosko and Julia Roberts enjoying matzo ball soup, chopped liver sandwiches and smoked fish. Says Tom Huffman, senior vp unscripted programming at WGN America and Tribune Studios, "It's middle ground for West and Eastsiders; they always know your name and, best of all, free self-parking. I hate to valet."
4. The Grill on the Alley
9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills
This classic spot celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Still a bit of a boys' club, it's where producer Al Ruddy lunches with Clint Eastwood, Bob Daly and Semel share a booth, and Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell talk WME strategy. Its 14 booths are allotted by affable longtime maitre d' Pamela Gonyea. Often, she makes sure her kingly regulars don't have their checks delivered to the table -- she's seen less-than-A-listers try to get into good graces by grabbing for them. Says producer Randall Emmett, who often dines with mentor Irwin Winkler: "You really see deals coming together, business happening. For that hour and a half, it's the center of the world."
8764 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood
One of the city's top awards-season party sites, Cecconi's is a draw during regular hours for A-list agents as well as Ellen DeGeneres, E! Entertainment president Suzanne Kolb, Jennifer Lopez and Tribune's Huffman (who filled out THR's survey while at lunch there with Core Media Group's Marc Graboff). Although not everyone will admit it, the street-level sister restaurant to Soho House is attractive partly for its ease and accessibility, with free valet during the day and a lunch menu that's a downright deal, with most dishes less than $20. There are few bad tables in the house, but the patio is the main attraction. Says top awards strategist Michele Robertson, "It's light, open and intimate at the same time."
1155 N. Highland Ave., L.A.
People who don't frequent Ammo don't get it. The restaurant is as no-frills as it gets. But those who do get it -- and there a lot of them (including producer Donald De Line, Universal chairman Donna Langley and producer John Goldwyn) -- treat it like their living room. "When I do lunch out, I always recommend Ammo," says Goldwyn. "I've been eating there for over 10 years, and the food is consistently fabulous. In a town where restaurants come and go like movie releases, Ammo is a mainstay, an enduring institution." Its most ordered dish also is no-frills: a rice stir-fry that's one of L.A.'s most improbable power-lunch plates. "The attraction is that you don't have to stop to cut anything. You can just talk," says producer Miggi Hood (Showtime's Time of Death). It's also a good solution for agents in Century City and execs at studios in the Valley looking for a halfway meeting point.
7. Chateau Marmont
8221 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
Despite its above-Sunset location, the Chateau manages to convey a secret hideaway vibe where behavior, good and depraved, is permitted. Like many of the young stars -- Robert Pattinson, Lady Gaga -- who stay there, the hotel's slightly frayed elegance seems to scoff at manicured perfection. Come lunchtime, recently roused young things descend on its palm-tree-ringed patio area, along with such industry players as Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams, for chef Carolynn Spence's trend-free fare, including spaghetti Bolognese, steak frites and BLTs. "It's carbs, yes, but in actor-size proportions," says 3 Arts talent manager Troy Zien. "It's hands down where I go for lunches with actors. They feel comfortable." The Chateau's ultimate lure, however, might be off the menu: Smoking is permitted in designated outdoor areas.
235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills
It doesn't hurt that Bouchon's investors include Adam Sandler, Ryan Seacrest and writer-producer Phil Rosenthal, who all throw events there. And CAA, which reps owner and celebrity chef Thomas Keller, held its 2013 Emmy party there, where Mick Jagger held court with Jimmy Fallon and Lorne Michaels. The large lunch contingent at the 4-year-old farm-to-table French bistro includes Brian Grazer, CAA's Richard Lovett and Gersh's Leslie Siebert. "It took us a year to develop our core audience," says Bouchon consultant (and Keller's significant other) Laura Cunningham. "It took Spago and e. baldi a lot longer." A recent addition is handsome French lunch maitre d' Thomas Marini. "Regulars text him, call him," says Cunningham. "He knows what they want; he has them on speed dial. He even walks them to their cars!"
9. La Scala
434 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills
During its 58 years in business, fans of this venerable bistro have included everyone from Orson Welles to the Kardashians to six presidents, and it continues to draw a crowd, especially from the music-related companies nearby. This year, its iconic Jean Leon Original Chopped Salad was chosen as the favorite dish in THR's Power Lunch survey. Fifty Shades of Grey producer Dana Brunetti says it's the "best salad in L.A.," with the secret being the special dressing, the fine chop and that it's "made to your liking with great service."
10. e. baldi
375 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills
At this jammed, tiny Tuscan restaurant (only 21 indoor tables), Tobey Maguire likes the straccetti with tomato and basil, while Jack Nicholson enjoys the veal cutlet in lemon. Table 1 is a regular spot for such power brokers as Bob Daly, Steve Tisch, Jerry Weintraub and Brian Grazer (who regularly goes for the Dover sole). Even renowned restaurateur Peter Morton is a regular (and recently was spotted cramming into what looked like a table for two with a pair of lunchmates.) "I'm not looking to expand, and I enjoy what I do. People see that, and it's part of why they come," says chef-owner Edoardo Baldi (whose late father opened Santa Monica's Giorgio Baldi restaurant), explaining the loyalty of his fan base.
11. Hinoki & The Bird
10 Century Drive, Century City
Chef David Myers' year-old Japanese-inspired restaurant instantly captured a key constituency: CAA, located across the street. On a recent day, its agents sat at no fewer than nine tables out of 50. Location -- Fox is nearby, too -- isn't the only reason it has leapt so high on the list. Innovative food (like the popular chili crab toast) is a driving factor, as is its big patio. Table 65 at the back of the patio is highly requested. "There's privacy, but you have a view of everyone coming in," says Myers, a CAA client who also owns the French bistro Comme Ca. Some call it the agency's new commissary, but CAA speakers agent Darnell Strom says: "Calling it a commissary almost downgrades it. It's a world-class restaurant that we fortunately can walk across to."
12. Pizzeria Mozza
641 N. Highland Ave., L.A.
Chef-owner Nancy Silverton's foodie-renowned pie parlor has been packed since it opened in 2006. Along with Ammo, it's one of the town's key crossroads, where Westsiders happily agree to meet those schlepping over the hill. Fans such as Fox 21 president Bert Salke and manager-producer Chris Bender, as well as investor Phil Rosenthal, are lured by such items as the meatballs, chopped salad, fennel sausage pizza and fried squash blossoms. Also a draw: the service. "Lance [Ohnstad] is the best host in L.A.," says Rich Ross, CEO of Shine America, who calls the restaurant "my favorite."
13. Sugarfish Beverly Hills
212 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills
Kazunori Nozawa's famed no-frills Studio City sushi spot, which closed in 2012, has given way to his mini-chain of more polished successors offering prix fixe menus and the chef's signature warm, loosely packed rice. Since opening in spring 2013, the Beverly Hills location has become a mecca for picky eaters like Larry David. The blunt chef -- known as the "sushi Nazi" for episodes like kicking out Charlize Theron for attempting to order a la carte -- still has his rules. Don't dip sauced items in soy, but do eat hand rolls within seconds while the seaweed is crisp. The regulars don't mind. Notes Wolf Films executive vp Danielle Gelber, "You know you're going to get amazing, buttery bites of sushi, yet you're startled that it's that perfect every time." Another Sugarfish opened in early January on La Brea Avenue at 1st Street.
14. Fig & Olive
8490 Melrose Place, West Hollywood
The Mediterranean eatery's centerpiece is an indoor olive tree, and the best tables are seated directly around it, occupied by diners including E!'s Kolb, Kristen Wiig, Sidney Poitier and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Executive chef Pascal Lorange takes pride in the addition of shareable entrees such as whole branzino for two, roasted with lemon thyme. Says Gersh partner Todd Christopher, "Follow the pumpkin sage ravioli with the chicken tajine."
15. The Ivy
113 N. Robertson Blvd., L.A.
Even after 30 years on the scene (and despite flowery French country decor that feels frozen in time), this paparazzi-flocked restaurant remains beloved for its garden setting and such dishes as Louisiana crab cakes and Santa Barbara shrimp tacos. Chef and co-owner Richard Irving says the most coveted table is the one on the patio with the wicker sofa. Recent lunchers include Quentin Tarantino, Imagine Entertainment co-chairman Michael Rosenberg and Robin Thicke.
11633 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles
For its 25th anniversary in February, the Brentwood trattoria is considering reviving some of the pastas from its original menu -- which should conjure nostalgic feelings in Imax Entertainment CEO and Brentwood native Greg Foster, a faithful patron since the restaurant opened back in 1989. "It's like a time warp, in a good way," he observes. "It's consistently comfortable, and it's got that Cheers element of everybody knowing your name." The kitchen prides itself on flexibility, accommodating requests both common (serving up the shrimp salad appetizer as an entree) and odd (cooking pasta with bottled water instead of tap, as a diner once insisted). Many of the tables lend themselves to private conversations, a plus for industry fans including power lawyers Ken Ziffren, Jeanne Newman and Melanie Cook, who drops in whenever crossing the 405 freeway to lunch with longtime producer friend Lawrence Gordon.
17. Mr Chow
344 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills
The multinational Chinese hotspot (New York, London and Malibu) has been a premier Beverly Hills destination since 1974. When the midday meal hits peak time at 1 p.m., the staff works extra hard to make sure competing agents aren't seated near one another; WME's Emanuel, whose office is steps away, is a regular. The first five tables are the seen-and-be-seen spots, but discreet dealmakers prefer the round tables against the wall. "You don't need a menu. Everyone seems happy with lettuce cups, Beijing chicken, vegetable fried rice and sea bass," says Paramount's Rob Moore, adding jokingly, "Do they even offer menus?"
18. South Beverly Grill
122 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills
This 4-year-old outpost of the Hillstone Restaurant Group (Houston's, Gulfstream) might not have the history or trendy cachet of some of its listmates, but its central location and comfortable walnut-wood dining room has execs and agents keeping standing reservations. "It's an upscale environment that feels familiar," says executive GM Rob McClain. From the seared tuna salad to the French dip, SBG offers a nearly foolproof menu and free lunchtime valet. Regulars like manager Peter Principato and Gersh's Christopher can walk around the corner from their offices. The convenience saves time and energy for work: "When I'm in foodie mode, I'll look at the latest places," says entertainment attorney Nina Shaw. "When I'm thinking about business, I don't want to think about the menu. I want a good meal and consistency. It meets all of those requirements."
19. Kate Mantilini
9101 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills
This comfort-food spot is a perennial favorite among Hollywood's lunch crowd because of what chef/co-owner David Lewis calls the "almost deli-size menu," which has something for every taste and price range, fresh ingredients and attention to detail. (Menu news: The meatloaf, a longtime favorite, is getting a slight makeover in the spring as it goes gluten-free.) The chef, who co-owns the eatery with brother Adam, comes from a long line of restaurateurs -- parents Harry and Marilyn founded Hamburger Hamlet before starting Kate Mantilini 27 years ago. After the Hamlet on Sunset closed in 2011, longtime waiter Jim Hauver made the transition to Kate Mantilini, where he still serves his old regulars. Recent visitors include Keanu Reeves, Mel Brooks, Randy Jackson and New Line president and COO Toby Emmerich.
10100 Constellation Blvd., Century City
In another sign of how agency politics rule the town, celebrity chef Tom Colicchio's Craft has been a hub for top agents from WME since the Top Chef judge decamped to it from CAA. Says WME partner Nancy Josephson, "The ricotta cavatelli and roasted vegetables are amazing." The elegant spot, known for its incredibly fresh ingredients, also brings in the likes of Cate Blanchett, Tribune Co. president and CEO Peter Liguori and Fox Filmed Entertainment's Jim Gianopulos. Adds GM Todd Thurman, "Mick Jagger eats here when he's in town." At lunch, make sure to get one of the six booths.
176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills
Spago, which will host THR's second annual Nominees Night party on Feb. 10, unveiled a chic redesign two years ago with a new outdoor fireplace and dark, sexy bar. The Wolfgang Puck institution, 32 years in, sees such names as 3 Arts' Molly Madden, Jimmy Iovine, philanthropist Barbara Davis and Jimmy Kimmel coming for classics like the smoked salmon pizza and Maine lobster salad.
22. Joan's on Third
8350 W. 3rd St., L.A.
"For several years after we opened, it wasn't that busy," recalls queen of comfort food Joan McNamara about her eatery, whose appearance on the list is a testament to just how casually the industry often dines. Fifteen years after its debut, the spot -- walk-up orders only -- is teeming with writing room staffers from such shows as Family Guy and Modern Family getting lunch on the go while young agents and producers talk shop at outdoor tables. Will Ferrell and Jane Lynch are regulars; Chiwetel Ejiofor was just in.
11680 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
In 1997, chef Katsuya Uechi shook up the scene with his crispy rice with spicy tuna. "It just went wild; it blew up," says GM Steven Chen. Many have since copied the singular Katsu-ya dish. Among those who come for the original are Sofia Vergara, Fox Searchlight's Nancy Utley, Disney/ABC's Sweeney and DeGeneres, who has tweeted that "there is no better place for sushi."
8700 W. 3rd St., L.A.
Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne's understated Cal-Med restaurant launched the L.A. tapas trend when it debuted in 2002. Last year, it began serving lunch when it moved to the old Orso space across from Cedars-Sinai. The crowd is a generational mix, from CBS' Leslie Moonves to producer David Katzenberg, drawn by focaccia sandwiches and salads. "Since it moved closer to my office, I go all the time," says business manager John McIlwee. "The patio is what gets me."
25. The Palm
9001 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood
From Fred Astaire tap-dancing on the bar to Evel Knievel parking his motorcycle inside the restaurant, The Palm has seen it all. Famous for the celebrity caricatures on its walls, this classic chophouse, opened in 1975, has hosted moguls such as Michael Eisner and Ron Meyer making deals over its filet mignon medallions for decades. "The power lunch has changed over the 40 years we've been in the game," says Bruce Bozzi, executive vp at Palm Restaurant Group (as well as long-term partner of CAA's Bryan Lourd). "One of the reasons people like to come in is you can get in and get out, have an efficient lunch in an hour." As for the rumors that The Palm's lease is running out this year? "That is correct," Bozzi tells THR. "We are finalizing a deal on a space in Beverly Hills. There's more foot traffic in Beverly Hills. It's all good."