When we think of our favorite lunches in Los Angeles, it's mainly pastrami sandwiches and tacos and ramen that come to mind. But some days the occasion requires something more elaborate, more decadent, more wine-soaked. For these occasions, we look to our upscale restaurants that also serve lunch, the few spots in town that take midday as seriously as nighttime.
There are actually a ton of places that you'd think of as upscale restaurants that also serve a killer lunch but do so in a more casual manner (shout-outs to République and Orsa & Winston), but for the sake of this list we decided to stick to some rules. To qualify for the list, the restaurant must have table service during lunchtime and it must have wine service. The menu can't veer too crazily from the dinner format – the idea is to feel as though you're getting a meal in the middle of the day that isn't a throwaway, that's as special as dinner.
We also left off some of the fantastic sushi options available at lunch, in part because that's generally a very specific craving and partly because we could make an entire list of amazing sushi lunches in town (hold for this list, it's coming at some point). If that's what you want and you want it right now, check out Shunji or Q.
In the meantime, we hope you find an excuse on this list to eat and drink well all throughout the day.
Ah, Beverly Hills. There are many lunch options along these swank streets, many places where ladies who shop might also become ladies who lunch. But if you're in the mood for more than an overpriced chopped salad, head to Bouchon for classic French bistro food, the portions made somewhat smaller for proper lunchtime dining. The room is grand in an almost old-fashioned way, and eating here in the daytime makes us feel extra fancy, whether we're nibbling on salmon tartare, or having a blowout and ordering the giant seafood platter. There's even a great burger, all the more fun to eat in this opulent setting. 235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 271-9910, thomaskeller.com/beverly-hills-california.
You have only to walk past this restaurant at midday and see the crowds waiting outside, and peek through the windows at the people snacking on charcuterie and bowls of house-made pasta, and you’ll find yourself thinking, “I want to be them. I want to be there.” You’re going to have to wait a long time for a table, but the good news is that you, too, can be part of the fantasy. There may be no restaurant as emblematic of the breezy, stylish Venice lifestyle as Gjelina, no place where the people are more beautiful, the vibe more Cali-chic, the food more true to our gourmet/carefree aspirations. The pizzas have crispy edges and are topped with ingredients such as burrata and wild nettles; the vegetable dishes might include roasted fennel with white wine, blood orange and fennel pollen. The magic trick of Gjelina is that food this serious can be served in a room so effortlessly casual, the brick back patio all leafy and sun dappled, the crowded dining room looking like a wood cabin met the beach and they fell in love. At night it's a wonderful place to eat, but Gjelina shows its true sunny nature as one of L.A.'s great lunchtime treats. 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 450-1429, gjelina.com.
8. Bäco Mercat
Among the myriad emotional comforts our city has to offer, one of the most crucial to us is the knowledge that you can drop in to Bäco Mercat on any given day at lunchtime, plonk yourself at the bar and partake in the bright, soulful cooking of Josef Centeno. Centeno has basically laid claim to this couple of historic blocks, with Bar Amá around the corner, Orsa & Winston next door to that, and now Ledlow (né Pete’s) taking up the space beside Bäco. But Bäco Mercat stands resplendent as Centeno’s original vision for what downtown needed: a place that reinvented the sandwich (or is it a taco? A wrap?) in the form of a bäco, a flatbread/pita arrangement that smooshes soft bread with tangy sauce with meaty meat, whether it be beef tongue schnitzel or oxtail hash. It's a perfect lunchtime meal, but if you want to venture further and spread your table with creative small plates, that's possible too. Hamachi crudo with Abkhazian chile spice is tangy, fresh and pert; vegetable dishes such as sugar snap pea and pear salad with grapefruit and burrata remain utterly original in the face of an onslaught of derivative vegetable arrangements elsewhere. 408 S. Main St., downtown. (213) 687-8808, bacomercat.com.
When Redbird opened in December 2014, it felt like a necessary addition to downtown L.A., which needed a major, shiny new restaurant to anchor its burgeoning dining scene. But it took a while for lunch service to kick off, which is completely understandable for a new restaurant but had us champing at the bit given that the space and food are perfect for a business lunch or just a proper midday pampering. Built in the former rectory and courtyard of the now-deconsecrated cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles known as Vibiana, the space is a glorious ode to the past and present of downtown Los Angeles, a fact all the more obvious in the light of day. 114 E. Second St., downtown. (213) 788-1191, redbird.la.
6. The Hungry Cat, Hollywood
It’s a recent trend to open oyster bars and serve lobster rolls, but chef David Lentz has been doing that for more than a decade now, as well as delivering a menu of beautiful seafood dishes that aren’t built on nostalgia but rather a foundation of creativity and old-school technique. That you can get this food at the Hollywood location at lunchtime, tucked into the guts of an office/shopping center at the corner of Sunset and Vine, seems downright miraculous. Given the location, it's even more lovely to find a bright and airy space, perfect for a lunch of crab and burrata toast, or as a place to drop by the bar for a plate of grilled oysters with garlic butter and bacon, and a very good cocktail. 1535 N. Vine St., Hollywood. (323) 462-2155, thehungrycat.com.
5. Hinoki and the Bird
Step into Hinoki & the Bird's sleek dining room in the middle of the day and you'll see all kinds of Hollywood power types discussing business moves while chowing down on lobster rolls served on midnight-black buns, or big bowls of ramen in heirloom tomato broth. The fried chicken sandwich here, available only at lunch, is killer, but you can also get a half-dozen oysters and a steak if that's your thing. The outdoor dining area is a simply magical place to eat, leafy and enclosed and forestlike in its intimacy. 10 Century Drive, Century City. (310) 552-1200, hinokiandthebird.com.
A.O.C. is a place to show off L.A.'s casual elegance, and this is never more true than in the daytime, when the sunlight streams down into the large, leafy patio. You can get big, flavorful seasonal salads, crispy focaccia topped with goodies such as chevre and house-made lamb bacon, beautifully balanced and inventive vegetable sides and plates such as Spanish fried chicken with romesco aioli. If you're drinking, there's one of the best wine lists on the coast, inclusive of our state’s viniferous bounty but with a focus on France and fun asides, like selections from Slovenia and Hungary. 8700 W. Third St., Beverly Grove. (323) 653-6359, aocwinebar.com.
"Gracious" is the word that comes to mind when remembering a lunch at Craft in Century City; a sense of decorum and elegance that's hard to find in the middle of the day, even in our swank-ass city. There's hardly a restaurant in town that feels so grown-up at lunchtime, and probably nowhere else that isn't inside a hotel. Certainly nowhere with food this good. The $39 prix fixe is optional, but it really is a wonderful deal, providing three courses that dabble in simple excellence: a soup or salad, a fish or meat or pasta, a dessert or cheese. The à la carte menu is full of dazzling choices, too, and the room is calming and lovely. If you're looking to wow with opulence and good taste, this is the place to go. 10100 Constellation Blvd, Century City. (310) 279-4180, craftrestaurantsinc.com.
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2. Son of a Gun
Grabbing a fried chicken sandwich with a glass of wine at Son of a Gun's bar is one of our favorite solo-lunch treats. But just as rewarding is a more involved affair, one in which you might lounge in a big red booth with a few friends while the sun streams in, and feast on Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo's often Southern-tinged, coastline-inspired food. Lunch is the day's most underrated meal, and Son of a Gun is Dotolo and Shook's most underrated restaurant. It makes sense that the two go together perfectly. 8370 W. Third St., Beverly Grove. (323) 782-9033, sonofagunrestaurant.com.
Of all the spendy lunches in town, the one we return to over and over is Lukshon. There's somehow just nothing as indulgent as drinking a glass of well-chosen riesling on the patio that looks out on the Helms Bakery complex and eating Sang Yoon’s stupidly delicious food. Try his tiny, perfect lobster roll “bánh mì” with papaya slaw and pig ear terrine, his sticky Chinese eggplant with sambal and fennel raita, his Hawaiian butterfish with lime, herbs and coconut, his intense dan dan noodles with Sichuan peppercorns and peanuts. If you’re in celebration mode, order a grower Champagne from the stellar wine list, or perhaps try an exotic tea from the best-sourced tea list in town. But really, you should find a time to come here for no reason at all except that you deserve lunch this good on a random Wednesday. 3239 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310) 202-6808, lukshon.com.