High profile actors, athletes, singers, models, and media personalities are often drawn to the spotlight. That means seeking out the trendiest new spots, or sticking with tried and true places like The Ivy, Mr. Chow and Matsuhisa, which are likely to land them in tabloids. Of course, some celebrities prefer low-key, low-lit venues with more privacy, and LA’s got those too.
Casa Vega, the Sherman Oaks institution that Rafael “Ray” Garcia founded in 1956, maintains its celebrity magnetism thanks to second-generation proprietor Christina “Christy” Vega Fowler. As she said, “We’ve always respected their privacy as well as any special requests including entering and exiting the restaurant discretely, so I think celebrities feel comfortable coming to Casa Vega. Also, the restaurant is so dark that regular guests could be dining next to a big-time A-list celebrity and have no idea.” As always, portions remain massive, whether it’s classics like crab & shrimp empanadas, the Vega rib eye, or newer offerings like the multi-protein molcajete. The cantina dispenses a multitude of margaritas and Mexican beers to celebs and civilians alike.
The Soho House Group has created one of LA’s most exclusive hospitality experiences by installing a branch of their members-only club high above the Sunset Strip. Down the hill, Cecconi’s is still glamorous, and more democratic. Anybody can occupy the plant-lined patio, marble-floored dining room, or the semi-private Butterfly Room with the bright orange heart. According to GM & Sommelier Marino Monferrato, “We feel that celebrities enjoy dining at Cecconi’s for the very same reason that all our guests enjoy dining here – it’s a safe haven where they can come in any time of day for a great, relaxing meal…we treat all our guests like VIPs, and take care to ensure that nothing interferes with their dining experience.” Chef Andrea Cavaliere’s seasonal Italian menu spans breakfast, lunch and dinner, which could include pastas like plin agnolotti with black truffles, wood roasted salmon with rapini, and Italy’s answer to tapas, cicchetti.
Ever since Culina, Modern Italian replaced the Gardens in 2010, the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills has built momentum while retaining its celebrity clientele, and not just during awards season. Culina chef Meredith Manee oversees a sprawling indoor-outdoor space on the luxurious property’s southwest corner. She took over the kitchen in 2012 and recently said, “Celebrities are comfortable dining at Culina as they know they will be treated with the best service, and given privacy without paparazzi around. Many celebrities have their favorite tables, so we work to accommodate specific requests, and also dietary needs. We can accommodate special dietary needs such as vegan and gluten free.” Culina’s got vegan, gluten free and juice-driven options. Crudo Bar chefs craft combinations like salmon with blood orange, caviar, and chives. Yes, people (even celebrities) have been known to indulge in heartier fare like lasagne verdi and lamb chops. Hustler provocateur and frequent Culina guest Larry Flynt has a salad on the menu.
Long before restaurants like The Ivy and Mr. Chow drew paparazzi in droves, an old school Italian restaurant with red booths and red sauce called Dan Tana’s started attracting rock stars, movie legends, starlets and wannabes in 1963. Bartender Mike Gotovac has manned the menu-free bar since 1968, and served cocktails to people like the Eagles and Elton John, who long ago played the Troubadour, nearby on Santa Monica Boulevard. Wine bottles hang from the ceiling in baskets, and celebrities both young and old pop plenty of bottles to pair with Shrimp Scampi a la Jerry Buss, which honors the Lakers owner, and Chicken Parmigiana a la Ted Demme, which credits the dearly departed movie director. Other diners keep matters simpler with spaghetti and meatballs.
Laurent Halasz imported his Manhattan-born Mediterranean concept to Melrose Place, showcasing food from his French homeland, Italy, and Spain, which all rely on olive oil. His 8000-square-foot space includes a 50-seat marble bar, a dining room with cushioned booths and a central olive tree, an upstairs lounge with overhead views of fashionable diners, and an airy terrace. Fig & Olive even incorporated a celeb-friendly private entrance that allows A-listers to outmaneuver the occasional lurking photog. This is not to say that diners either famous or forgettable are in any rush to leave, considering chef Pascal Lorange’s sprawling menu, which includes crudo, crostini, soups, salads, French Riviera salmon with Picholine olive oil, a chicken tagine with both figs and olives, and a dessert menu that includes marzipan cake with olive oil gelato.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Michael Ovitz struck fear into the hearts of studio heads while helming Creative Artists Agency. These days, the avid art collector and now-two-time restaurateur (ink.) honors entertainment heavyweights who frequent his Japanese restaurant in the back corner of a West LA strip mall. Celebrities who’ve had a sushi rolls named for them include Sarah Michelle [Gellar], who prefers tuna with spicy tuna, avocado and jalapeño. Yoya Takahashi, a Kyoto native, now helms the sushi bar, and celebrities still flow to Hamasaku. Why? According to Ovitz, “The food obviously has to be good, and our hospitality needs to exceed expectations. There's no pretense so that our guests can relax or do business without any distractions. Our regulars are exactly that because they can feel at home and well-taken care of.”
Innovative Dining Group has had no trouble drawing fashionable crowds with concepts like BOA and Sushi Roku. Now they’ve taken the cuisine to another level by striking a strategic partnership with chef Gino Angelini. Studio Collective furnished an 8,000-square-foot space on the Sunset Strip’s western edge with wood trellises, cushioned booths and complementary greenery. Angelini has imported some dishes from his namesake restaurant, Angelini Osteria, including Lasagne Nonna Elvira, and he’s injected new Italian tastes like Sicilian-style lobster couscous with pistachio pesto. It’s early yet, but trendsetters are noticing. For instance, Glamour magazine hosted a party for It girl Zooey Deschanel to celebrate her February cover appearance.
No story about celebrity hotspots would be complete without mentioning Wolfgang Puck. In 2012, he was instrumental in two revamps that generated serious wattage. At Spago, the action still centers on the airy courtyard. Puck’s longtime culinary lieutenant Lee Hefter and pastry powerhouse Sherry Yard launched the menu, which changes with the seasons and could include precious vegetables from Del Mar’s Chino Farm; sumptuous chirashi sushi with blue fin tuna, bay scallops, salmon “pearls” and sea urchin; or Prime Côte de Boeuf with pommes Aligot. Sommelier Christopher Miller has 30,000 wine bottles at his disposal. This evolution is helping to ensure Puck keeps footing with high profile diners.
The swans never left their secluded Hotel Bel-Air sanctuary, but the dining room went dark until Wolfgang Puck and crew had the chance to revamp the legendary restaurant. The gambit paid off, as Puck and market-driven chef de cuisine Sonny Sweetman have drawn celebrities back to Stone Canyon by the score. What’s the draw? According to Hotel Bel-Air Food and Beverage Director Stephane Lacroix, "The exclusivity and tranquility of Hotel Bel-Air has always appealed to the likes of celebrities, and we have been known as a true hideaway for well-known personalities for the past 67 years. This is still the case today, and the addition of Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air offers another reason for celebrities to want to dine with us. We appreciate their need for discretion and privacy, and we deliver product and service excellence on a consistent basis."
A stately rooster greets diners at Tavern, the multi-faceted restaurant and bakery from chef Suzanne Goin and front of house partner Caroline Styne. Unlike at some of the more scrutinized restaurants in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, celebrities are able to blend in with other Brentwood neighborhood denizens. According to Styne, "Suzanne and I have always tried to create an environment where everyone feels at home but also where their privacy is respected. There's a fine line in hospitality between being familiar and warm but never intrusive. Our staff is extremely sensitive to our guests' needs, whether they are famous or not. And we've never been the kind of place that informs the paparazzi about a celebrity's presence." That means celebrities can order monkey bread in peace in the bakery/café or luxuriate over rack of lamb in the airy dining room.
13301 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks
8764 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood
Culina, Modern Italian
300 S. Doheny Dr., Beverly Hills
9071 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood
Fig & Olive
8490 Melrose Pl., West Hollywood
11043 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
9201 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
176 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills
11648 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood
Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air
701 Stone Canyon Rd., Bel-Air