Make Use of that Lunch Hour

Restaurant Beverly Hills

Mickey Fine Pharmacy houses a favorite local coffee shop that dates to 1962.

I used to work in a staid office tower in Beverly Hills, on a rather dreary corner a few blocks removed from the flashy Rodeo Drive and the accompanying high-end restaurants such as Spago and CUT. My budget prevented me from indulging in such world-class cuisine so I had to make do with what was around me: blasé cafes and corporate chains. Thankfully I didn’t have to stoop down to fast food since a city ordinance prevents such restaurants in the famous zip code. Instead I explored every nook and cranny of the “Golden Triangle,” a set of city blocks that comprise some of the most luxurious and expensive properties on the planet. Nestled between shops and plastic surgeon offices, I found a wealth of interesting eateries and diners, as well as some iconic restaurants for lunch-fulfillment on a weekly basis.

The first find was a small lunch counter behind a tiny pharmacy called Mickey Fine Grill, which served standard diner hits and a swell patty melt. This place had its share of regulars, which is a good sign. The grease hung in the air, seemingly sucking in the fat from the fatless dishes pervading the glamorous neighborhood. It was a welcome relief for a gourmand. Up the street was a neglected shop called Sprinkles (hardly), where denizens of faux-celebs and just-done plastic recipients indulged in precious little sweet cupcakes (their dogs had a nice cupcake option too). I pitied the massive line roasting in the hot summer sun for this treat, so I skirted my way to The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, one of the best such stores in the country, for supreme gourmet delights.

I recall my first experience with jamón Ibérico, shaved on a vintage hand-cranked slicer and costing me a nice portion of my paycheck. It was very much worth it. Or an excellent blue cheese sampling before walking away with a chunk of St. Agur that was too large for single-person consumption. I would buy a fresh baguette, walk over to the nearby park on Santa Monica Blvd and eat my European-style meal with cured ham, aged cheese, and a crusty loaf of bread. All might be good with the world at this moment.

My sweet craving was satisfied at Frittelli’s Donuts, a luxe store where $2 donuts actually worked in favor of my high-sugar, high-fat diet. Simple economics prevented my usual splurge of 4-5 donuts in one sitting, and demanded a single shot of deep-fried dough covered with a sugary coating. Afterwards, I had a nice 15 minute walk back to the office to work off those calories. Lunch was over.

Now I’m in Downtown Los Angeles, the current hotspot of development and nightlife in this great city. Bars and lounges abound on the illuminated stretches of blank sidewalks and streets when the sun goes down, but lunch time buzzes with commerce and traffic. Likewise, lunchrooms, cafeterias, eateries, and shops open right and left with freshly made sandwiches, pizzas, burritos, and curries. I’ve been exploring these places with renewed energy after my office’s move to this part of town. It’s been just about six months and I’m ready to report on the lunch offerings. The three-martini lunch might be a thing of the past, but the one-hour lunch is very much alive, despite tough economic times. Forego your frozen Lean Cuisines and go out to eat somewhere reasonably priced, but interesting. Quiet contemplation during your lunch hour actually improves your productivity (an equally beneficial conversation, not gossip, with coworkers helps to get the mind off the stress of work).

Now, how to make best use of the lunch hour in your respective locales. First, determine the culinary worth of your office location and give it the benefit of the doubt. Unless you are stuck in Ontario or Woodland Hills, I bet that you will have some interesting options nearby. Walk around and look at menus. Avoid chains. Look out for long lines of obscure places – they usually have something going for them. Do some stealthy research online on Yelp or Chowhound. Go to places that your coworkers haven’t heard of, or go to a place that only your foodie coworker knows about. If you have a easy ingress and egress for your car, then take a short drive. Get something to-go and eat it in the lunch room if you’re going to be pressed for time.

When you order, don’t get the burger. Or the club sandwich, or the Caesar salad. Ask the person behind the counter what’s the specialty. Is it the tuna melt, on buttery sourdough and sharp cheddar cheese? Is the rotisserie chicken? Maybe the albondigas soup or the stir-fried pork?

Lunch is a lost art for most white collar workers – we deign to the frozen or mundane. Instead use that hour to explore what there is to eat around your office. You might be pleasantly surprised.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be reviewing many of the notable lunch spots near my office for Food GPS. I promise to stay away from chains, but unfortunately Downtown L.A. doesn’t look quite like Midtown (Manhattan) just yet. I’ll keep in mind the various cuisines and budgets, from the lowest-end to the fine dining, from the oldest classic joint to the newest, brightest restaurant. And most of all, I’ll be making the most of my precious lunch hour, so you can make the best of yours.


Matthew Kang

Find more of Matthew's writing on his blog, Mattatouille. Find him behind the Scoops Westside counter.

Blog Comments

choisauce, please take me 🙂
kevin, you don’t have hour lunches? what a pity.

Ahh, to have the luxury of a one hour lunch…

medium rare london broil with the creamy mashed potatoes @ taylors for lunch is quite heavenly (koreatown location is much better than the la canada location for consistency of meat doneness)

I’ve been to Langer’s on many occasions. Actually the photo of me above is at Langer’s! I haven’t been to Taylor’s for lunch, though that’s a bit of trek from my office. I hear the burger is also pretty good. And is the french dip better than Philippe’s? El Parian – I’ll make a note of that.

Maybe you should jaunt on over to Taylor’s. I had lunch there recently and greatly enjoyed the French Dip sandwich and a glass of Pinot Noir while sitting in dark at the bar. You NEED to go to Langer’s, of course. Also try El Parian on Pico.

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