Beyoncé albums are shrouded in less mystery than Ètra. The moody Italian spot in Melrose Hill barely has an Instagram, and yet, you’ve probably seen threatening fashion people post shadowy photos from inside its low-lit dining room. Tables become available online seemingly once every third blood moon. So, what even is it? What should I wear? Do I need a personal invite from Law Roach? These are all valid questions.
The easiest way to understand Ètra is to know that, yes, it does fall into the category of Restaurants You Want Other People To Know You’ve Been To. But it’s also something else: A surprisingly warm neighborhood spot serving unfussy Italian staples we’d happily eat weekly. And nothing is intimidating about that.
Reservations are tight at Ètra, partially due to the compact space, but also because they leave a generous portion of the dining room open for walk-ins. We realize driving across town without a guaranteed table is unnerving, but if you show up between 5pm and 7pm, you’ll get a seat. The staff is warm and accommodating—not to mention thrilled you took them up on the walk-in offer. If there is a wait, bartenders will pour you a glass of funky chenin blanc in the interim—though if a seat does open up at the bar, it’s worth grabbing. The entire menu is available, and in our experience, eating a steak by yourself on a barstool invites conversation. And there are plenty of interesting people to talk with here.
There’s a gritty unfinishedness to Ètra that feels like you just walked into an underground vermouth bar in Prague: the floors are white tile, the walls are plywood, and the exit signs above the bathrooms cast emerald light cinematically across the tables (fire safety never looked so sexy). The room gives off the kind of glow that makes everyone here look like well-dressed extras shipped in from Paramount Studios a few blocks away. But for as sultry as Ètra is, it’s equally endearing and comfortable. We’ve shown up several times with people somehow convinced they weren’t cool enough to go inside—only to hear them bashfully murmur, “I really like it in here” before we discussed food.
Ètra’s menu is broken into four concise sections (starters, pasta, entrees, and sides), but there’s a way to order that increases the likelihood of a great meal. Our strategy: Concentrate on the starters and end with either the strip steak or pork ribeye, or both depending on how many people you’re with. We particularly love kicking off with the carne cruda, a decadent steak tartare with tonnato sauce and bay leaf oil, and fried garlic showered on top. The burrata over cornbread is fine, but your next focus should be on the sweet, ricotta-stuffed meatballs and chicory caesar, a tangy pile of greens dressed even nicer than Ètra’s clientele. If there’s a section you don’t need to go wild on, it’s the pasta. These are all decent bowls of noodles, but they’re also pretty plain. We’ll endure East Hollywood traffic for many things, but a rudimentary bowl of spaghetti pomodoro isn’t one of them. Better to save room for the aforementioned steak, which beats out ones we’ve had at some of LA’s great steakhouses recently.
With a tight order in hand, you can then do the one thing you probably least expected to do at Ètra: Relax, drink great wine, and enjoy your date, or friends' dinner, or meal with whomever else you showed up with that night. And if it turns out you do have Law Roach’s number, by all means, excuse us.
You’re never fully dressed without a smile? We beg to differ, Annie. We’ll take the creamy anchovy dressing on Ètra’s caesar instead, which is evenly coated on each leaf and then blanketed with soft grated egg yolks. It’s rich, well-balanced, and one of LA’s best salads.
Balance out that salad with our other go-to appetizer, the carne cruda with tonnato and bay leaf oil. If you’re eating alone at the bar, ordering this creamy, tangy steak tartare, plus the salad and a glass of gamay, is a perfect little night in our books.
The pastas are the most skipable part of Ètra's menu, but if your heart is set on noodles, get the rigatoni. The tubes are nicely al dente and coated in a buttery onion sauce with slivers of guanciale. The whole thing kind of tastes like French onion soup, which is never a bad thing.
New York Strip
The first time we ordered this steak it was so ridiculously good we assumed we got the prized cow from the pasture. Then we ordered it again and realized that’s just what Ètra’s steak tastes like. No unnecessary or aggressive rubs here: Just a perfect medium rare steak, salt and pepper, with grilled cabbage laid on top. It’s enough food for two hungry adults, making the $42 price tag a good value.
Portions are fairly big at Ètra, so we usually order this pork chop only when we’re eating with three or more people. Which is why we’re happy when friends tag along—good conversation, but also more stomachs. The fennel-pollen-dusted pork is sweet and juicy, with an acidic fennel salad on top acting as a statement hat.