photo credit: Jessie Clapp
The Lonely Oyster
Every Oscar season there are always a handful of “acting vehicles”: heavily discussed films that feature some sort of incredible performance, but are otherwise a mediocre use of two hours. You watch them because you want to see Frances McDormand playing a no-nonsense coal miner—or because you got a free screener—and then they immediately fall into the vault of Things You Forget About. The Lonely Oyster reminds us of those movies.
The neighborhood seafood spot and raw bar in Echo Park definitely has some great performances—in this case, a few standout dishes—but the overall unevenness of service, the awkwardly designed dining room, and a general inattention to detail make eating here an experience you don’t need to prioritize.
Let’s start with the good stuff: Lonely Oyster’s burger is excellent. This is a classic bar burger—a half-pound short rib and brisket patty, thick gem lettuce, tomatoes, and caramelized onions—piled a good six inches high off the plate. It comes with a side of pleasantly crunchy, medium-thick fries coated in Old Bay seasoning. Grabbing a seat at the bar, ordering the burger, and sipping an ice-cold martini is a very fine Tuesday night in our books. There’s also a decadent, vibrantly colored lobster cobb on the menu and a shrimp cocktail with some of the plumpest individual shrimp we’ve ever seen in a restaurant. The oysters are solid, too.
Where the experience at Lonely Oyster begins to get shaky is the pricing—yes, it’s expensive. Raw starters fall in the $20 range and you’d be hard-pressed to find a main dish for less than $30. That lobster cobb we mentioned earlier is $36. Sourcing high-end, sustainable seafood—an ethos that Lonely Oyster seems to follow—will never be cheap, but it’s still up to the restaurant to clearly show that the product they are serving is in line with the expense. And in that regard, Lonely Oyster falls short.
On occasion, we’ve asked Lonely Oyster’s wait staff to tell us about where their oysters are from—“Inquire about our daily selection” is literally printed on the menu—only to be met with confused stares, nervous laughs, and a staff-wide game of telephone in an attempt to get an answer. A board of daily specials on the far wall would presumably provide some assistance, but the bartender told us that “it’s never updated.” This, coupled with chronic issues like wrong orders hitting the wrong tables, servers unable to describe their own cocktails, and an unevenly spaced dining room with the energy of a virtual candle-making class, make dinner here more confusing than enjoyable. The most dramatic moment during our handful of visits might’ve been when a seafood tower inexplicably collapsed with a crash after being placed on a table next to ours, an event so visually chaotic, we still haven't fully processed it.
Crudo E Nudo, Connie & Ted’s, Found Oyster, Dudley Market—there are plenty of sustainably-sourced seafood restaurants in LA with experiences that back up their high cost. The Lonely Oyster is, unfortunately, not one of them right now. But dang, that burger is good.
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This is our favorite thing on Lonely Oyster’s menu and one of the best new burgers in the city. What initially stands out is the sheer size—it's stacked tall with a half-pound patty, thick gem lettuce, tomatoes, and caramelized onions on a pillowy brioche bun. It’s a classic bar burger and a welcome reprieve from the countless greasy smashburgers that continue to plague our city. Also, the crispy Old Bay-seasoned fries are equally delicious.
There’s a decent chance no one on the staff will be able to tell you which ocean they were sourced from, but at the end of the day, you’ll eat solid oysters at TLO. Be sure to take advantage of the different sauces like Calabrian chili, citrus soy, and chervil mignonette that come on the side in cute little squeeze droppers.
While there’s nothing especially unique about this shrimp cocktail compared to others around town, we’re awarding major points simply for how gigantic these shrimp are. Seriously, our hands feel small every time we reach for one. If you’re looking for an appetizer to go with your burger, this is a good one.
Surf & Turf Tartare
A nice idea in theory, this wagyu tartare topped with trout roe (hence the “surf” part) ultimately only tastes like raw beef. There’s apparently horseradish and anchovy aioli mixed in, but the flavor doesn’t come through.
Even in LA, a $36 salad is tough to wrap your head around. That said, this one does come with a sizable helping of fresh lobster and the salad itself is definitely big enough for two people. Along with the burger, this is a dish we’d come back to TLO to specifically eat again.
Despite fun topping options like charred onion miso butter or casino-style (bacon, peppers, and butter), these grilled oysters shrink down significantly once cooked. They end up so small, you mostly just taste the toppings. We prefer the fresh oysters.
We’ve had better mussels in LA, but the sweet and savory coconut curry broth they come in make this a dish worth ordering. Don’t feel embarrassed if you end up putting your mouth right on the bowl for sips—we sure did.