Oysters—long a happy hours aphrodisiac, an appetizing conversation starter—have taken center stage on many of our favorite menus over the past couple of years. The opulent mollusk, whether adorned with tangy mignonette sauce or accompanied by caviar and crab legs, is indeed ethereally transportive and complex. But have we forgotten that oysters were historically food for peasants? At The Lonely Oyster, an under-the-radar den of distilled decadence in LA’s Echo Park, the team has not discarded this fact. Rather, they’ve embraced it.
I know what you’re thinking: a seafood tower piled with a cunning curation of shellfish doesn’t exactly spell a meal for common folk. Yet, while the opportunity exists for you to take the restaurant’s raw bar head-on, with “caviar bumps” and fresh crudo to your liking, the staff is also just as enthusiastic to serve you a humble plate of fish and chips and a Miller High Life. And while the cozy neighborhood hotspot will continue to present oysters as a luxury, the team wants to educate customers about the shellfish’s essential environmental and historical importance, too; to share stories of ancient oyster cultivation practices they’re still honoring today.
Before opening its doors in the Fall of 2022, after going to what felt like 100 of the same Northeastern crab shacks and oyster houses, owner Don Andes felt inclined to shake things up. While cultivating the ethos of The Lonely Oyster, Andes decided to seek inspiration elsewhere. “I flew to Milan and rented a motorcycle for a month,” Andes recalls. “Going through Europe and going to great oyster bars in Paris and Belgium and Germany—I was seeing how Europeans are doing oysters. They weren’t slamming them or selling them by the dozen. They were doing them differently, they were explaining them. They slow it down. And when you slow it down, then you start to understand what you’re doing, you start to really appreciate it differently.”
A couple of months later, Andes, who also owns neighborhood bar stalwart, Little Joy, opened up shop, joining forces with Executive Chef, Dom Crisp, and Master Écailler, Dillon Turner. With the European sentiment in mind, they created a warm space that allows customers to take their time while dining; tasting every unique flavor that the team has so carefully crafted.
The Lonely Oyster is serving its quality food “with a side of education,” Creative Director Jena Corbin tells me, invoking the sentiment that embodies the nature of this restaurant. “That is what’s unique about what we’re doing. We have this educational element where we’re constantly bringing together new voices and new dishes. And because of that, our staff becomes very knowledgeable and passes that education on to customers.”
The sustainable ethos and built-in education of The Lonely Oyster is done in a way that’s truly refreshing. The team doesn’t need an environmental seafood stamp on the menu to prove authenticity—they’ve got a seafood expert, or Master Écailler, in Turner. Regulars who come into the neighborhood spot will know not only what they’re eating, but where it was sourced, with what process it came to be, and its environmental impact. Hailing from Humboldt Bay, CA, the Écailler’s oyster expertise stems from his own experience in his family’s farm. Turner shares with me, “I come from Old World agriculture—my family and the way that we farm—but there’s nothing trendy about it. They’ve been doing it sustainably for forever, and a lot of these oyster farmers that are especially multigenerational, there’s just no other way to do it.” Well beyond spotting the difference between a Kumamoto and Blue Point, Turner’s proficiency and passion in sustainable food extend into the emotional and historical, setting The Lonely Oyster apart from like destinations. Go to another oyster spot in LA, and odds are, you’re not going to find a person like him.
Of course, The Lonely Oyster features a wide menu of modern fare, with a full lobster offering, steak frites, a burger, a handful of vegan appetizers, and even New England-style chowder. This is all overseen by Executive Chef Dominique Crisp, who joined the team after what he claims was “a passionate 2 AM e-mail,” that expressed his desire to work in sustainable seafood. Originally hailing from Oregon, chef has worked in countless acclaimed seafood spots, but found something special in The Lonely Oyster’s mission. Once coming aboard, Crisp created a cuisine that invoked Andes’ Euro-inspirations, but still leaned into the continental seafood classics, making his own fusion. “There’s a whole playfulness of LA cuisine,“ Crisp tells me, “where people take something and run with it via cultural or classic, and make it cool and hip and trendy, but also make it taste good. That’s the magic of LA. I think that that’s what we do here.”
True to Crisp’s execution, at The Lonely Oyster, you’re not going to find an oyster dressed with Tabasco. You’re going to find an oyster kissed with citrus ponzu or Calabrian chili oil—elevated homage to the quintessential accouterment. And while you wouldn’t find infusions of chimichurri or miso butter in your beloved seafood shack in Nantucket, or the pristine oyster bar in Paris, that’s kind of the point. At the end of the day, The Lonely Oyster is bent on creating its own classics.
Despite the name, the small place has an enigmatic energy that will make you feel anything but lonely. Andes has designed a space that embraces its open and airy nautical theme in the day, and transforms into, what Chef Crisp calls, “an electric vibe” at night. Andes admits that he wouldn’t describe the spot as a ‘cheap date,’ but says there is substance in the experience, something occasionally lost in the similarly-priced LA food scene. “When you come in and get personal service from a bartender,” Andes attests, “knowledge from someone serving oysters, excellent service at the table, and fresh, amazing fish, you’ll leave and want to come back. It’s like a secret you get to share with your friends.”
Photographed by Jonathan Mark Hedrick
Written by Maddie Dinowitz
Location: The Lonely Oyster