I couldn’t tell you the first time I went to Terroni. Was it in 2013, ’14, ’15? Did I wander in on my own, or did someone take me? Did I first go to the Beverly Boulevard location, or the former Downtown L.A. address? I can’t recall, but in my head, much like a best friend you don’t remember meeting, Terroni has always been a constant in my life, and I have always been a regular.
When I say “regular,” I mean that for several stretches of my life, I’ve gone to Terroni three or four times a week. Excessive? Maybe. But I was single, living alone, and didn’t really cook (still don’t). Who can say no to a warm plate of bucatini all’amatriciana? Not I. Supple bucatini noodles tossed with a rich tomato sauce and nugs of guanciale, it’s become my go-to comfort dish — another one of those friends that’s seemingly always there. Meanwhile, the torta cioccolata is a perfectly constructed chocolate lava cake that I have never seen replicated, let alone matched, anywhere in L.A.; it has entered my own pantheon of personal favorites, earning a spot on my Last Meal menu.
Beyond the food, or rather, in conjunction with it, Terroni has crafted a space that’s equal parts formal and comfortable. The booths are padded in leather. Chairs and tables are a patinaed, weathered wood. The tin ceiling is a callback to Toronto — Terroni’s hometown (yes, it’s an import) — and an enormous chandelier hangs over the bar. If you wander into the restrooms, a soundtrack teaches you basic Italian (“What time is breakfast? “A che ora è la colazione?”), and on a wall above the dining room, old Fellini films play on a loop.
For me, the heart of Terroni is really at the bar — the most communal space in the restaurant. It’s a place to engage, and be left alone. If Terroni is a living room, the bar is the couch. I have made several friends sitting at a bar seat. I have also written and read countless pages hunched over that long marble countertop. From behind the bar, a specific bartender and I have developed a tradition of sampling a new amaro — well, new to us — every time we see each other. Another bartender and I have become close in our lives outside of Terroni. And I’m not alone. Seemingly every other person who sits at the bar is on a first-name basis with the staff and the other regulars who congregate there.
Terroni has always been a constant in my life, and I have always been a regular.
All of this to say that Terroni’s strength is its versatility. It’s a place to celebrate birthdays, work successes, graduations. It’s a place to draw out dinner for hours while you catch up with old friends from out of town. It’s an unfussy bar where you can read your book in peace over a well-made martini just as easily as you can strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you. It’s a place for dates to go and a place for families to go. It’s not unusual to see a celebrity here, too. And, somehow, the menu works for all of it.
Pizzas and pastas are the foundation of Terroni’s Southern Italian-inspired kitchen. Beyond the aforementioned bucatini, it’s worth paying attention to the the capunti d’agnello (an umami-rich lamb ragu covering pliant shells) and the cavatelli alla Norma with fried eggplant, ricotta, and fragrant basil leaves. Is pizza more your thing? They make over 30, in a thin Neapolitan-ish style. Though the pasta was what originally hooked me, the Natalina pizza (spicy calabrese salami and roasted red peppers) is quietly winning me over.
The torta cioccolata is a perfectly constructed chocolate lava cake that I have never seen replicated, let alone matched, anywhere in L.A.
Terroni’s menu could have stopped here, and that would have been enough. But you will always find a generous array of apristomachi (“stomach openers”) to help you start your meal, while a rotating list of secondi serves to elevate the kitchen and your own experience should you choose to spring for a larger entrée.
Too many restaurants in L.A. come off like a performance — disguised by the smoke and mirrors of “new,” they may shine brightly for a brief moment, then comes the inevitable fade-out. Terroni, on the other hand, succeeds by doing the exact opposite. It has become a part of the community by being both consistent and adaptable. And along the way, it has succeeded in becoming something few L.A. restaurants can claim: timeless, and for me, a true second home.
Oren Peleg is a journalist and screenwriter. He currently contributes to Eater LA, Los Angeles, The Infatuation, and hosts the Not Billable podcast. You can follow him here. While you’re at it, follow Resy, too.