|Speranza's discreet exterior|
Speranza is well-known to a certain set of Silver Lake-Los Feliz residents, and yet almost unknown by anyone else. Its funky vibe and well-executed Italian food make it a favorite spot for many locals, some of them of the celebrity variety.
Not only is the outside of the restaurant along Hyperion covered in orange plastic sheeting, with no visible sign, but there's no website, Facebook page or Twitter feed. And that's just how its low-profile patrons like it. (The owner's other nearby spots, Hyperion Tavern and O Banh Mi, fly equally under the radar.)
Speranza was treasured in its first few years for its BYOB, free corkage policy, but after getting a liquor license back in 2010, the restaurant introduced a fairly pricey but well-selected list of Italian and domestic wines. Now they ask that you don't bring wine at all, so paying a corkage fee isn't an option.
Behind the orange curtains, most of the seating is on two patio levels with bare, cafeteria style tables, simple wood chairs and numerous shaggy potted trees that succeed pretty well at making diners forget busy Hyperion Ave. outside. On chillier nights, plaid blankets on the chairs and outdoor heaters keep it cozy on the patio, a good thing since there are only a few tables actually inside the restaurant.
While some couples find the funky intimacy romantic, there's also plenty of groups seated at long tables and families with children, especially earlier in the evening.
Everyone loves the tangy sourdough bread served with a spicy dipping sauce in small bowls.
Start with a salad like fennel with pears and pine nuts or caprese, or an Italian classic like prosciutto and melon, carpaccio or burrata.
Fresh pasta is the main draw, in dishes like fettucine al pesto and linguini with clams, though dried pasta works well too in dishes like Bucatini amatriciana, with a smoky bacon flavor and a hint of spice. Spaghetti with bottarga (dried cod roe) and anchovies sounds intriguing but is oddly bland, considering its strongly-flavored ingredients. Also popular are squid ink pasta, squid ink risotto and lobster risotto. Gluten-free pasta is available on request.
Basic but properly-cooked swordfish comes on a large bed of arugula, a good choice for carb avoiders, while the branzino is served deboned. Though many people choose pasta or risotto for the main course, several other proteins include grilled lamb chops, veal chops, shrimp and crab legs.
The film-industry intensive patrons aren't too focused on dessert -- the short sweets menu includes the inevitable tiramisu and one or two other selections like chocolate-covered peanut butter balls.
Prices are moderately high for modest portions in a setting that's doesn't favor fancy table settings or aesthetically-pleasing plating.
Speranza can be a tricky place to like. If your friends are happy to feel like they're in on a neighborhood secret, then you'll probably love it too. If you can make a solid bowl of pasta at home and prefer to eat indoors with tablecloths, then possibly it's not the restaurant for you.
Speranza, 2547 Hyperion Ave., 323-644-1918