For years the Los Angeles River has been mostly a quiet trickle as it winds through its cement basin in the Elysian Valley/Frogtown area, just east of Silver Lake. There has always been enough water to sustain ongoing life there, including loads of waterfowl, but the river has mostly been operating quietly, burbling along at its own pace. These days, though, the river is a rush of activity, a flurry of life and hopefulness under grey, wet skies. The same rough timeline also applies to Lingua Franca, the brand new river-adjacent restaurant from the Wax Paper team, now open at the end of Allesandro Street.
Lingua Franca has been years in the making, a quiet project meant to bring even more life and vitality to a historic and changing community along the Los Angeles River. Owners Lauren and Peter Lemos first acknowledged the coming restaurant back in 2017, just as their sandwich restaurant Wax Paper was beginning to really take off. Since then the world has changed dramatically and Wax Paper has added a second location and many more helping hands, but the vision for Lingua Franca as a comfortable-cool California restaurant with views of the river and its wildlife has not wavered.
It’s remarkable that after nearly six full years, that vision for Lingua Franca has only further cemented itself in the minds of the Lemoses. Currently open for dinner, the restaurant hovers near classic preparations like a slow-cooked beef cheek pappardelle and a blue cheese-spiked salad, while also allowing plenty of room for fun. The beef cheeks are braised in root beer, for example, and the burger comes on a thin English muffin-style bun. There’s a soup du jour (“it’s the soup of the day,” reads the menu) and a heaping plate of matchstick french fry potatoes, served while a ceramic E.T. watches from a shelf.
In the coming weeks and months, Lingua Franca will continue to bloom, offering more bar snacks and a whole new menu of daytime options that include overnight oats, a fried bologna sandwich, and buttermilk waffles. The current and coming menu direction can be seen below.
Accessing Lingua Franca’s orange-hued, wood-filled dining room requires a short journey along the LA River bike path itself, allowing the building to face directly out to the churning water. It’s a novel perch for a restaurant whose neon-lit logo happens to be a river crane. Inside, the bric-a-brac dining area features purposefully mismatched fabric on chairs and stools that either push up against a tight wooden bar or along a sturdy banquette. Tilted sconces and funky artwork give the feeling of a home dining room, while ceramic stone-colored plates and exposed ceiling beams play to LA’s modern restaurant aesthetic. The place feels lived-in already, which makes sense given how much time the Lemoses have spent bringing this intimate restaurant to life.
“Be like water,” the late actor and martial arts hero Bruce Lee once said. Be adaptable and capable of growing to fit any needed shape, the quote implies; be willing to move and adjust, to flow. It’s sage advice for anyone, and apt for Lingua Franca’s new opening. The restaurant’s journey has followed no rigid structure. Instead, it has curled and rippled and grown and shrunk with the needs placed in front of it. Watching water like that is a beautiful thing — and Lingua Franca is perfectly positioned for the view.
Lingua Franca is open for evening service, Wednesday through Sunday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m at 2990 Allesandro Street, Los Angeles, CA 90039.