Los Angeles newcomers always remember their first Southern California tremor. Mine happened while eating breakfast at All Time in Los Feliz on Independence Day this year. The ground went wavy beneath us and my friend Hillary, also a recent transplant, said loudly, “Is this an earthquake?” The seasoned Angelenos around us froze midbite, like a time-stop tableau in a sci-fi series. In 90 seconds the rolling stopped and everyone continued chomping on their avocado toast as if nothing had happened. A perfect, surreal initiation.
All Time winds up being an apt setting for this kind of moment. It captures a certain sense of place, and not only in its hefty breakfast burritos or seasonal salads served in vintage mixing bowls. Nearly two years ago, owners Ashley and Tyler Wells took over a space along clogged Hillhurst Avenue, creating a neighborhood restaurant that has become a beacon for Los Feliz’s thriving creative class.
It’s impossible to distill a restaurant’s entire customer base, sure, but the entertainment industry types are easy to spot here. Mornings at All Time find souls with furrowed brows staring at scripts on their laptops, taking absent-minded bites of cheesy eggs on toast. Scan the crowd at dinner and you’ll likely see a couple of A-list actors seated in the furthest, dimmest corners. In that very Los Angeles way, no one makes a big deal about it.
It helps that the restaurant’s odd, satisfyingly angled indoor-outdoor arrangement feels congenial but also creates many little pockets of privacy. Most of the tables in the covered, walled patio have been masterfully arranged for minimum eavesdropping. In the tiny dining room, there are three long shelves mounted on a white clapboard wall, artfully outfitted with framed photos propped up on stacks of cookbooks amid animal figurines and bottles of olive oil. At night candles flicker among beakers that double as decanters.
The Wellses set a scene bolstered by a mercurial Californian-Italian menu and an incredible wine program. Ashley Wells’ previous gigs include sommelier at Osteria Mozza and general manager at Animal. Pore over her impassioned annotations on the wine list by the light of your smartphone: “Alpine wow,” “power like rock and roll and red clay,” “a little funkkky but also fresssh,” “feels like a Jolly Rancher but sexier, smokier, more mysterious!” The wines back up her words: This is the place to get geeky over small producers and obtuse varietals from the Canary Islands and Canada and North Yuba, Calif.
Tyler Wells arrived at his chef-restaurateur hyphenate via a career in coffee. He was a founder of Handsome Coffee Roasters (the Arts District store, bought by Blue Bottle in 2014, famously served neither sugar nor almond milk) and currently runs Nice Coffee in downtown’s City National Plaza (where you can order as many almond lattes as you please).
His cooking at All Time has a freewheeling, spunky sort of hominess. The restaurant’s daytime menu remains fairly stationary. Breakfast means the comforts of eggs and bread: a compact but mighty breakfast sandwich of fried eggs, braised greens, fontina and bacon on English muffin; puffed brioche French toast served with maple syrup and berry jam for a double-sweetness win. To resist the call of the nap, salty-creamy-yolky chilaquiles should come automatically with an espresso from Vancouver’s excellent 49th Parallel. (Little surprise Wells serves some of the finest coffee roasted in North America.)
At lunch the sandwiches are events. A frequent BLT special — calming in its correct, crisp-squish proportions — makes me want to clutch summertime like someone’s hand too precious to let go of. Pickled onions and hot pepper jelly rile up a monster of a turkey sandwich.
Other dishes could use such vigor. Cucumber pickles don’t carry enough acid to brighten a busy salmon rice bowl; the mustardy dressing for a Niçoise salad needs more potency to uplift its many ingredients.
During the day you order at the counter; nighttime brings reservations and table service. The menu is written by hand, posted on walls inside and outside and scrawled on boards delivered by servers. Dishes change frequently; the restaurant posts updates on Instagram but sometimes it falls on the servers to recite daily revisions. Last month one of the staff walked up and said, “OK, 80% of the written menu has changed” and reeled off an impressive monologue: beet salad out, endive salad with Rogue River blue cheese in; the ahi tuna crudo was now kampachi crudo; the pork dish of the night was belly with guacamole and cabbage and tortillas …
Dinner is relatively expensive at All Time: appetizers currently run $14 to $22; entrees start at $29, climb past $40 and crest at a steak for two listed as “market price” that lands in the triple digits. I mention it specifically because the place oozes midscale charm but might surprise first-timers with its upscale prices. (The wine list starts at $70 for a bottle, though the majority of selections ring in under $100.) Regulars aren’t dissuaded. The place is brimming most nights.
A handful of trusty menu constants best balance the quality-value equation: The “good ass” salad tastes like an inspired walk through the farmers market, with a lemony hit in the vinaigrette that I hankered for. Tyler Wells nails the texture of cavatelli, with an al dente chew that stands up to a warming, nicely concentrated lamb ragu. And the social media star, deservingly so, is focaccia smothered with burrata and scattered with roasted cherry tomatoes and basil.
The market fish (halibut, recently) often tips into overcooked territory. A server masterful with the upsell convinces me one night to splurge on pappardelle with white truffles for $75. But when the shaving of truffles feels meager and the pasta relies on truffle butter to boost its flavor? Grr. And forgive my dessert-guy stickler routine, but a berry “cobbler” with a sweet cake topping is actually a buckle.
But the space, the vibe, the unrelenting friendliness of the owners (both of whom are a constant presence) and their staff: It’s hard to stay grumpy with All Time. Whatever they may call the buckle-cobbler concoction, the couple should serve it for breakfast. I’ll eat it while stress-staring into my laptop with an almond latte by my side and fit right in.
Location: 2040 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 660-3868, alltimelosangeles.com
Prices: Breakfast and lunch dishes $10-$24. Dinner appetizers $16-$22, most entrees $13-$50, desserts $12-$14.
Details: Credit cards accepted. Wine and beer. Lot and street parking. Wheelchair accessible.
Recommended dishes: Breakfast burrito, French toast, focaccia, cavatelli with lamb ragù, rotating pork dish.