By Martin Cizmar and Matthew Korfhage
Canestri with porcini and braised pork at Renata
626 SE Main St., 954-2708, renatapdx.com.
The best thing I've had at Renata, and indeed one of the best things I've had all year, was an umami bomb of canestri—brownish-purple, porcini-inflected elbow noodles dressed with braised pork, toasted pine nuts and a dusting of salty Parmesan.
Tagliatelle with beef ragu at Burrasca
2032 SE Clinton St., 236-7791, burrascapdx.com.
As at restaurants in Italy, Florence-born Burrasca chef Paolo Calamai doesn't make every random shape of pasta to suit variety-hungry Americans—and perhaps as a result, his housemade tagliatelle is remarkable in its consistency. The pasta is always just on the right side of al dente, with its lightly herbed tomato sauce wonderfully balanced in salt, acidity and sweetness. And at $14, you could eat it nightly.
Tagliatelle with beef and pork ragu at Luce
2140 E Burnside St., 236-7195, luceportland.com.
Often the best dish is the one that fools you into thinking you could make it at home—Luce's simple ragu leaves a cook nowhere to hide even the tiniest error of balance or texture. But there is nothing to hide.
Pappardelle al cinghiale at Piazza Italia
1129 NW Johnson St., 478-0619, piazzaportland.com.
The fat, homemade pappardelle are legend at this restaurant, which is essentially a one-stop Little Italy, a tile-floored and jersey-bedecked Italian joint that is heavily populated by Lavazza-sipping, soccer-watching Italians shouting at the television in their mother tongue.
Busiati alla Trapanese at Bellino Trattoria Siciliana
1230 NW Hoyt St., 208-2992, bellinoportland.com.
Rustic, gently spun corkscrews of pasta imported from Italy are cooked to a perfect al dente in a rich sauce of almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and basil. They call the sauce "Sicilian pesto," and it has a deep, reddish-brown color from the blending of nuts and tomatoes, and a layered flavor to match. It alone is worth stopping by this Sicilian spot in the Pearl.
Spaghetti and meatballs at Nonna
5513 NE 30th Ave., 894-9840, nonnapdx.com.
Yup, spaghetti and meatballs. Probably the best you'll ever eat. Those meatballs are steaky and filled with fresh herbs, and the textbook al dente noodles had a springy suppleness I've rarely found in noodles numbered 5 and below.