Restaurant Guide 2013: Piazza Italia

1129 NW Johnson St., 478-0619,

[ITALIAN-AMERICAN CLUB] "Piazza" loosely translates as "plaza" but, in the case of Piazza Italia, it's more like "community center." This tony block of the Pearl doesn't look much like Little Italy, but this tile-floored and jersey-bedecked Italian joint is heavily populated by Lavazza-sipping, soccer-watching Italians shouting in their mother tongue surrounded by the throngs who come here for fat, homemade pappardelle. As the staff—there's enough on-the-clock bodies to man another restaurant this size—watch the Timbers-Sounders match with the inadvertent condescension of people accustomed to watching the game played at a much higher level, families and couples feast on a salad of tuna, sweet corn, avocado and Parmesan (insalatona, $12.75) and little nubs of soft bread dipped in oil and balsamic. A simple antipasto plate ($10.50) comes with outrageously good olives and prosciutto but very average cheese. Pastas are perfectly al dente by the Italian definition, a feat you won't accomplish with 100 boxes of Barilla and an infrared thermometer. Pasta sauces have some pop. For dessert, get the chocolate hazelnut cake, which tastes like a large, triangular Ferrero Rocher.

Ideal meal: Caprese ($10.75), antipasto (if only for the olives), and pappardelle al cinghiale ($16.50).

Best deal: Rigatoni Bolognese ($14).

Pro tip: They take reservations, which is a good idea since this place is always crawling with people.

11:30 am-3 pm daily, 5-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday. $$.


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