Unlike New York and Boston, LA doesn’t really have a Little Italy. That’s probably because our entire city is full of some of the most delicious Italian cuisine you can find outside the old country itself. Italian food is simply the most direct way to live la dolca vita when you haven’t got time to charter a jet to Roma. Whether it’s a Bolognese like your grandmother used to make or a Branzino reminiscent of your honeymoon in Capri, Italian food can transport you to exactly where you’d rather be. Luckily, LA’s not so bad itself, especially when dining at one of these molto haute establishments.
It has been said that many restaurants around LA employ out of work actors as waiters – perhaps you’ve heard this rumor, too. Not Madeo – the waiters here are of the ilk exclusive to Italy where pride in food and service overwhelm any desire for fame. Unsurprisingly, the cuisine here really is worth being proud of – a haven of perfectly prepared Northern Italian food, Madeo’s is dark, but not so dark that you can’t see how impressive their list of ‘regulars’ is. When you’re done with your Fagioli with Lobster, Veal Milanese, or perhaps the Spaghetti alla Bolognese, you’ll feel like calling the waiter over to discuss your preferred butcher in Milan. Keep in mind; you may not actually have a favorite butcher in Milan.
Madeo is located at 8897 Beverly Blvd. in West Hollywood. (310) 859-4903
Giorgio Baldi’s Ristorante
Beyond a Facebook photo album and the five pounds gained gorging on Linguine al Mare, a holiday to the Italian seaside is burned forever into your memory and trying to relive the joys of fresh seafood, the smell of the ocean, and copious amounts of crisp Pinot Grigio can be difficult if you go anywhere but Giorgio Baldi’s in Santa Monica. Their Dover Sole is actually talked about in certain circles in LA as with the restaurant’s mouth-watering ravioli, not to mention the people watching. It may be hard, but save room for dessert – absolutely anything with chocolate will be heaven for your palate. When you walk outside, if it weren’t for PCH sitting just ahead, you’d swear you were back in Positano.
Giorgio Baldi’s is located at 114 W. Channel Road in Santa Monica (310) 573-1660
Restaurants owned by celebrity chefs can be surprisingly hit or miss. We know better than to think Guy Fieri’s sushi and BBQ fusion at his Tex Wasabi will be memorable for the right reasons, but Mario Batali and surely his Osteria Mozza partner, Nancy Silverton, can be blindly trusted when they come together to bring us a menu full of some of LA’s best Italian cuisine. Their genius plans for an Osteria, Pizzeria, and their subsequent Mozza2Go has paid off for all the right reasons. Once you’ve sunk your teeth into a Mozzarella Tasting, the Tagliatelle with Oxtail Ragu, or the Grilled Quail with Pancetta, Sage, and Honey, you’ll trust Batali and Silverton with just about anything to do with your palate.
Osteria Mozza is located at 6602 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles (323) 297-0100
Call it an empire or simply a love for la dolce vita alla the City of Angels, but the Drago brothers are omnipresent when it comes to Italian food in LA. Their original outpost, Drago, and their successive establishments (Il Pastaio, Enoteca Drago, Tanino, and so on) have all garnered a “regular” crowd and critical acclaim. The newest from Celestino Drago is a modern, gorgeous, and rather large space on the ground floor of a downtown office building on 5th and Flower, aptly called Drago Centro. The pasta is remarkable and easily the thing to order here. Their wine list is impressive and the service has the distinct mark of a seasoned restaurateur’s teachings. With a menu that changes often, it’s easy to find an excuse to head downtown just to sample the newest handmade pastas or the fresh fish they didn’t have last time. By now we should all be calling him Maestro.
Drago Centro is located at 525 S. Flower Street in Downtown (213) 228-8998
New York, even more than Italy, has a monopoly on tables that are so close you’re practically dining with the strangers next to you. There’s a frustration and also a charm that goes along with this crowded dining experience and its one that LA doesn’t have much of outside of Dan Tana’s. For almost 26 years now, Dan Tana’s has been serving superb, authentic Italian cuisine to a venerable who’s who in LA. With a cramped bar area, filled every night, and a menu that reads like every Italian’s fantasy – think Homemade Lasagna, Cioppino, and Veal Scaloppine – waiting for your table at Dan Tana’s is absolutely worth it. Check the Lakers’ schedule, because if there’s a game on, you’ll be hard pressed to find a table in the front room facing a television. It is actually the place, outside Staples Center, to root for Kobe.
Dan Tana’s is located at 9071 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood (310) 275-9444