Six Pack: Italian In Center City That We Never Talk About

LaViola

Editors Note: Once again, we’re introducing a new Foobooz writer to the world, so please welcome Camilla Brandfield-Harvey. For her first post, we presented her with an interesting task: to check out some of the Italian restaurants in and around Center City that we rarely talk about here–places that have just been quietly plugging along for years without creating the kind of scandals disasters cronuts collaboration dinners news that makes for a compelling headline. This is what she came up with.

To pick a great Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, you might as well close your eyes, throw a dart, and make it a culinary adventure. It’s hard to get it wrong. And yet, some places remain under the radar. That doesn’t mean their rooms are any less full, their atmosphere any less charming, or their food any less exquisite. In an Italian-heavy restaurant scene, there’s Vetri, and then there’s also La Viola. So, in a city where it’s hard to mistake your Italian, here are six great places and six fantastic pasta dishes that you might be missing:

Spasso Italian Grill–Papardelle Porcini

With Spasso’s relatively large pasta selection, it may be difficult to separate your fusilli from your fettucine. Disregard both and have the papardelle porcini. A soft, wide pasta–the lasagna noodle’s younger brother–is paired with succulent and proportionate chicken slices in a porcini cognac sauce that doesn’t flood the dish but rather adds an appropriate thickness and savory flavor. With its riverfront location and kind service, Spasso will satiate your appetite for traditional Italian and Old City charm.

34 S Front Street, Old City

Nina’s Trattoria–Gnocchi Gorgonzola and Penne Ragu

This small, candle-adorned South Philly gem receives high marks for ambiance and higher marks for its pasta. Served from the chef’s rotating tasting menu, the gnocchi gorgonzola–perfectly al dente in a divinely creamy gorgonzola and walnut base–will make you grateful that Nina’s didn’t escape under your gastronomic radar. Seeking lighter fare? Have the penne ragu  Nina’s takes a kids-menu staple and makes it the most scrumptious penne dish of your adulthood.

910 S 9th Street, Italian Market

Pietro’s–Linguini con Broccoli e’ Pollo

Come for the pizza, then change your mind and go for the pasta. Our sprightly server endorsed my order immediately (don’t they tell you every dish is wonderful?), but he and I were both on the same wavelength. It’s a feat, and sometimes a travesty, to remove tomato or cream sauces from the Italian diet, but Pietro’s serves a seemingly effortless and assuredly delectable spicy white wine linguini with sundried tomatoes, chicken, and pecorino cheese.

1714 Walnut Street, Rittenhouse

La Fontana Della Citta–Oricchette Barese

As a mussels enthusiast, I’ve tried several bowls and pledge allegiance to the white wine and sausage variety. Thus, I gravitated to La Fontana’s orrichette–simple and tasty, with sauteed cherry tomatoes, spinach, and both sweet and mildly spicy chunks of Italian sausage. Bring a bottle and an appetite to this vibrant Rittenhouse BYO.

1701 Spruce Street, Rittenhouse

La Viola–Farfalle Marina with Pesto Sauce

Though a bow-tie pasta dish sounds like a movie-and-pajamas date with a Barilla box, La Viola’s farfalle marina, served in either a pesto or a pomodoro sauce (go for the pesto), suits up with shrimp, adding some casual sophistication. For a heavier plate, select the lobster-stuffed ravioli alla viola in a pink cognac sauce.

253 S 16th Street, Rittenhouse

Branzino–Crab Ravioli

At a restaurant named after a fish, now helmed by the chef who left Fish, don’t be that guy who doesn’t order fish…with pasta! Dine a world away in Branzino’s outdoor garden with the crab ravioli, tastefully prepared with asparagus and lemon. Tote your own wine and tuck yourself away in Center City.

261 S 17th Street, Rittenhouse

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  • CGD

    You can’t mention Gorgonzola gnocchi at under the radar places without mentioning Cucina Forte on 8th St. Period.

  • FoodandpartyandBS

    BYOB Giorgio on Pine. 13th and Pine. Always packed. Four years there and consistent.

  • drjane

    Fiorino in East Falls–Franco’s gnocchi just float off the plate

  • goodfoody

    Since when is the Italian Market in Center City?

    • barrygster

      CCD considers up to Washington Ave as “greater Center City”

  • 22nd&Philly

    Good post, definitely back you up on Spasso and Branzino but especially agree with the commenter about Giorgio on Pine. Loved it there, especially for a big group.

  • Arindam Basu

    Except for Nina’s I have been to the others. Della Citta is really good. But I would put Branzino as my least favorite.

  • rk

    really, it’s a feat to have Italian without cream or tomato sauces? sigh…i can’t…just…maybe that victor fiorello post about the strip club will be better for me…uggh.