Dining

Why You Should Eat Italian in L.A. Right Now

5 must-try dishes from the city's hottest Italian restaurants
The Best Italian Restaurants in L.A.
Photo: Tasting Table

"I'm going to L.A. to eat Italian."

In years past, you might have filed that quote under Said No One Ever. Mexican? Of course. Chinese and Korean? No-brainers in the City of Angels. Italian food has never had the foothold it does right now—which makes it an exciting time to get out there and give it a twirl.

That's not to say that L.A. hasn't had its share of iconic Italian restaurants (Spago in the 80s, Campanile into the 90s, Mozza in the aughts), but there's been an Italian moment building of late, with more people taking note of the city's produce-driven, creative take on the cuisine. And some of L.A.'s new Italian restaurants may even make you rethink which city dominates Italian—yes, we're looking at you, NYC, with your red-sauce stronghold.

Case in point: Evan Funke's thoughtful Venice spot, Felix, where a #fuckyourpastamachine mantra extends beyond a mere hashtag. Funke's handmade pastas have won raves from diners and critics alike, including a spot on Eater's 2017 Best New Restaurants in America list.

"Italian food is the fabric of American families," Funke says. "I'm a custodian of Italian food and those traditions, so my goal is to transport people to evoke feelings and memories."

It's worth noting that the folks behind many of these restaurants (Funke, Rossoblu's Steve Samson, Cosa Buona's Zach Pollack) have been mastering Italian for years, so why the sudden surge?

"I just think Italian food is what people want to eat," Samson says. "We have the access to great ingredients here at the farmers' market, plus a group of chefs who've committed to the cuisine—some who've even cooked in Italy."

Below are five buzzy new spots and a must-try dish at each—so the next time you're in L.A., you can see for yourself what everyone is noodling about.

Focaccia at Felix

 

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Yes, you should absolutely try the pasta, especially one of the four classic Roman versions on Funke's menu, but you'd be remiss without an order of his fluffy, inches-high, remarkably light focaccia. The sfincione (which means "thick sponge") is made with a touch of honey and comes to the table drenched in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

Erbazzone at Rossoblu

If your knowledge of food from Bologna stops at Bolognese, get a little more adventurous with Samson's erbazzone tartlet, which he describes as a "true poor man's dish," originally made to use up scraps and stems of whatever was left over from the cook the night before. His version is a simple pastry shell filled with spring onions (cooked down until they're very soft), Swiss chard stems and lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's served with stracchino cheese and a crisp, bitter chicory salad to balance the richness of the dough.

Pepperoni Pizza at Cosa Buona

 

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Pollack uses a secret source for his pepperoni (which, when cooked, curls up into the perfect cuplike shape to hold a pool of grease) and pizza pro Chris Bianco's dry-farmed tomatoes for his sauce, but a side of homemade ranch is the secret weapon of this Neapolitan-influenced pie. Its labneh base is spiked with lots of white wine vinegar, garlic, fresh and dehydrated onion, and chives for a classic sour flavor that's not too classic.

Cacio e Pepe Pizza at Pizzana

Chef Daniele Uditi bills his pies as neo-Neapolitan and lets his dough ferment for two full days until he's achieved a slice sturdy enough to hold in one hand. Combine the best of both worlds (pizza and pasta, obvi) with his cacio e pepe version, dressed with fior de latte and provoloncino cheeses, Parmesan cream, and a showering of cracked black pepper.  

Spaghetti al Pomodoro at The Ponte

 

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You can get chef Scott Conant's pasta al pomodoro in other places, such as his new NYC spot, Fusco, but you'll regret not ordering one for the table here. The spaghetti and seemingly simple tomato sauce, made from fresh plum tomatoes, gets a hefty swirl of butter at the end. So every bite is fresh, bright and rich all at once.

This month, we've decided to Turn Up the Heat, and nothing's off-limits—not even dessert. We're bringing you all the fiery recipes, spicy dishes and hot new trends you can handle.

Karen Palmer is an NYC-based food writer and pasta obsessive. Follow her on Instagram at @karenlpalmer.

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