It’s me again, Danny Palumbo. I’m a former line cook, bootlegged pandemic pasta vendor, and current food writer. I’ve been on the pasta beat here in Los Angeles, and I’d like to draw your attention to three restaurants/businesses doing great work.
4921 W. Adams Blvd.
Each dish at this West Adams restaurant beams with color and imagination; imagine Willy Wonka with a fancy butcher’s apron and a bunch of pork map tattoos, and that’s Cento’s culinary aesthetic. The whole staff seems like they’re having fun, and that liveliness transfers through the food in joyfully unexpected ways. The spicy pomodoro is bright orange like a clementine; every last bit of fruity and spicy calabrian chili stains the rigatoni to look like a bouquet of marigolds on a plate. The spicy tang permeates the pasta in such a way that it feels like you’re eating Flamin’ Hot Italian food, and the sharpness of that chili is cut nicely by some drops of fragrant basil oil and a dollop of sweet ricotta cheese. The beet spaghetti is brilliant in color, and tastes sweet, earthy, and nutty thanks to brown butter and whipped ricotta. And Nonna’s broccoli bucatini topped with burrata feels like a love letter/mixtape to the enduring comfort of broccoli and cheese.
At Cento, artistry is found in every bite of food. Even the empty plates become wonderfully stained with a burst of colors to look like a post modern splatter painting. Embrace the exuberance of it all, and it’s one of the most fun meals you can have in Los Angeles.
1122 Centinela Ave.
Is there a better Italian-American restaurant in Los Angeles than Sunday Gravy? I’m left wondering.
The menu at this Inglewood stalwart doesn’t get bogged down by trying to be overly ambitious; they aren’t trying to reinvent or elevate pasta. Nobody here aims to reimagine what a carbonara can be. Sunday Gravy wants to give you the hits, and it behooves you to let them. This is just relaxed, expertly cooked Italian food. The spaghetti has a stunningly eggy and delicate texture that somehow wiped my brain completely clean of any thoughts whatsoever. And the meatballs are soft, tender, and carry a deep caramelization due to the fact that they get blasted in an oven on higher than usual heat. No notes on the chicken parm, either, which is massive and crispy; it hasn’t been completely pounded to oblivion with a two-sided mallet. The breast is meaty and juicy like a hunk of protein should be.
And at Sunday Gravy, the rigatoni alla vodka is deliciously balanced; it’s creamy and carries a pleasant twice over bite from the chiles and Pecorino. That vodka sauce, by the way, is only 13 dollars and comes served with perfectly al dente long fusilli. The fusilli is much taller and springier than you might imagine from your typical pasta salad fusilli. The lively bounce of it rivals only Adriano Celentano himself. Sunday Gravy is just a damn delight. It’s as idyllic as
Italian-American food gets. Do you like great pasta? Do you like reasonably priced food and a friendly, cozy atmosphere? Then, go to Inglewood and go to Sunday Gravy.
San Gabriel Valley/Order from Instagram
This is a pick-up only, Instagram-ordered pasta project led by former Union sous chef Christian Stagliano, and his food has got all the salty, funky, obsessive, bursting-with-flavor characteristics you’d expect from an upstart chef cooking from home.
Stagliano makes pasta from all regions of Italy, but he gravitates towards southern Italian cooking as his grandfather is from Calabria. He specializes in spaghetti alla chitarra, a handmade method for making spaghetti that creates a coarser noodle. He rolls his freshly kneaded, egg-laden dough by hand and pushes it through the strings of his chitarra with a rolling pin, resulting in a bitier, rougher, textured spaghetti that’s more apt to pick up sauce. How many restaurants in Los Angeles use a chitarra for their spaghetti? The answer: Not many.
That spaghetti, by the way, is salty, spicy, and delightfully fragrant. It’s made with Fresno chiles, roasted garlic San Marzano tomato sauce, opal basil, and Pecorino Romano. Garganelli made with broccoli, sausage, fennel pollen, and Pecorino swim in a buttery and briny cacio e pepe-like mud. And if you ever see lasagna amatriciana on the menu, it’s a must order. The lasagna is made with layers of thin egg yolk dough, guanciale, sweet and creamy stracciatella, mozzarella, and 36 month old Parmigiano, resulting in a creamy yet outstandingly sharp flavor you wouldn’t expect from something so comforting. The food is simple, yet involves both incredible technique and a commitment to quality ingredients. Stagliano also gets most of his produce from the Santa Monica farmer’s market, so his menu rotates often. If you’re a fan of the seasonal variety and intimate pasta, hit up Los Boludos.
Stagliano has displayed such prowess, talent, and thirst for knowledge in the early going of his business that it’s only a matter of time before it grows into something much bigger. Get in on it now, and you’ll be rewarded with delicious and spirited hand crafted pasta with plenty of bite.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.